Saturday’s headliner was a back-and-forth war for 25 minutes, with the deciding factor coming down to the fifth round after Grasso secured a late rear-naked choke attempt that Shevchenko defended to the final horn. When the scorecards were announced, judge Sal D’Amato gave the fight 48-47 to Shevchenko, while judge Junichiro Kamijo had it 48-47 for Grasso.
The third official was Mike Bell, who scored it 47-47, which resulted in the split draw.
Afterward, it was revealed that Bell gave the fifth round to Grasso with a 10-8, which led to the 47-47 scorecard.
The usually stoic Shevchenko was obviously upset after the decision was read, declaring that she should be celebrating her second reign as UFC champion.
“I think it really was 3-2 on my side,” Shevchenko said. “But the judges I think felt a little bit of pressure because it’s Mexican Independence Day, that’s why the give one more to the Mexican fighter. I fought to the end and I think I did enough. In a fair competition, the victory would be mine.”
Grasso proclaimed victory as well, creating an awkward scene for what was ultimately an incredible five-round fight marred by one puzzling scorecard.
“I did a lot of damage,” Grasso said. “All of my punches were hard, and yes, I’m the winner. I think I did enough [to win].”
Both fighters gave everything in the cage, with Shevchenko coming out for a quick start by establishing some nasty body kicks and a slick jab that continued to find a home throughout the bout. Undaunted by the attacks, Grasso switched stances to keep Shevchenko guessing while sticking a well-timed jab in the face.
With just over a minute remaining in the opening round, Shevchenko scored a slick takedown and immediately looked to take the back, searching for a rear-naked choke. Grasso scrambled out effectively to restart back on her feet.
Shevchenko continued to connect with good combinations, but then Grasso cracked her with a stiff counter right hand that dropped the former champion to the canvas momentarily. Grasso rushed forward looking to capitalize, but Shevchenko was able to survive before landing a takedown to slow the action as she recovered.
As the third round started, Shevchenko turned to her grappling again, which led to her grabbing a tight guillotine choke and then rolling to the mount. It looked for a moment like Grasso was done, but she refused to submit, which eventually forced Shevchenko to release the submission or risk burning out her arms holding onto the choke.
From there, Shevchenko transitioned to take the back with a body triangle, with Grasso playing effective defense. Just before the horn sounded, Grasso began to escape, which led to a late armbar attempt from Shevchenko, but time ran out before she could really latch onto the submission.
When the fight was on the feet, Shevchenko and Grasso both connected effectively at times. Shevchenko consistently found a home for her jab as well as an inside elbow that opened a cut over Grasso’s left eye.
Just when it looked like Shevchenko was headed to victory in the final round, she made an ill-fated takedown attempt that Grasso reversed, which allowed Grasso to take the back. The end of the first fight was almost repeated as Grasso searched for a rear-naked choke.
It looked for a moment like the result would be the same, but this time Shevchenko was able to resist until the final horn sounded. It turns out that final grappling exchange made all the difference between Grasso keeping her belt or handing the title back to Shevchenko.
Now the question remains if the UFC will run back a trilogy, especially with Grasso and Shevchenko putting on a memorable fight on Saturday night. For her part, Grasso wasn’t ready to commit to a trilogy just yet, especially after engaging in a five-round war.
“It depends,” Grasso said when asked about a third fight against Shevchenko. “I have to talk to my coaches and my manager. Let’s see what’s next.”