Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from those that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.
For UFC 285, Kyte called upon Eliot Marshall, co-owner and head instructor at Easton Training Center in Denver, Colorado, and Tyson Chartier, the head coach of the New England Cartel to provide their thoughts on four points heading into the flyweight championship co-main event between titleholder Valentina Shevchenko and challenger Alexa Grasso.
Best Trait of Each Fighter
Kyte: At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?
Marshall: Shevchenko is such a winner, and she knows how to win multiple styles of fights. She’s very clear with who she is and the fighter that she is, and she can keep it right there, no matter what. She doesn’t press, and you saw that in the Lauren Murphy fight — it looked like she could get Lauren Murphy out of there at times, but she didn’t go too hard to do that. She’s such a champion.
Chartier: Valentina is just so well rounded and so mentally strong. She’s good on the feet, she out kick-boxes most of the people if she wants to, and you saw her out-grapple Andrade. She’s just so freakin’ good — she’s so well rounded — and an extremely smart, intelligent fighter.
Grasso has crisp standup, she throws straight punches and has a little pop on them, but she does have slick submissions, too, and that’s what makes this fight interesting to me. When she gets put on the bottom, she’s threatening.
Path to Victory for Each Fighter
Kyte: Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that’s not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it’s usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the Octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.
So, how does either woman get it done on Saturday night?
Chartier: I feel like Shevchenko could beat her up with just kickboxing or take her down and maul her, so it’s like, what’s the safest thing to do? I think it’s “let’s beat her up on the feet, and if that doesn’t go exactly how we want it to go, mix in a takedown and see how it feels.”
Maybe she mixes in a takedown towards the end of the first round to see how it feels, because sometimes you get your hands on a person and then you realize, “There’s nothing here for me; this is my path.” She has the advantage of picking her own path, and if I’m here, I’m kickboxing, feeling out range, and towards the end of the round, I’m clinching with her to see how it feels, and making adjustments from there.
Marshall: Shevchenko? However she wants. She could keep it on the feet the whole time — we know what the style is going to look like with that bounce — and she’s going to do whatever she wants. She can take it to the ground, from top, and I think everyone underestimates her strength, because no one has rag-dolled Andrade, and Shevchenko rag-dolled her.
Alexa’s path is to keep it striking — throw straight punches down the middle, countering the kicks. If she can pin Shevchenko on the cage, that would be a great path, but that’s going to be hard because she’s a little more of a counterstriker, so Shevchenko will probably be the one pushing the action more.
Chartier: For Alexa, I think she’s gotta try to keep the pressure on — keep Valentina on her heels, get in there with her straight punches, land a couple good shots to get respect early. I think you have to go in there and get your respect early — you can’t sit there, wait, and let her dictate.
Get in her face, straight punches, make her feel some of your power, and dictate the fight. If she does that, she can pull Valentina out of the driver’s seat a little bit.
Kyte: If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out — that swings it in one direction or the other — what would it be?
Marshall: It’s just where Shevchenko’s mind is. You see it all the time — it happened to Amanda Nunes, it happened to GSP; it happens to everyone. They get bored of being the champion, which is crazy to say, but you just don’t know. There are so many other things going on.
UFC 285 EMBEDDED: All Episodes
All the champions have this — they have so many things going on outside of fighting that they get caught slipping for a f***ing second — they’re not as focused as they were pre-championship, and I don’t blame them. (Kamaru Usman’s) agent got him in Black Panther, and he wasn’t some dude walking around in the background; he spoke!
Those opportunities come for you when you’re a champion, and Alexa Grasso doesn’t have those opportunities, so unless you have Michael Jordan money like when he was on the set of Space Jam and built a workout facility and basketball facility, then Alexa Grasso is training and you might not be. And how do you not enjoy the luxuries of being the champion?
Chartier: I really think it’s going to be Grasso’s takedown defense.
She’s shown good takedown defense in some fights, but she’s also shown that she can lose to grapplers, like Carla Esparza. Is Shevchenko able to go in there and dictate her will when it comes to the takedowns? If not, it makes this a kickboxing match, and that’s when it gets interesting because does she land straight shots, take away the kicks, and make it fun?
One Coaching Curiosity
Kyte: Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the Octagon.
Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach’s interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.
So what is that one thing in this matchu
Chartier: I want to see the size and strength comparison once they’re in there, because you have a 115-pounder coming up to 125 pounds and you have a woman that fought at 135 who is now the queen at 125 — are they gonna look like they’re in two different weight classes?
They’re both going to weigh in at 125 pounds, but are we going to look at them and say, “This is a strawweight fighting a bantamweight” on Saturday? Is it going to look like that?
Marshall: It’s along the same line for me — do Shevchenko’s coaches have her mentally prepared to fight another tough fight if we get there? Is she mentally ready for that, because you know Grasso is going to be?
You can get surprised as the champ when you steamroll everybody, and then next thing you know, you’re in a tough one. This is another one on paper where it’s just — she should dominate, so it’s not that exciting for her, and then what happens if it’s tough? That can be a mind-f*** because, “I should be dominating this person! Why am I not dominating her?”
Anything can happen in fighting, so is she mentally ready to fight?
UFC 285: Jones vs Gane took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on March 4, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!