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Alexa Grasso’s potential isn’t confined to perfect record

Esther Lin, Invicta FC

All in one weekend, Mexican fighter Alexa Grasso managed to score the biggest victory of her career over Mizuki Inoue, catch the eye of UFC president Dana White like a new precious mineral, and draw an offhand comparison to Fedor Emelianenko. As they say in this industry, it is what it is. The end of February may have belonged to Ronda Rousey, but Grasso somehow hijacked the imagination.

So, what did the 21-year-old do when she got back to her native Guadalajara to celebrate that sort of rocketing stardom?

"I had to get back to school, so I went with my family to eat," she says. "It was a very, very simple celebration, but I had to get back to my school and do my homework."

Homework? The Invicta FC strawweight title is down one of these streets ahead -- or, if she turns left, she could end up in the UFC fighting in Mexico City this June at UFC 188 -- but Grasso has a paper due. This is the difference between a modest 21-year-old who trains with her uncle and father in old Mexico versus a typical 21-year-old in the States, where praise and potential at such a young age can end up lost in the percussion of Jägerbombs. 

Perhaps this, too, is part of the allure.

Grasso trains -- along with Invicta bantamweight Irene Aldana -- at the Lobo Gym in Guadalajara. Her uncle, Francisco Grasso, was a professional boxer and a mixed martial artist. Her father, Luis Grasso, was in her corner in Los Angeles when she came of age against Inoue. Mexico is of course one of great hunch markets in mixed martial arts, the undermined ore that still glints from time-to-time with its passion for boxing. Grasso proudly drapes herself in the Mexican flag.

In other words, Grasso’s appeal is more than just her perfect 7-0 record. It’s that she becomes another key to try and unlock Mexico’s potential in MMA. It’s one of the reasons why she won White over as he sat in attendance that night at the Shrine Auditorium. If Ronda Rousey can blow up the male-dominated world of MMA in the U.S., why can’t Grasso become a household name from her native Jalisco all the way down to the far reaches of Quintana Roo? This is what’s known as "major upside."

But the other reason is that Grasso fights like a sniper on a kick spree, who morphs into a diabólica limb-hunter on the ground, and a piston in the clinch. Those things matter, too.

Just take a look at her bout with the 20-year-old Inoue. Grasso landed a spinning kick in the first round that really got her rolling. When she stood at range, she would pepper Inoue with counter volume, and then punctuate her combos with a kick (and sometimes several). When Mizuki would shoot in, it became a game of roulette. Grasso immediately fished for the Kimura, the armbar, any stretch of neck. She was nasty in the clinch. It was a pick your poison kind of proposition, and Grasso showed well in all areas. It ended up being one hell of a fight, even if one judge saw it somewhat unevenly (30-26) in Grasso’s favor.

"I remember when I saw Mizuki the first time, she’s one of the best," Grasso says. "And fighting against her, and the way I won that fight makes me feel very good, because I’m doing my work. I think I did my best. I feel amazing. I’m very happy with my work, and I’m just ready to start training again. I’m ready."

At one point during the co-main at Invicta 11, color analyst and Invicta FC matchmaker Julie Kedzie casually compared Grasso’s zero expression to that of "The Great Emperor" himself, Fedor Emelianenko. Why the f*ck not? Grasso herself was more worried about how she came off to her coaches, who stood by as she unleashed hell on the betting favorite Inoue.

"They told me that I did amazing, and just like always, they told me I need to get better in some areas," she says. "We were working very hard to improve and get better. I should be using all my skills in every fight. I should be using more and more things."

Humility? Yes, but only to an extent.

Grasso welcomed the upgrade in competition against Inoue because she wants bigger and better challenges as quickly as she can get them. She doesn’t mind the fast track -- it’s been that way since she began training Muay Thai at 15, and MMA at 17. She would love to have a title fight next, as she made clear in her post-fight interview. But with a bout between current 115-pound champion Katja Kankaanpää (of Finland) and Livia Renata Souza (of Brazil) already lined up for Invicta FC 12 in April, she might be looking at another fight first.

Or, you know…if White and Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp work it out, potentially a spot on UFC 188 on June 13 in Mexico City. That’s the fight card that one of Grasso’s favorite fighter, UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez, will fight interim champ Fabricio Werdum. Geographic symmetry? Don’t think these things haven’t crossed a few minds.

"I imagine it would be an honor to fight in my country, and for it to be UFC, that would be really interesting," she says. "I would love to fight for [the Invicta strawweight] title, but I think it’s not my time. I heard that there’s going to be another strawweight bout before I can get it, so I will wait a little more. But I’ll be ready. I’ve been training so hard, more than I have been.

"I’m excited about fighting as much as I can this year, because I don’t get hurt too much. I’m strong, and I feel like I can keep fighting."

So, upon returning to Mexico, was she a bigger deal than when she left to Los Angeles, before she beat Inoue and blew up the prospect radar in the straws and became a "bad ass" in persuasive tweets? 

"Yes, I have many congratulations and many great messages from my Mexican friends and partners," Grasso says. "So many people have helped make me."

And as she waits to find out what lies in store next, she says she’ll celebrate her newfound standing by training more, and hitting the books extra hard at Centro Universitario UTEG, where she is pursuing a degree in Physical Culture and Sports. The latter, by the way, doubles as her favorite pastime.

"I like to do my homework, and go to school," she says. "I think that’s kind of a hobby too, because it keeps my mind active in many, many ways."

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