While Valentina Shevchenko certainly would love to get one back against Alexa Grasso in the main event of Noche UFC, UFC play-by-play commentator Jon Anik believes Grasso may need a victory more than Shevchenko.
Six months after Grasso’s stunning submission win in their first meeting at UFC 285, she and Shevchenko battle in a championship rematch on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Anik, who calls the action alongside Daniel Cormier and Dominick Cruz, explains why a second Grasso win over Shevchenko would be a massive moment in her career.
“Well, the most basic human need is to feel appreciated, but money is useful as well,” Anik told MMA Fighting. “I don’t know what Valentina’s bank account says. I know she’s going to be in the UFC Hall of Fame, I know that her legacy is entrenched, [and] I know that it would be absolutely devastating, not unlike it was for Kamaru Usman to lose successively to the same opponent after this historically great title reign.
“But Alexa Grasso needs this win more. I mean, with all that is forecast for the UFC [Performance Institute] in Mexico City, and everything ambitiously that we think can happen in Mexico. I began my career as a combat sports journalist covering boxing, so I certainly have an acute understanding of how much the Mexican fan can mean to the UFC going forward.
“Brandon Moreno is incredible, but he wasn’t able to defend the title repeatedly. If Alexa Grosso can stack wins of Valentina Shevchenko on top of one another, it would change her life probably even more than what she did in March. So I will say Alexa Grasso needs it more.”
Anik had the chance to sit down with both fighters ahead of Saturday’s title tilt, and he saw a definite fire in both Grasso and Shevchenko. However, when it comes to Shevchenko’s thoughts and approach to this second meeting, Anik saw a bit of a different side of “Bullet” that he hasn’t seen in quite some time, if ever.
“I can’t quite remember two championship athletes being so confident and so focused, so much so that I’m just so thankful that I’m contractually prevented from betting on this stuff,” Anik said. “My goodness, Valentina Shevchenko is such a human being worth observing. We’ve had so many fighter meetings with her over the years where she has really managed her energy and gives us nothing, man, like trying to get juice out of an unripe piece of fruit, just absolutely nothing. And that’s all by design, but this week, there was just a different tone to her, and I don’t want to say anger, but just a different edge to her.
“Dominick Cruz really peeled back the layers with her in terms of the question he asked, so perfectly, I can’t really get too far into it, but that allowed her to talk just about the spinning technique, and whether or not that is still going to be part of her arsenal, because obviously that was something that was flawed in terms of the execution on a number of levels in the first fight. But it was a really fascinating sitdown with her, and just to hear her talk at her media scrum about like, ‘Oh, I don’t enjoy resting unless I have the belt,’ I mean, that’s just some scary s***.”
After being a nearly +600 underdog in their first meeting at UFC 285, Grasso enters the rematch as the underdog again, though the lines are much closer. The 30-year-old is currently on a five-fight winning streak including victories over current ranked flyweights Maycee Barber and Viviane Araujo.
Following the fight week conversation with Grasso, Anik sees the growing confidence in Grasso, along with the belief that no matter how the fight goes early, Grasso believes that over five rounds, she’ll be able to make lightning strike twice.
“I think my biggest takeaway was just [that] 25 minutes is a good thing for her,” Anik explained. “She has a good style for 25 minutes. She’s not so much worried about banking rounds, she was down two [rounds] to one, borderline, maybe, three to one, and if we had gotten to a fifth round in that first fight, she thinks she’s probably going to find a finish.
“Grasso] just thinks that over 25 minutes she can find a finish, and I don’t have to tell you the extent to which she leveled up just going into that fight. I guess my one concern with Alexa is just that, historically, she hasn’t been a finisher, right? A lot of her knockouts, most of her knockouts came on the regional scene. So I think maybe Valentina has more ways to finish. But yeah, as you can tell, I have a lot to say about this main event and I’m very excited that it’s [almost here].”