Alexa Grasso successfully defended her flyweight title with a split draw (retaining is defending, she didn’t have to win) over Valentina Shevchenko in their rematch at Noche UFC, and like with any draw, the people have some thoughts. What the (Mike) Heck just happened, was it right, and where do we go from here? All that in this week’s mailbag.
Who won? Shevchenko or Grasso?— IronFlagNFT (@IronFlagNFT) September 17, 2023
Do you feel like even though we got their the wrong way a draw was the right score for the fight?— Jackson Marusich (@JacksonMarusich) September 17, 2023
Well, strictly speaking, nobody won. That’s how draws work. And to Jackson’s point, that’s not exactly the worst thing here.
We’ll get to all the scoring controversy in a bit, but broadly speaking, I’m totally okay with a draw. That’s not how I scored the fight, mind you. I thought Grasso won three of the rounds, but Round 4 was exceedingly close. More to the point, if either woman won, it was not by a margin outside the range of error. Like Americans (because many are), MMA fans hate ties. Because I’m a man of high culture and taste, I can appreciate a good nil-nil game and so I’ve always been much more willing to declare a fight a draw, in part because that’s often how fights work on the school yard. One kid wins or they just kind of stalemate and then it’s over, none the worse for wear. In Grasso vs. Shevchenko 2, I’m not really sure either woman proved themselves superior to the other.
Rewatching the fight, these two women are just very evenly matched. Shevchenko has a little more skill on the feet, a few more tools, but Grasso has that irrepressible spirit and is a great opportunist. So for large swaths of the fight, Shevchenko jabs Grasso up, but then she makes a mistake or things don’t go perfect, and Grasso capitalizes. In their first fight, that led to a submission victory for Grasso. In this one, it led to Grasso losing many of the battles, but winning a few of them in a huge way.
Per the rules of MMA scoring, I stand by my scorecard of 47-46 Grasso, with dueling 10-8 rounds in Rounds 2 and 3, but holistically a draw seems right. Both women had successes and failures, and in the end, Grasso deserves to keep her title.
How in the world did Mike Bell justify a 10-8 round 5??— Logan Harrington (@logandh724) September 17, 2023
Here’s the thing: If fans couldn’t see scorecards, there would be no controversy in this fight. Heading into the official decision, I thought there was a chance of a draw, with Shevchenko winning Rounds 1, 3, and 4, but with Grasso getting a 10-8 in Round 2. Again, I don’t agree with that, but based on how judges typically score, I thought it was either a draw or a Grasso win, 48-46. So when a split draw was read out, I was fine with it. I think most were. The problem came when the scorecards dropped and Mike Bell gave Grasso a 10-8 in the fifth.
Is that a good score? No. By pretty much any reading of the judging criteria, it’s a bad one. Shevchenko cleanly won the first three minutes and change of that round before going for the toss, getting her back taken, and surviving the choke attempt. That offense from Grasso is enough to win the round back, because it was more impactful, but it’s not enough to erase the first 60 percent of the round. And Mike Bell knows that. He has historically been one of the better judges. So let me tell you what actually happened: It was a make-up call.
Everybody makes mistakes, particular officials in sports. Sometimes those people double down on their errors, but much more frequently, we get the make-up call. A referee misses a clear defensive pass interference? Flag is gonna drop pretty quickly the next time that defensive back makes a pass break up. Ref calls a weak charge on Lebron? Next time down the court, Kevin Durant can gently brush a defender and still get one. The make-up call is time-honored tradition in sports to allow officials to even things up after getting it wrong previously. That’s what happened here. After the fifth round, Mike Bell realized he had the fight for Shevchenko but decided that her winning a fight where she was seriously hurt in the second and nearly finished in the fifth, well, that didn’t sit right with him, so he fixed the problem. Was it artful? No. Was it right? Ehhhhh. I’m not that upset with it.
Honestly, the thing that bothers me the most is that he didn’t score Round 2 a 10-8. In my humble opinion, that is the sort of round that demands a 10-8. Judging criteria allows for 10-8s in certain circumstances, but demands them in others. That round felt like a demand, unless you count Shevchenko stalling from top position for 90 seconds as offense. Grasso dominated that round and seriously hurt the former champion. And if he had done that appropriately, like he did for the first fight of the night between Josefine Knutsson and Marnic Mann, then he wouldn’t have needed the make-up call in the first place.
Are we getting Grasso/Shevchenko 3 in March at UFC 300?— haha81 (@haha81_hasboogs) September 17, 2023
Seems likely. I know that Grasso was a bit noncommittal about running things back immediately, but barring unforeseen circumstances, the UFC is going to have these two women fight again. For one, it’s best for business. Trilogies are easier to promote, and one where the most recent fight was a Fight of the Year contender and ended in a draw, that’s a layup. Plus, the UFC has basically set the standard for this to happen already with the Brandon Moreno vs. Deiveson Figueiredo tetralogy, and it’s not like there’s a Conor McGregor waiting to fight for the women’s flyweight belt.
The one thing that can get in the way here is injury. Shevchenko broke her hand during the fight, so she’s certainly out for some time but probably not that long. Grasso seemed to get through relatively unscathed, but in a fight like that, everyone needs some time off. But you never know. If Shevchenko needs surgery and several months off, maybe Grasso gets a defense in early next year? But I doubt the UFC wants that. The most obvious path forward is the trilogy and Erin Blanchfield and Manon Fiorot can fight in a true No. 1 Contender matchup.
As for UFC 300? Possibly. There are already rumors that the promotion is going to Mexico next year, so if that’s any time in the first two quarters, you just hold that fight for that card. But if it’s not, UFC 300 in April could make a lot of sense as a co-main event or third title fight.
Is 135 next for Valentina? Seem like winnable fights at the top of the division for her.— Danners (@Danners1998) September 17, 2023
Nah. Not yet. I mean, it’s always a possibility because she had plenty of success there, arguably should’ve won her rematch with Amanda Nunes for the title, and holds a win over Julianna Peña, one of the women in the presumed vacant title fight. She could absolutely move up and beat Peña again, or Raquel Pennington. But for now, she has unfinished business with Grasso. That has to come first. If she wins a third fight, maybe they do a fourth, or maybe Shevchenko decides that’s enough and she moves up for the final chapter of her career. But the three-match first.
Thanks for reading, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about things at least somewhat related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck, because you can send your Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew, and I will answer my favorite ones! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane, just so long as they are good. Thanks again and see y’all next week.