Controversial Draw Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko 2 and Questionable Judging

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Controversial Draw: Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko 2 and Questionable Judging

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Welcome to “Judges Gonna Judge,” where our MMA Junkie team takes a deep dive into the weekend’s most contentious decisions in the world of mixed martial arts.

In this edition, we turn our attention to the electrifying Noche UFC main event held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The spotlight shone brightly on the women’s flyweight title rematch between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko.

The battle unfolded as a thrilling, seesawing spectacle, with both fighters seizing significant moments throughout the grueling 25-minute contest. When the dust finally settled, the judges found themselves in a quandary, unable to unanimously crown a victor. Two judges submitted scores of 48-47 in favor of each fighter, while a third judge declared it a draw with a 47-47 scorecard.

For the hometown hero from Guadalajara, Alexa Grasso, the outcome allowed her to hold on to her flyweight championship, even without securing a decisive win. The raucous crowd, celebrating Mexican Independence Day, erupted in joy.

Nevertheless, the decision raised eyebrows, primarily due to the 47-47 scorecard issued by cageside judge Michael Bell. Bell, notably, saw Round 5 as a 10-8 round in favor of Grasso. Contrasting perspectives emerged as Sal D’Amato awarded the fight to Shevchenko, while Junichiro Kamijo sided with Grasso, yielding dual 48-47 scorecards.

Intriguingly, media members who documented their scores on MMA Decisions found themselves divided as well, with 12 favoring Grasso and 11 supporting Shevchenko.

MMA Junkie’s Matthew Wells, Farah Hannoun, and Simon Samano donned their judging hats to dissect the contest round by round, offering their insights and analysis.

Before we delve into their breakdown, a quick refresher on the official scoring criteria can be found [here](insert link to official scoring criteria).

Round 1

Alexa Grasso (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

Wells: Shevchenko displayed precision and finesse during the initial striking exchanges. She took the initiative, expertly combining her strikes and landing clean shots, particularly connecting with a powerful overhand left. Grasso did manage to land a few strikes in response, but Shevchenko’s attacks were more substantial. Notably, she delivered a well-executed body kick within the first minute of the round. Shevchenko’s initial takedown attempt at 2:28 was swiftly thwarted, but she continued to unleash rapid punches until the next clinch approximately a minute later. During this sequence, Shevchenko successfully executed a takedown, transitioned to mount, and then back mount. Grasso, however, managed to slip out of Shevchenko’s choke attempt, and the fight resumed in a standing clinch with 40 seconds left on the clock. They engaged in a series of brief, inconsequential strikes from this position until the round concluded. Shevchenko, the former champion, got off to a strong start and clearly secured a 10-9 round.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Hannoun: Shevchenko initiated the round with a couple of forceful body shots, showcasing her effectiveness in the southpaw stance. Grasso responded with a well-executed left in the clinch and actively pursued low kicks. With slightly over a minute remaining in the round, Shevchenko executed a body lock takedown, briefly securing Grasso’s back before Grasso explosively escaped. The round concluded with both fighters locked in a clinch against the cage, with Shevchenko pressing Grasso.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Samano: Shevchenko established an early tone with her striking prowess, a departure from her performance in the first round of their initial encounter. It was evident from the outset that she had adopted a different mindset. Shevchenko’s striking in this round was characterized by precision and crispness, leaving no room for debate. This round unquestionably belonged to Shevchenko.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Round 2

Wells: In the early stages of Round 2, Grasso began to find her mark with her punches more frequently. Shevchenko initiated a clinch and attempted a trip takedown just 30 seconds in, but Grasso defended effectively. Following a series of exchanges in the center of the octagon, Grasso landed a clean right hand at 3:40 that proved to be one of the pivotal moments of the bout, sending Shevchenko to the canvas. Shevchenko swiftly regained her feet and looked for a double-leg takedown as Grasso pressed forward. However, the champion skillfully maneuvered Shevchenko into the fence, delivering solid punches, elbows to the head, and impressive knees to the body in a Thai clinch. They returned to the center of the cage with three minutes remaining, and just as Grasso initiated her forward movement, she was taken down cleanly with a double-leg takedown. Yet, from 2:55 to 2:18, Grasso maintained an arm-in guillotine without fully committing to the submission. Shevchenko postured up to land punches but was pushed away by Grasso, who then engaged in the upkick game briefly before Shevchenko re-entered the guard. Both fighters remained active with their punches until the round concluded. Once again, this was a straightforward round to score, and it went in favor of Grasso.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso

