Noche UFC 293 concluded with a split decision draw between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko, thus allowing Grasso to retain the belt. Before that, some standout performances on the card put Jack Della Maddalena, Raul Rosas Jr. and Tracy Cortez on an interesting path. Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim react to the biggest moments of the night in Las Vegas.
It was a back-and-forth fight from start to finish. Valentina Shevchenko had the early momentum. Alexa Grasso took over. Then Shevchenko again. Then Grasso. Then ... a draw?
What an unsatisfying way to end the festivities of Mexican Independence Day, a celebration of a dogged combat sports culture known for fighters battling it out until one of them cannot fight anymore. Then again, a case could be made for either of these women to have her arm raised on Saturday night, so it was poetic justice that they both had their arms raised at the conclusion of the Noche UFC main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In some respects, this rematch played out much like the first meeting in March, when Grasso dethroned the longtime UFC women's flyweight champ. And while no one could have expected a draw, how Grasso and Shevchenko competed was foreshadowed during a UFC media event during the week.
Now, prefight news conferences are typically a lot of hot air. I'm in the best shape of my life ... It's been the smoothest training camp of my career ... I'm better than my opponent no matter where the fight goes ... Blah blah blah. But if you listen hard enough, you might come away with an iota of insight.
Such could be found in this brief exchange between Shevchenko and Grasso during a fighter panel held this week to promote the rematch.
Shevchenko: "I want to remind to everyone: 17-time world muay Thai champion, seven title defenses. You cannot get rid of this."
Grasso: "Being a muay Thai champion, I thought you wanted to be striking with me. But you decided to go to the ground."
That exchange defined the first fight back in March -- and signaled where each woman believed she needed to adjust for the rematch. As it turned out, Shevchenko sharpened her standup and, with few exceptions, beat Grasso to the punch again and again. And Grasso, while she did get taken down four times (same as in the first fight), showed stout defense on the canvas and ended the fight hunting for a submission.
Neither woman can be pleased with the result, especially Shevchenko, who walked out of the cage without the shiny belt she'd come for. But guess who must be pleased: the UFC, which now can set up another meeting so these well-matched fighters can complete a trilogy. -- Jeff Wagenheim
Okamoto: What's next for Grasso, Shevchenko and top stars from Noche UFC
Alexa Grasso, flyweight champion
What Should be Next: Erin Blanchfield
It was an odd ending to a hard-fought fight, especially with so much at stake. Very unsatisfying, frankly. You don't want to see this set of circumstances come to an inconclusive end. The question becomes, do you run it a third time? I say no. I don't think it's something the fans would want, and personally, I thought Grasso won. Regardless, the aura of Shevchenko is gone, and I don't believe a 0-1-1 record against the champ begs for an immediate third fight, despite everything Shevchenko has done. I think Grasso moves on for at least one fight, and in my opinion, her next challenger should be Blanchfield.
I'm not in favor of a third fight, but if the UFC feels it has to do it to legitimately move the division forward, it would be justified.
Valentina Shevchenko, flyweight
What Should be Next: Manon Fiorot
I never saw this coming for Shevchenko. This sport is unfathomably unpredictable. The great Valentina Shevchenko is now 1-1-1 in her last three fights, and plenty of observers thought she lost to Talia Santos in 2022 and should be 0-2-1. Some adjustments need to be made, some things addressed. Or we're witnessing the decline of a 35-year-old fighter with a long career already behind her. To me, you make a four-woman tournament at 125. Shevchenko vs. Fiorot, the French dynamic striker. Grasso vs. Blanchfield, the submission specialist. Those are the matchups to me, and you could put them on the same card and build up the winner vs. winner.
The trilogy is in play. I don't think it will be next.
Jack Della Maddalena, welterweight
What Should be Next: Ian Garry
I've been saying this all year after each of their fights. Della Maddalena and Garry are now tied for the longest active win streak at welterweight with six. Most of those have been incredibly impressive. Garry had a few lackluster ones early, and Della Maddalena has had a couple of disappointing ones as of late. But at the end of the day, these two have shown incredible promise and perfect results. I like the idea of matching them together now and promoting it as the division's future. Stylistically, it's a great matchup between Garry's long-range weapons and Della Maddalena's boxing. It would be full of action and dangerous shots.
