Brett OkamotoESPN Writer2 minute read
LAS VEGAS — The UFC has already crowned three Mexican-born champions in 2023 — and the loudest of the three came at UFC 285 on Saturday.
Alexa Grasso (16-3) shocked the world at UFC 286, submitting seven-time reigning flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko (23-4) at 4:34 of the fourth round. She did it as a 6-to-1 underdog and joined flyweight champion Brandon Moreno and interim featherweight champion Yair Rodriguez as the new Mexican champions this year.
“Please hit me, I feel like I’m dreaming,” Grasso said. “I’ve dreamed of this moment for so long.”
Grasso, of Guadalajara, Mexico, made his UFC flyweight debut just five fights ago in August 2020, after competing for years at strawweight. She was competitive with Shevchenko throughout, but it was her ability to capitalize on a single mistake from the longtime champion that made her a new titleholder.
With less than a minute left in the fourth, Shevchenko threw a back kick that exposed her to Grasso. Grasso timed Shevchenko’s move and immediately jumped onto his back. The two fell to the ground where Grasso applied a rear chokehold. Shevchenko fought the submission for several moments, before finally pressing the choke.
“I trained for it, I trained it every day,” Grasso said. “I knew she was spinning stuff.”
It’s the sixth biggest upset in a UFC title fight in the last 15 years.
For Kyrgyzstan’s Shevchenko, the loss ended a nine-fight winning streak dating back to 2017. She appeared to be in relative control of the fight at the time of the error, although Grasso had plenty of success on the feet. Shevchenko varied his attack on the feet, going after Grasso’s legs and body, and converted four of his six takedown attempts.
She called for an immediate rematch after the result was read.
“That’s what happens in mixed martial arts,” Shevchenko said. “You’re winning the fight all around without a doubt and one situation can change everything. That’s part of the game. Kudos to Alexa.”
Grasso threw Shevchenko into adversity early on, when she knocked her down with a stinging left hand down the middle. Her boxing combinations continued to find a home throughout, although she struggled to stay upright in rounds two and three. In the fourth, however, she began to better defend the takedown and maintain the desired range.
The UFC had waited a long time to crown its first Mexican-born champion. Moreno became the first in January, and now the company has capped three in three months. This follows an announcement earlier this year that the company will open a performance institute in Mexico City in the fourth quarter of 2023.