Hannoun: Grasso kicked off the second round with an aggressive approach, prompting Shevchenko to initiate a clinch. Grasso broke free, and moments later, she landed a significant right hand that sent Shevchenko tumbling to the canvas. In a defensive stance, Shevchenko managed to grab hold of Grasso, but the champion swiftly reversed the position and unleashed a barrage of short uppercuts, punches, and knees in the clinch. Capitalizing on Grasso’s forward pressure, Shevchenko executed a successful double-leg takedown. She maintained top position for the remainder of the round, but Grasso’s knockdown and subsequent flurry secured her the round.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Samano: The champion made a resounding comeback by connecting with a powerful right hand that landed flush on Shevchenko’s face, causing her to fall backward. Shevchenko quickly rolled back to her feet, but she was visibly hurt. Grasso, however, couldn’t capitalize fully because of her rush in, failing to square up properly and moving into a deep defensive body lock that allowed Shevchenko to regain her composure. Nevertheless, Grasso demonstrated skill in infighting, landing additional punches. At this point, it became evident that Shevchenko would survive the round, which she did. Shevchenko then executed a successful double-leg takedown to reset the situation, but it didn’t lead to significant developments. Consequently, this round unequivocally belonged to Grasso, with the knockdown providing the most substantial sequence of the fight thus far.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Round 3

Wells: The beginning of Round 3 witnessed a surge in output from Shevchenko. Her right jab displayed speed and accuracy, finding its mark repeatedly. At the 3:30 mark, Shevchenko executed a takedown, establishing herself in Grasso’s half guard. As Grasso scrambled to break free, Shevchenko seized the opportunity to secure a deep mounted guillotine choke at 3:08. Grasso, however, maintained her composure during this tense moment, enduring the hold until Shevchenko relinquished the attempt at 2:18. The former champion then transitioned to Grasso’s back with a body triangle, maintaining this dominant position until Grasso managed to turn into guard. Towards the end of the round, Shevchenko shifted her focus to an armbar attempt, making for a captivating final seconds before the horn. Thus far, this bout has been straightforward to score, with another clear 10-9 round in favor of the former champion. However, things take an interesting turn from this point onward.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Hannoun: The third round commenced with an exchange of leg kicks and punches, though neither fighter landed any significant shots. Shevchenko altered the course of the round by successfully executing a takedown, subsequently transitioning to a mounted guillotine choke, which appeared to put Grasso in a precarious situation. Grasso managed to extricate her head, but Shevchenko promptly took her opponent’s back, maintaining control for the remainder of the round. As the seconds ticked away, Shevchenko initiated an armbar attempt. It was an unequivocal round for Shevchenko.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Samano: Once more, a clear sequence made scoring this round straightforward. Approximately two minutes into the round, Shevchenko transitioned into a mounted guillotine choke as Grasso attempted to escape from her bottom position. Grasso found herself in a tight spot for over a minute, with the choke appearing particularly menacing for about 30 seconds. During this tense period, thoughts of an imminent submission crossed the mind. Nevertheless, Grasso demonstrated resilience in her defense, ultimately creating the necessary space to evade the danger, though Shevchenko retained top control. For the following 30 seconds, Grasso maintained a composed demeanor as Shevchenko released the choke but continued to dominate from the top position. This round was unquestionably in favor of Shevchenko.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Round 4

Wells: Round 4 presented a complex scenario, so let’s delve into the details. In the initial minute, striking exchanges appeared fairly even, but Shevchenko started to connect more consistently with swift right-hand shots. Grasso responded with a calf kick, followed by a right hand attempt. Both fighters seemed to land right-hand strikes during an exchange. At 3:16, Shevchenko delivered a solid left and followed it up with a well-executed right. Grasso countered with a leg kick, while Shevchenko responded with another right hand. A pivotal moment occurred at 3:01 when Grasso thwarted a takedown attempt and ensnared Shevchenko in a front headlock. Grasso elevated Shevchenko, delivering a series of impactful legal knees to the head as they pressed against the cage. Shevchenko’s strategy seemed to backfire at this point. Grasso followed up with short punches and connected with knees to the body within the Thai clinch. More punches from Grasso ensued as Shevchenko remained pinned against the cage. Grasso then executed a takedown, hoisting Shevchenko onto her back and initiating an arm attack at 2:20. However, Shevchenko managed to reverse the position, transitioning into guard. Grasso swiftly regained her footing seconds later. Shevchenko opted to maintain the clinch against the cage and landed a right elbow on the exit at 1:48. Back in the center, they engaged in a punch exchange, with both landing solid strikes as they navigated around the cage. Shevchenko displayed sharper striking during this phase. She briefly took Grasso down with a takedown and regained control of her opponent’s back as the champion popped back up. In the closing moments, Grasso rolled for an ankle lock, attempting to crank it until the round’s end. This round was undeniably the closest of the entire fight, yet Grasso’s more impactful moments, including the front headlock knees, punches against the fence, the slam, and the kimura attempt, along with finishing the round in a submission hold, outweighed Shevchenko’s work in the striking department.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso

