The UFC women’s flyweight title will be on the line this Saturday at UFC 285 in Las Vegas, as Valentina Shevchenko defends her belt against Alexa Grasso.
Shevchenko is widely regarded as one of the best female fighters of all time, having dominated her division since 2018 with seven consecutive title defenses. Grasso is a rising star who has won four straight fights, including impressive victories over Maycee Barber and Joanne Calderwood.
This fight is a clash of styles and skills. Shevchenko is a master of striking, grappling, and cardio, who can adapt to any situation and exploit any weakness in her opponents. Grasso is a fast and technical boxer, who has improved her wrestling and submission game over time. Both fighters have shown great defense and durability throughout their careers.
Shevchenko vs. Grasso will air on the UFC 285 ESPN+ PPV main card. Fight fans can order the PPV now on ESPN+ to watch Jones vs. Gane and every other fight live on Saturday night.
Who will emerge victorious in this intriguing matchup? Read on for our Shevchenko vs. Grasso staff picks and predictions before this co-main event showdown.
Valentina Shevchenko is a huge -700 betting favorite against Alexa Grasso. Grasso is available as a +469 for those who believe she can manage an upset at UFC 285.
UFC 285 staff predictions
The one area that Shevchenko really has to respect out of Grasso is boxing range. Look for the champion to initiate the fight at kicking range with her great lead sidekicks and low kicks and utilize a lot of that hopping movement and feints to hide potential flurries, stutter steps, and bursts forward. Of course, the head kick is always a threat as well, and Shevchenko is so good at circling her opponents onto the line she needs.
Grasso has truly dominated her most recent fights with tight, short boxing, staying safe as she pushes past that range and does work. She uses a lot of feints and fluid movement, and she is very well-versed in working from both stances. Watch for a crisp jab, good rhythmic lateral head movement which allows her to be in position to slip quickly. The tight high guard keeps her safe from kicks as she bobs side to side, so on a technical level as a boxer in close she covers all her bases defensively. She likes to draw out her opponents parry with the left jab, and then make them pay for it with the same side hook. Although she is predominantly a boxer, her low and high kicks do work well when she throws them because she can typically lull her opponents into a boxing match, so they come as a surprise.
The big problem though is if Shevchenko is frustrating Grasso with kicks, and forcing her to take chances in order to get on the inside, she could very well end up getting caught into a clinch. Shevchenko’s style of takedowns tend to happen primarily from double under hooks, body lock and a few variations, but strong position to destabilize and move directly past the guard upon hitting the floor. This bodes unwell for Grasso who has to work extra hard getting in but not too far in and then as a scrambler having to work probably from an already pinned position on the floor. Shevchenko tends to get into a really heavy half-guard or work towards a crucifix if she passes, but the common denominator is she likes positions that flatten out her opponents and isolate areas she can strike.
While -700 does not seem like very attractive odds to bet on, it’s very well deserved by the champion. Grasso is tough and scrappy so she may work her way to the end of 25 minutes, but Shevchenko has the technical and tactical skills to stay ahead on the scorecards and the more damaging weapons of the two if you did want to predict a finish. The best value I can see is using Shevchenko to boost a parlay. Jon Jones at -160, does down to -112 in a parlay with Shevchenko, meaning it costs just an extra $12 to double $100.
Pick: Shevchenko to win (-700) (as a parlay boost)
At this point, there isn’t much left to say about Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko.
She is the greatest women’s flyweight of all time, arguably the greatest women’s fighter of all time, and is an undeniable future hall of famer. She has defended her belt twice a year every year since 2018. That equates to 8 title defenses in 4 years. 2022 was the first year since 2018 that Valentina only defended her belt once, a closely contested bout that ended in a split decision. Because of that close fight, Valentina aging, and people growing numb to the champion’s reign, there are whispers that Shevchenko’s time on the throne is coming to an end.
“Bullet” is a well-rounded fighter to the highest degree. She has excellent range kickboxing with high-level technique, stance-switching ability, elite speed, variety, power, and output that few others can match. She is also a fundamental, strong, and successful wrestler who uses clinch work, trips, and heavy top control to get the fight to the mat and keep it there if she chooses. Once down, Valentina can slice and dice with elbows or maneuver fluidly to snag a submission win.
Her defense is just as impressive as her offense, combining footwork, head movement, reaction time, and intelligence to create a perpetually moving target that is difficult to hit. The only small gap in Shevchenko’s game is her defensive wrestling. To clarify, Shevchenko is a technically sound and athletically gifted defensive wrestler who can use a strong base, knowledge of body position, and sheer will to keep the fight standing or even reverse position.
However, in her most recent fight, when Shevchenko faced a highly skilled wrestling opponent who could match and even surpass “Bullet” in strength and persistence, Shevchenko proved to be human and was taken and held down for long periods during the bout. That was a very specialized situation, and one I’m confident the champ and her camp are drilling to counteract. It’s important to note that even though Shevchenko showed a small vulnerability, she still won the fight.
Alexa Grasso is a game fighter with excellent boxing, hand speed, and volume. She has climbed the rankings on the back of pressure, toughness, and a willingness to bring the fight to her opponent from the opening seconds. Typically, Grasso starts out quickly by taking the center of the octagon and immediately pumping her jab forward. Her goal is to get in close where her hand speed and technical boxing can present an advantage against kickboxers, grapplers, and power punchers.