Wildcard: Shavkat Rakhmanov
Della Maddalena has said that's a fight he wants, and he's the only one. Nobody wants to fight Rakhmanov. He is the dark horse of 170 pounds. Lots of risk but not as much reward because casual fans aren't aware of his skills. If Della Maddalena puts his hand up for that fight, by all means.
Kevin Holland, welterweight
What Should be Next: Li Jingliang
If he's available. There have been few updates on the spinal injury that forced Jingliang out of his last scheduled fight against Michael Chiesa in April. If he's available in the first quarter of next year, this is a great fight for both. An action fight. Jingliang is known for offense. Not that he won't fight strategically, but his strategy is usually built around power and aggression. Holland has shown a few versions of himself across an active UFC career, but he's been entertaining more often than not. If this fight is available, it's a good one.
Wildcard: Chris Curtis
I tend to throw in a middleweight as my wildcard for Holland because he constantly desires to return to 185 pounds. Curtis is a gamer. Another one of those names the UFC can throw on any card to add some action. A fun fight on paper. He's not in title contention, but he's ranked in the Top 15 at middleweight, which would appeal to Holland.
Raul Rosas Jr. celebrates emphatically with the Vegas crowd after his win over Terrence Mitchell at Noche UFC.
Raul Rosas Jr., bantamweight
What Should be Next: Fernie Garcia
I would best describe Rosas Jr.'s current fight style as "frantic," just full napalm from the opening bell. Growing pains are expected. They've already happened. He lost to Christian Rodriguez in his last bout, a fight he was comfortably favored in. Odds are, he'll lose again. He's 18, fighting in the UFC. Historically, there are better places to grow than the Octagon. But his talent is undeniable. It's obvious why the UFC wants him. He injects energy and entertainment into every card he's on. How do you matchmake him? You find the most manageable challenges possible. It doesn't matter how good he looks. You keep him away from the best. Garcia is 0-3 in the UFC. He needs to defend his job at this point. He's an appropriate next-man-up for Rosas Jr.
Wildcard: Chad Anheliger
The UFC has been tactful in how they've booked Rosas Jr., but they've also shown a willingness to throw him in there with guys who have outstanding records and much more experience. Anheliger falls into the latter category more than the first. His record isn't incredible at 12-6, but he's 36 (literally twice Rosas Jr.'s age) and has been fighting professionally for 13 years. He was a late bloomer and only reached the UFC in 2021. This would be a big opportunity for him -- a guy who took the long road against a guy who took the shortest road ever. There's a story there, and a fair matchup.
Raimondi: 'You can't break me' -- Cortez ready to move forward to title gold
Tracy Cortez has had a tough couple of years. She's dealt with family tragedies, like her brother and mother's death. More recently, she's struggled with injuries and personal issues, which kept her out of the Octagon for 16 months.
In her postfight interview Saturday, Cortez said she can't be broken. It would be difficult to disagree with her. After the unanimous decision win over Jasmine Jasudavicius, Cortez is now 5-0 in the UFC and tied with Alexa Grasso, Maycee Barber and Raquel Pennington for the third-longest active winning streak among UFC female fighters. Only Tatiana Suarez, Blanchfield and Fiorot have a longer streak.
Cortez also owns a win over Blanchfield, considered one of the world's top women's flyweight fighters. Cortez could be headed in that direction, too. Her boxing looked greatly improved. She's been working hard at Fight Ready MMA under coaches Eddie Cha and Santino DeFranco and is a longtime training partner of her family friend Henry Cejudo. Cortez recently went to Brazil to train with Bellator stars Patricio Freire and Patricky Freire, which certainly didn't hurt her striking.
"I'm here to go up in the rankings," Cortez said during her post-fight interview. "Next year, you're gonna see a new champion. I'm coming for that belt."
She's been labeled many times so far in her young MMA career. But Cortez is now standing tall on her fighting ability and the successes she's stacking atop one another -- which is all that matters to her in the end.