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Alexa Grasso thought about quitting MMA during long injury layoff

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It wasn't just the physical pain. It was the mental toll, too.

Alexa Grasso had never experienced anything quite like that. First, it was torn shoulder tendons that required surgery and rehab. Then, it was a broken hand. Grasso was booked to fight at least three times for Invicta over the last year, but had to withdraw from all of them.

That title shot she thought she earned in 2015 evaporated — not because of something she did in the cage, but due to injuries. At 22 years old, Grasso considered retirement.

"Honestly, I was going to quit," Grasso told MMA Fighting. "It's horrible that your body hurts this way. I was like, ‘Why am I doing this?' Many things happen in your mind in those horrible moments. You can have a little depression and you feel like the world is going down."

Those feelings lasted a long time, but they eventually did go away. Her family and support system helped. She sat down with them for something of an intervention.

"They told me, ‘Hey, don't quit,'" Grasso said. "‘You're so young and many things can happen. Just rest, relax, recover, stay healthy, stay strong and let's see what happens.' And now I have a main event. This is awesome."

Indeed, Grasso will be back in the cage after 17 months away to face Jodie Esquibel in the headliner of Invicta FC 18 on Friday night in Kansas City. The card will air live on UFC Fight Pass.

Grasso (7-0) has not fought since a unanimous decision win over Mizuki Inoue at Invicta FC 11 in January 2015. She was slated to face Livia Renata Souza in a women's strawweight title fight in September 2015, but had to pull out because of the shoulder injury. Grasso was initially supposed to return earlier this year before the hand injury set her back.

The Mexican star considered just sticking with college and leaving mixed martial arts behind. She's studying physical therapy and plans to open up a rehab clinic for MMA fighters after she's done competing.

Grasso decided to come back, though, and she'll get that title shot if she's able to beat Esquibel, an Ultimate Fighter alum, on Friday night. Grasso completely understands that she needs a victory before she can get that opportunity against new champion Angela Hill.

"That's why I'm going to earn the place I had a year ago," Grasso said. "I love to do what I'm doing. I honestly enjoy every day and to be in the gym and sweating and punching and being in the gym with all my teammates."

Before the injuries, the talk was all about when Grasso would be signed by the UFC. Dana White, the UFC president, has publicly said how much he covets her as one of the top women's MMA prospects in the world. Those whispers have hushed now in her time off. Grasso is going to let that take care of itself. But yes, she definitely wants to be in the UFC some time soon.

"Of course, I think about it," Grasso said. "It's a big dream of every fighter. Of course it's my dream. Of course I want to fight for the UFC. That's my goal and that's the best achievement I could realize. But it's not about what I want. It's what [Invicta and the UFC] want for me."

The only thing on her mind currently is that matchup with Esquibel, the toughest fight of her career. Esquibel is eight years older, has pro boxing experience and is highly seasoned as a member of JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque.

Grasso appreciates all of that. This will be a major test after so long away and thoughts of retirement not that far off. But, more than anything, for Grasso it's just good to be back.

"I was just [going] to focus on my career, my studying, my school work," Grasso said. "But this is amazing — fighting is amazing."

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