Grasso is adept at fundamentally combining head movement, feints, hand speed, and output to follow the old boxing adage: hit and don’t get hit. She works the body well in the pocket and lands with precision on the chin. Against most grapplers, especially early in fights, Grasso also has solid takedown defense. She is naturally strong and can use underhooks well to hold the clinch and eventually break away into boxing range, where she wants to be.
If the fight hits the mat, Grasso looks to get up immediately and continues to squirm and sprawl until she does get back up. High-level wrestlers have been able to hold her down; but, most of the time, Grasso can get back up. Grasso’s issue, and a reason her fights can sometimes be closer than they appear on paper, is that she does not pack much power in her boxing. Yes, she can tag an opponent and land damage when she plants; but, most of the time, Grasso looks to win through attrition. This allows heavier-handed opponents to lose on the stats but land the bigger shots which can sometimes sway judges.
The common handicap is that Grasso’s quick start, toughness, pressure, volume, and in-the-pocket hand speed could cause issues for Valentina. I, personally, don’t see that as a viable path to victory. While Shevchenko has started slow in the past, going back to 2016, Shevchenko went to a decision 5 times and each of those 5 times, she came back out the next fight more aggressively and found the finish.
Not only did Shevchenko go to decision last time out, the trend suggests she’ll be more aggressive and get the finish this time, but she went to a decision and a large portion of the MMA community thought she lost. If motivation plays a role in Shevchenko’s aggression, she should come out hungry.
As for Grasso’s pocket boxing, Shevchenko is incredibly difficult to trap on the feet, and is still an excellent boxer herself. Moreover, If Grasso can trap the champ and force an in-the-pocket exchange, that opens up the door for Shevchenko to grapple. After Pena beat Nunes, I won’t ever say that a fighter is unbeatable; but, Grasso’s paths to victory are minimal. I like Shevchenko to continue her decision then finish trend, strike early, and then out-grapple Grasso later to find a submission finish.
Picks: Shevchenko to win inside the distance (-135) and by submission (+225)
Valentina Shevchenko is one of the most dominant champions to have competed in the UFC. With a win over Alexa Grasso, she would have her 8th consecutive title defense at the Women’s Flyweight Division and continue her reign over the division going into her 4th full year as the undisputed champion and arguable pound-for-pound number one fighter in women’s MMA.
What makes Valentina Shevchenko so dominant is her having elite traits wherever the fight takes place, and, a keen ability to dominate in the area where her opponent is weakest — showcases her having elite fight intelligence. This ability was put to the test against her last opponent – Taila Santos – and many believe her opponent got the better of Valentina. I will be the first person to raise my hand and say I was surprised with the successful wrestling of Santos against the champ, but, I will pushback on many people believing Santos exposed Valentina, as she not only handled a tough test but further showed how she can battle back from unexpected adversity.
Similar to Amanda Nunes losing to Juliena Pena in their first fight, I do believe Valentina was likely going through motions of sorts entering her last fight and nobody could blame her given her supreme dominance fight over fight. But, given her elite talent and the fact that her going through the motions is still leaps and bounds ahead of what other fighters do, Valentina was able to do enough to win.
For this fight against Alexa Grasso, I expect Valentina to look the best she has ever looked, knowing her last opponent put forth a much greater test than likely anticipated. That forecast is a dangerous proposition because her best is unmatched. From technical wrestling and heavy top control to laser precision striking with an assortment of attacks, Valentina is an extreme test for anyone, and she at her best is a likely test that is simply unable to be passed.
If anyone can dethrone the champion, Alexa Grasso may well in fact be the best fighter to do so. I say this because Grasso’s boxing is unlike any other, as she uses speed, technique, and output to land over and over on her opponent, which not only puts her up on the scorecard battle but also, allows her to damage her opponent throughout the duration of the fight where a finish is only one good shot away. This style of striking is a proven style for the female division, as output is often the key to victory, and, knowing Valentina is a slow starter and a more precision-based striker, Grasso will likely be up on the strike battle from an early stage.
While likely up in the output battle, the biggest issue for Grasso in this fight will be her takedown defense. Moving up from the strawweight division, Grasso has been tested against strong flyweights who have wrestling ability, and while she mostly defends takedowns, she can in fact be taken to the mat. The benefit is that if she is taken down, she has shown the skills and intelligence to get off the mat as quickly as possible, compared to “playing jiu-jitsu” which would be a grave mistake for her, particularly in this fight. So, if she can forego the strong wrestling of Valentina, a task that is no easy feet, then she can look to use the Max Holloway style of pressure boxing to win in output, and then, secure a decision win for the belt.
I am perhaps giving Grasso far more credit in this fight with a chance to win than my fellow The Body Lock writer, Michael, would expect me to give. However, while she does have the high-end skills that warrant a title shot and can win an output battle, her skills of Valentina will be simply too much to overcome, particularly when you combine her effective wrestling with the fact that Valentina understands how to severely damage her opponent, which, is the most important success to find in a fight for winning on the scorecards.
So, I am confidently backing Valentina here in this fight, as she will be too strong, incorporate her grappling too well, and will simply land the more damaging blows to win a decisive victory and reclaim her supreme reign over the deepening division.
Pick: Valentina Shevchenko to win by decision (+200)