No longer a bright-eyed 23-year-old making her first walk to the octagon, Grasso is now a 29-year-old veteran in the prime of her fighting career. The No. 9 flyweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings enters Saturday’s show on a three-fight win streak, all since making the wise decision to eschew a brutal weight cut and move up to 125 pounds. She fights No. 11-ranked Viviane Araujo in the main event and a statement win for Grasso makes her a compelling and fresh challenger for Valentina Shevchenko.
In the co-main event, UFC and WEC legend Cub Swanson drops down to 135 pounds to fight Jonathan Martinez. Whether in the blue cage or the octagon, Swanson has been a featherweight stalwart, but as he approaches his 39th birthday, he looks to make a run in a new division and that starts with Martinez, one of its most promising young contenders. Swanson has twice as many pro fights (40!) on his record as Martinez, so his big game experience could carry him through or we could witness a passing — or snatching — of the torch.
What: UFC Vegas 62
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Alexa Grasso (9) vs. Viviane Araujo (11)
Viviane Araujo has all the tools to play the spoiler here.
In a standup battle, we can comfortably give the edge to Alexa Grasso. Sharp boxing has been Grasso’s calling card since her Invicta FC days and while she’s rounded out her game considerably, she’ll be more than happy to box Araujo’s ears off if the Brazilian chooses to stand in the pocket and trade with her. Araujo can win a striking battle, it’s just not the optimal route for her.
When Araujo is mixing in takedowns and showing off her aggressive jiu-jitsu game, that’s when she’s looked like a contender. As mentioned, Grasso has improved in all areas by leaps and bounds from her first UFC fight to now, but how will she deal with an all-out grappling attack from Araujo? Even if you don’t put Araujo on the same level of Carla Esparza and Tatiana Suarez, two powerful wrestlers who gave Grasso major problems, it’s still up to Grasso to prove that she can do more than outclass other strikers.
One added wrinkle is that this is the first UFC main event and the first five-round fight for both women. Neither has had much trouble going the distance in the past so it’s unclear who has the advantage there, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.
I’m skeptical of Grasso’s takedown defense, so I need to see that skill on display for five rounds before I pick her to win these kinds of matchups. Araujo by decision.
Cub Swanson vs. Jonathan Martinez
Cub Swanson is cutting an extra 10 pounds to fight at bantamweight against an opponent who would be comfortable competing at featherweight. Go figure.
If we’re talking experience and knockout power, those are two good reasons to like Swanson in this matchup. He’s one of the most feared finishers in the lighter weight classes for a reason, not to mention his ability to go to war for a full 15 minutes like few others. Martinez has been in some scraps, but he hasn’t been in a “Killer Cub” scrap yet.
That said, I can’t help but lean towards youth and speed, not to mention how well Martinez uses his size. I think he can match Swanson technique for technique. So as long as he avoids a brawl, he’ll be in good shape.
Call me a downer, but I have Martinez winning on points.
This might seem like a random middleweight bout to throw on a main card, but if it’s a finish you’re looking for, Jordan Wright and Dusko Todorovic will deliver.
In 30 combined fights, Wright and Todorovic have gone to the cards twice, with Wright accounting for zero of those decisions. “The Beverly Hills Ninja” is the epitome of a kill-or-be-killed fighter and that’s carried over into his UFC career where he’s gone 2-3 with only one of his fights making it past Round 1... and that one ended 18 seconds into Round 2. To this day, Wright has never even seen a third round.
Todorovic can slow the pace if necessary, though he still has defensive deficiencies that need to be addressed. Something tells me they won’t be addressed in this fight.
Both men likely have their backs to the wall here with just one win in their past four fights, so neither should have any shortage of motivation. Give me the more well-rounded Todorovic to win by club and sub.
We all know that Raphael Assuncao still has the skill to compete, but in the loaded bantamweight division, sometimes skill and experience aren’t enough.
Before his recent four-fight skid, the 40-year-old Brazilian was renowned for his consistency and toughness and while those traits haven’t gone anywhere, his speed clearly has. And now he has to go toe to toe with Victor Henry, one of the busiest and most creative strikers at 135 pounds. Henry loves pushing the pace, biding his time early until he finds the openings he needs to get his offense going. He manufactures the kinds of fights that Assuncao just isn’t capable of winning anymore.
Call the one-sided tone of this prediction disrespectful to Assuncao if you will, but my confidence in Henry has far more to do with my expectation that he’ll be ranked in the bantamweight top 10 sooner rather than later, not to mention the fact that as Assuncao approaches the twilight of his career his competition just gets better and hungrier.
This could be the end of the road for Misha Cirkunov.
The grappling specialist returns to the 205-pound division after a forgettable two-fight middleweight stint, aiming to rediscover the form that saw him finish his first four UFC opponents and claim a spot in the rankings. He’s lost three straight and the matchmakers have done him no favors pairing him up with Alonzo Menifield.
“Atomic” has good takedown defense and is the faster fighter, two reasons why he’s likely to send Cirkunov packing. Cirkunov is deadly once he gets his ground game going, but he’s struggled to take the fight to the canvas in recent years. He’s still strong as an ox, so he has a clear path to victory if he can string together a takedown or two against the sturdy Menifield.
Most likely, Menifield stuffs Cirkunov’s early attempts and keeps this fight standing. In that case, Menifield by knockout.