Hannoun: Seeking a rebound, Grasso pressed the attack on Shevchenko, who countered with precise strikes. Shevchenko attempted a takedown, but Grasso defended skillfully, unleashing a flurry of knees to Shevchenko’s head while Shevchenko tried to place one hand down. Shevchenko signaled to Herb Dean that the knees were illegal, but the fight continued. Grasso then executed a powerful slam on Shevchenko and initiated a kimura lock attempt, albeit without securing the position. Shevchenko eventually found herself on top, but both fighters quickly returned to their feet. Shevchenko concluded the round with a striking combination that caused Grasso to bleed and finalized it with a takedown. However, Grasso promptly stood up and concluded the round with an ankle lock attempt. This round was exceptionally close, but Grasso’s more consequential moments, including the knee strikes and ankle lock, may have tipped the scales in her favor.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Samano: Round 4 proved to be the most closely contested of the fight, and I ultimately awarded it to Grasso. Here’s the breakdown: During the first two minutes, Shevchenko appeared to be dominating with her precise jab, which was hitting the target consistently. Shevchenko was effectively sniping Grasso with it, leaving Grasso struggling to establish her range. However, the turning point came when Shevchenko attempted a double-leg takedown, and Grasso defended it brilliantly. This led to a crucial sequence of knee strikes. Once Grasso sprawled, she seized Shevchenko’s neck and unleashed six powerful knees to Shevchenko’s head, which Shevchenko was unable to defend. Pressed against the cage, Grasso took Shevchenko’s back and executed a takedown, but her enthusiasm caused her to lose the position. After returning to their feet, Shevchenko connected with an elbow strike that opened a cut on Grasso’s face. Shevchenko continued to find success with her jab. While she managed another takedown, Grasso promptly bounced back up and concluded the round by threatening with an ankle lock in the final 10 seconds. Therefore, when assessing the round, it comes down to Shevchenko’s consistent jab-based striking versus Grasso’s significant moments with the knee attacks and the ankle lock.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Round 5

Alexa Grasso (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports) Photo Cradit: mmajunkie.usatoday.com

Wells: Shevchenko began Round 5 with a well-executed right-hand jab, establishing control with her striking. Grasso responded with a lower volume of strikes, and it was evident that Shevchenko’s punches were more effective as she utilized her jab to dart in and out. Grasso attempted a single-leg takedown at 2:24, but Shevchenko easily escaped the attempt. With just over 90 seconds remaining, the entire course of the round shifted when Shevchenko initiated a head and arm throw. Grasso adeptly reversed the position, seized Shevchenko’s back, and unleashed a barrage of powerful punches. Shevchenko covered up defensively while attempting to escape the position. Grasso maintained control with a body triangle and subsequently applied a rear-naked choke with less than a minute to go. Grasso eventually abandoned the submission attempt with 45 seconds remaining, opting to resume striking from her dominant position. She then pulled Shevchenko back and explored one final opportunity for a choke or neck crank before the round concluded. Although Shevchenko was initially sticking and moving, ultimately securing the round, Grasso’s exceptional ground strikes and submission attempts in the final 90 seconds of the round nullified Shevchenko’s earlier work. While Grasso clearly took the round, a 10-8 score is unwarranted.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso

Hannoun: Round 5 presented an intriguing scenario. Grasso initiated the round with a well-placed right-hand strike, while Shevchenko responded with her effective jab. Shevchenko consistently found success with the jab throughout the round. Grasso attempted a single-leg takedown, which Shevchenko easily defended. With less than two minutes remaining, Shevchenko’s striking volume increased, showcasing her ability to land with precision. However, Shevchenko’s decision to go for a takedown resulted in a significant turning point. Grasso capitalized on Shevchenko’s mistake, landing substantial ground and pound from back mount, nearly securing a rear-naked choke. Grasso continued to unleash punches and pursued a neck crank, but Shevchenko managed to survive.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Samano: Round 5 mirrored the fourth, with Grasso capitalizing on Shevchenko’s mistakes. For over three minutes, Shevchenko controlled the round with her effective jab and superior striking. However, Shevchenko’s decision to close the distance and attempt a takedown changed the course of the round. When Shevchenko tried to throw Grasso, Grasso swiftly escaped and took Shevchenko’s back, unleashing a relentless barrage of strikes. At one point, Shevchenko was turtled up in defense. Grasso seized the opportunity to apply a tight rear-naked choke, though she ultimately abandoned the submission attempt. More punches from Grasso followed, and she also sought a potential choke or neck crank before the round concluded. While Shevchenko had control for a significant portion of the round, Grasso’s impactful moments in the final 90 seconds outweighed Shevchenko’s earlier work. Consequently, I scored this round 10-9 for Grasso.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso

As for the overall outcome, the judges’ decision to score Round 5 as a 10-8 round is questionable, as it doesn’t align with the criteria. Grasso’s ability to capitalize on Shevchenko’s mistakes in the final rounds tipped the balance in her favor.

Wells’ overall score: 48-47 Grasso

Hannoun’s overall score: 48-47 Grasso

Samano’s overall score: 48-47 Grasso

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