With two title fights, not to mention a bout between Cowboy Cerrone and Tony Ferguson, it was easy to overlook the pairing of Alexa Grasso vs Karolina Kowalkiewicz on the stacked fight card of June’s UFC 238 extravaganza. Shortly after the fight began, however, the women’s strawweight division joined fight fans around the world in taking notice of an exceptionally crisp, dominating performance by Grasso.
That Grasso was dominant was hardly a surprise. In her pre-UFC career, the Guadalajara, Mexico native was undefeated, including two bonus-worthy fights in Invicta FC that had her on the doorstep of a title shot. What was surprising was the sheer precision and athleticism she brought with her that night after coming back from a loss, two injuries and more than a year away from the Octagon. She hadn’t merely picked up where she left off, but came back as different beast altogether.
“During that year (off), I trained my mind more than anything. Because I was injured, I wasn’t able to do most of the exercise that I needed. I think my mind was the key for that fight,” she explains. “My last fight was amazing.”
The judges agreed, each awarding Grasso a 30-27 in the decision victory that propelled her to No. 9 in the strawweight rankings. The matchmakers agreed, as well. After dispatching one of the division’s elite in Kowalkiewicz, Grasso now finds herself elevated from the deep prelims to the co-main event, representing her home country Saturday in Mexico City.
“It feels amazing to be fighting in Mexico City again. I’m happy, I know everybody here will be cheering my name and I will feel the energy of everyone.”
Unlike college football, this homecoming isn’t set up for an easy victory. Standing across the Octagon will be 10-year veteran Carla Esparza, who has her own designs on vaulting back into the title picture.
Still, Grasso’s recent handiwork did not go unnoticed by “Cookie Monster,” and she’s quick to give respect.
“I think Alexa is a very talented fighter, and her hands are very fast,” says Esparza. “I don’t think it’s easy anywhere, because even on the ground she’s very good at jiu-jitsu. Her boxing is really good. I’m not going to expect anything less from her than a great fight.”
That’s high praise from the former champion, who has trained much of this most recent camp at altitude in an effort to acclimate to the uniquely thin air of Mexico City.
She was training at altitude, and I know that altitude is no joke. But it’s my country,” says Grasso with a sly wink. “The fight against Carla is a great opportunity for me. She’s a wrestler and everybody knows that I’m a striker. It’s a (quintessential) mixed martial arts matchup.”
Grasso has alternated wins and losses since her promotional debut in 2016, a pattern she’ll look to break once and for all starting on Saturday. Finally free of injuries, the bout will make the first time since 2017 she’s had more than one UFC fight in a calendar year, and it’s obvious she’s ready to capitalize.
“It was a very tough year for me, but I’m glad that I never gave up. I’m working hard, and I think the UFC has noticed that. I put my name on the rankings again, and I just want to show the world that I love this sport.”