Alexa Grasso was one step ahead of Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday – a step that has permanently placed Grasso in the history books.
In the co-main event of UFC 285 on Saturday in Las Vegas, Grasso defeated Shevchenko by fourth-round submission to claim her flyweight championship and snap Shevchenko’s streak of seven consecutive title defenses. The end came when Grasso latched onto Shevchenko’s back following an ill-timed spin kick, then proceeded to attack with a rear-naked choke that earned her the tap with less than 30 seconds remaining before the final round.
The finish was anything but an accident, and Grasso explained how she expected Shevchenko might make a fatal mistake.
“When I realized that I was touching her with my hands, she changed her strategy,” Grasso said at the UFC 285 post-fight press conference. “She was taking me to the ground, she was so fast I wasn’t able to defend. But when I was on the ground, I always told myself, ‘You have to go up again and again and again and you won’t stop until you get up,’ and that’s what I did.
“In the third round, my coaches told me, ‘Lower your level a little bit,’ and I was able to defend better. I was just hoping that she would do the spin. It happened like the [Joanne Calderwood fight]. I knew it would be easier to take the back in that moment, so I was just waiting for the perfect opportunity.”
Grasso scored her second submission win on Saturday, a method of victory that wasn’t on her resume through the first decade of her career. Prior to a tapout of Joanne Calderwood in March 2022, Grasso was primarily known for her striking expertise.
Against Shevchenko, she had to show off a well-rounded skill set, and she said she was thrilled to see the fruits of her labor in on the training mats translate to fight night.
“It feels great,” Grasso said. “I’ve been improving my jiu-jitsu for so long as you can notice and this means a lot to me. Now I’m finishing fights, which is amazing. It’s truly amazing, I truly want to finish my fights now and I’m getting more mature, I’m getting better as a fighter and I’m showing that.”
The finish couldn’t have come at a better time, as Grasso would have either been down on the scorecards or tied heading into Round 5. All three judges scored Round 1 for Grasso and Rounds 2 and 3 for Shevchenko.
How five more minutes would have played out is anyone’s guess, but Grasso made sure that they weren’t needed.
“I won the most important fight of my life,” Grasso said. “I did everything I had to do to get my hand raised and I knew that I had to finish the fight no matter what.”
Grasso is 5-0 now as a flyweight, but she has a long way to go to match the accolades of Shevchenko. In addition to her seven successful title defenses, Shevchenko is tied with Katlyn Chookagian for the most wins in the UFC flyweight division at nine. She also holds the record for the most UFC flyweight knockouts (4) and is tied for the second-most stoppages in the division (5).
Shevchenko’s accomplishments likely give her first refusal when it comes to an immediate rematch and Grasso welcomes the opportunity to run it back with “Bullet.”
“She was so dominant in the division, of course we can do this again,” Grasso said.