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Invicta phenom Alexa Grasso inspired by Ronda Rousey: 'I want to be like her'

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

TORRANCE, Calif. -- Alexa Grasso was just 18 years old the first time she saw Ronda Rousey fight. It was 2012 and Rousey had yet to become a mainstream, crossover phenomenon -- she wasn't even a champion yet.

On March 3 of that year, Rousey challenged Strikeforce titleholder Miesha Tate and submitted her with an armbar in the first round. A star was born that night and Grasso was at home in Guadalajara, Mexico watching with her family, coaches and training partners.

"We saw her and then we [watched] videos of her on YouTube," Grasso said. "So we knew that she was going to be a great fighter."

Grasso was on the fence about MMA as a career at that point, even though she had been training with her father and uncle since the age of 15. Watching Rousey compete changed everything for her -- much the same way watching Gina Carano did for Rousey.

"I saw her and I want to be like her," Grasso said. "I'm doing my best every day and I'm training hard."

Now 21, Grasso is a burgeoning star for all-women's MMA promotion Invicta FC. Grasso will take on Mizuki Inoue in the co-main event of Invicta FC 11 on Friday night at Shrine Auditorium in Downtown Los Angeles.

The Mexican knockout artist is a perfect 6-0 and has won four of her fights by KO inside of the first round. She's coming off a thunderous knockout of Alida Gray in just 1:47 at Invicta FC 10 in December.

Grasso, who competes at 115 pounds, seems to have all the ingredients to become a huge star for Invicta -- everything from looks to a built-in Mexican fanbase to nearly perfect English to having a heavy-handed striking style.

"She's definitely someone you're gonna want to keep your eyes on," Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp told MMAFighting.com. "Can she become that athlete that is the face of [Invicta]? Absolutely. I think they all can.

"I think you're gonna see tremendous growth as she moves along. It's very deserved. She's very talented."

Grasso is already getting plenty of attention from media and fans in Mexico, a growing MMA market. She said she's comfortable with all of it so far.

"They are very gentle with me," Grasso said. "Everybody is always supporting me. They're so nice. I like the way everybody is giving me nice words, like 'C'mon, you can do it. Let's go. It doesn't matter. You're growing up. Everything is experience.' I like it."

The UFC could end up calling soon enough with the carrot of competing on an upcoming card in Mexico. But Grasso said she wants to win the Invicta title first and she's hoping to get a shot against champion Katja Kankaanpaa with a win over Inoue.

If all of this sounds like it's happening at an accelerated rate, well, that's because it is. Grasso is cool with it.

"It feels amazing," she said. "I feel like things are happening so fast to me and the people are watching that I am giving all my best every day. I'm very thankful. This is awesome.

"For me, it's perfect. I like the way my life is changing. I have to train harder, I have to be better, I have to be stronger. So, it's better for me. I like it."

On Wednesday, she graced the same Octagon as her idol Rousey, just a few hours earlier at UFC Gym here for Invicta FC 11 and UFC 184 open workouts. It's all coming full circle for Grasso, who is trying to grow her name on the same weekend and in the same city as Rousey is defending her UFC women's bantamweight title against Cat Zingano.

"I like the way she is as a fighter," Grasso said of Rousey. "The people think she can only do judo, but she can do everything. I want to be that kind of fighter. I can box, I can kick, I can do great wrestling, great jiu-jitsu. That's the kind of way I want to be like.

"I think I can be a very important martial artist."

So far, so good.