LAS VEGAS (AP) — Some of the greatest rivalries in combat sports have delivered spectacular trilogies.
UFC flyweights Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko are poised for an addition to that list.
Grasso retained her flyweight title after coming away with a split draw against Shevchenko on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 227.
A spirited crowd of 18,766 turned out for UFC’s first-ever main card on Mexican Independence Day, keeping in tradition for combat sports to hold big fights on Sept. 16.
“It was amazing,” Grasso said. “I love that people came out to support all the Mexicans.”
It was a long-anticipated rematch from March 4, when Grasso pulled off the stunning upset with a fourth-round submission after Shevchenko missed badly when she led her attack with a back kick. Grasso quickly moved in for the takedown and eventually was able to apply a rear naked choke to win the belt.
Saturday, neither fighter made many mistakes but rather made the most of advantageous situations. It took a strong finish by Grasso (16-3-1) over the final 75 seconds of the fifth round to earn the split draw.
“My coaches said, ‘Hey let’s do this. Fifth round, let’s finish this,’” said Grasso, who added she always feels a sense of urgency heading into a fifth and decisive round, regardless of the score.
Judge Junichiro Kamijo scored the fight 48-47 in favor of Grasso, while Sal D’amato scored it identically in favor of Shevchenko. Mike Bell scored the bout 47-47 after scoring the third round 10-8 in favor of Grasso, a tally Shevchenko vehemently disagreed with.
“It’s kind of like crossed feelings,” expressed Shevchenko, who said she broke her right thumb in the first round. “From one side I’m proud because I fought. I fought with all my heart, all my soul. From the other side, I feel frustration. ... I think I did everything to secure the victory. I think because this event is Mexican Independence Day, so it’s very subjective decision. A draw is not a loss, but in my case, it’s not a victory.”
Shevchenko (23-4-1) was -260 at FanDuel Sportsbook at the start of the match.
Neither Grasso nor Shevchenko were non-committal on whether they were looking for a third fight. Shevchenko said she wants to see how long it’ll take for her thumb to heal, while Grasso is just looking to decompress.
That said, “It all depends on the UFC, if they want a trilogy, let’s do this,” Grasso said.
In the co-main event, 14th-ranked welterweight Jack Della Maddalena (16-2) earned a split decision over 13th-ranked Kevin Holland (25-10), with all three judges giving scores of 29-28.
“I thought it was close, I feel like he ended up on the cage a bit more, but whatever I’m not a judge,” Della Maddalena said. “The plan was to come in, be defensive, use the eyes and just wait for my shots.
Raul Rosas Jr. (8-1) landed a powerful left hook that dropped Terrence Mitchell (14-4), and immediately pounced for a ground-and-pound attack, prompting referee Mark Smith to stop their three-round bantamweight fight at the 55-second mark of the first round, sending the crowd into a frenzy and his mother, Oyuki Rios, into happy tears.
“I had to prove a point today,” said 18-year-old Rosas, who was coming off his first loss. “I knew I had to come back from that, I knew I’m better than, I disappointed my fans, my people.”
Daniel Zellhuber (14-1) used a right hand to hurt Christos Giagos (20-11) and eventually brought him to the ground and made him submit with an anaconda choke hold at the 3:26 mark of the second round in their three-round lightweight bout.
In a three-round featherweight bout to open the main card, Kyle Nelson (15-5-1) defeated Fernando Padilla (15-5) by unanimous decision with scores of 29-28, 29-28, 30-27.
In what was an early candidate for “Fight of the Night” from the preliminary card, a bout that surprisingly didn’t make the main card, fan-favorite Tracy Cortez, ranked 14th in the world, improved to 11-1 with a unanimous decision win over Jasmine Jasudavicius (9-3) in a three-round flyweight bout.
“I know that I’ve had a pretty long layoff and this was my return and I really wanted to make a statement, and I think I did that tonight,” said Cortez, the only person to ever beat Erin Blanchfield. “When the time is right, I do believe I deserve (a title shot) sometime next year, if things keep going the way they’re going."