LAS VEGAS — Fighters will often say, “I got caught,” after they were knocked out or badly hurt during a fight. It’s meant to convey the idea that it’s one of those things that sometimes happens in a sport as unpredictable as MMA.
It’s also occasionally used as a diss toward their opponent. The inference is almost as if the opponent got lucky and didn’t actually mean to land when throwing a punch at their head.
In the aftermath of Alexa Grasso’s submission of the great Valentina Shevchenko in the fourth round of their women’s flyweight title bout on March 4 in UFC 285 at T-Mobile Arena, a variation of that story was told by those who were so shocked by the result that there seemed to be no other explanation.
Shevchenko threw a spinning back fist at Grasso and missed. Grasso immediately jumped on her back and submitted her in the fourth round in one of the biggest upsets in UFC women’s title fight history.
They’ll meet in a rematch Saturday at T-Mobile in the main event of Noche UFC, an event built to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. Grasso was one of three Mexican champions earlier this year, but after flyweight Brandon Moreno and featherweight Yair Rodriguez lost their belts, Grasso is the UFC’s last standing Mexican champion.
It wasn’t as if she’d gotten desperate, closed her eyes and swung for the stars and her fist happened to meet Shevchenko’s chin. The back take that led to the submission was something she’d practiced repeatedly. She had a video of her training that very move while she pulled it off in competition to win the title.
Shevchenko was ahead on the scorecards at the time of the finish, and she shrugged off the loss by pointing out she’d made a mistake and that Grasso had capitalized.
Grasso didn’t take it as an insult because, well, she has the videotape.
“You know, I’ve heard people say that I got lucky with that, which is kind of funny,” Grasso told Yahoo Sports. “It was something I’d practice. It’s on my phone. I still have it. So I know it was something I trained to do. I told everyone before that fight, I had trained very, very hard. These opportunities [to fight for a title] are rare and you have to be prepared to take advantage of them when you get them. … Now, you don’t know if you’re going to win or not; that’s why we do the competition. But I knew I prepared myself the best I could.”
Losing fighters are often asked what happened, and when they try to explain the key sequence from their perspective, it can sound like they’re making excuses.
Shevchenko is a classy fighter, but she didn’t laud Grasso. She answered the questions asked of her and gave her take on the finishing sequence. That came off poorly to some, though Grasso didn’t make much of it.
“I don’t think I would say I was annoyed, maybe just a little surprised,” Grasso said of Shevchenko. “She has such big experience and she knows better than just about anyone how that side of the game works. It was emotional for her, I’m sure, and I don’t think she did or said anything [wrong].”
Grasso is trying to prove that win was no fluke and instead the result of talent, hard work and planning. So she doubled down on her preparations.
She was fantastic in March, but concedes she’ll need to raise her game Saturday if she hopes to retain the title.
“It was a very good fight last time, but I know Valentina looked at that and figured things out and I need to do that same thing,” Grasso said. “I’ve put everything — everything! — into this. I’ve worked so hard and sacrificed so much, because that’s what is required at this level and when you’re facing someone like [Shevchenko].
“I believe in myself and what I have done to get myself to this point. And now I have to go out and do it [again].”