There might not be a title picture more intriguing than the one at 125 pounds right now. Since Alexa Grasso upset Valentina Shevchenko in March, a crop of fresh-faced contenders has ascended to the precipice of title contention. However, Shevchenko showed she still has the championship goods. The split draw result at the inaugural Noche UFC throws any sort of timeline up in the air, but what is certain is that Grasso still holds the belt.
This is where we stand in the women’s flyweight division:
Outlook: Grasso arguably fought better in the rematch than she did in her championship-winning submission victory at UFC 285. She outstruck Shevchenko in several pockets of the fight and dropped the former champion emphatically before ending the fight with an exclamation point. While Shevchenko took Grasso down several times, the Mexican champion often returned to her feet with urgency and efficiency. After retaining her title, she has a multitude of options. A trilogy with Shevchenko is obvious, but Shevchenko’s thumb injury could push that off for the time being. If Grasso wants to be an active champion, fights with Erin Blanchfield or Manon Fiorot are right there for her.
Outlook: Shevchenko showed the heart, soul and composure of a champion during her back-and-forth five-rounder with Grasso. Her well-rounded skills were on display, as well, often in the moments where she needed to mix things up to keep Grasso off balance in the fight. Many believe she did enough to get her belt back, but the judges did not, so she is left wondering when she might get another crack at the title. Shevchenko also wondered aloud about moving back up to bantamweight. She is open to all challenges, but it’s hard to imagine her taking anything but another shot at the title she held on to for so long.
Outlook: Blanchfield continued her steady rise to title contention when she outhustled Taila Santos to a decision win at UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs The Korean Zombie in Singapore. The 24-year-old is now coming off back-to-back wins over former strawweight champion Jéssica Andrade and Santos, who arguably did enough to wrest the belt from Shevchenko during her title shot in June 2022. That, plus her 6-0 UFC record, featuring three submission wins, make for a mighty impressive resume when it comes for a title bid. The split draw might delay things, but given Shevchenko’s injury timeline, she could sneak into a shot within the next few months. If not, a fight against Manon Fiorot would make a lot of sense.
Outlook: “The Beast” returned from an 11-month layoff, which included recovery from a knee injury, to outduel former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas in her divisional debut. It was a classy performance in Fiorot’s home country of France that proved she is every bit the championship material people expected of her since she made her UFC debut in January 2021. The Frenchwoman is now a perfect 6-0 in the Octagon with a pair of TKO finishes, and three of her wins have come against women who have held or challenged for a UFC title (Namajunas, Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia). She is also impacted by the draw and Shevchenko’s injury, but she could also find herself in a title fight next time out if things shake her way. A fight against Blanchfield to determine a definitive No. 1 contender is also on the table.
Outlook: After nearly snatching the belt for herself, Santos fell short against Blanchfield in a hypercompetitive fight. Santos showed the same strength, striking and grit against the New Jersey-native that almost took out Shevchenko, but she is now coming off back-to-back losses all the same. The shake-up in the division is helpful for Santos in terms of having plenty of fresh faces to fight and rebuild her resume. Fights against Chookagian, Andrade and Maycee Barber all make sense for the Brazilian and, at 30 years of age, it’s likely she will find herself on the edge of title contention sooner rather than later.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Manon Fiorot (10/22/2023)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Flyweight’s steadiest presence in the Top 5 hasn’t competed since dropping a decision to Fiorot in October 2022. She had consistently competed until this point, including four times in 2020 and thrice in 2022, so a break for the 34-year-old only made sense. Before losing to Fiorot, she had racked up four wins in a row, and with Shevchenko no longer on top, Chookagian might be closer to contention than a year ago despite the loss. She has some work to do, but a win over someone like Santos or Blanchfield could spark another run for her. She could also fight someone outside of the Top 5 like Maycee Barber or Namajunas to cement her spot.
In the Mix: Jéssica Andrade, Maycee Barber, Rose Namajunas
Outlook: The women’s flyweight division has a fun mixture of seasoned contenders with hungry up-and-comers from 6-15 in the rankings. While younger contenders like Tracy Cortez, Natalia Silva and Casey O’Neill are still a couple fights from knocking on the door of the Top 5, Maycee Barber seems there right now. The 25-year-old has bounced back well after suffering the first two losses of her career, stringing together five consecutive wins, including an emphatic second-round stoppage over Amanda Ribas last time out. Barber did recently undergo foot surgery according to her social media accounts, and her timetable to return is uncertain. Meanwhile, a pair of former strawweight champions are still in the mix. Namajunas battled a broken finger early in her decision loss to Fiorot, and while her future is uncertain, Namajunas said she felt good and strong at 125 pounds. Andrade, meanwhile, is up against it having been finished in her last three fights. Even so, she remains a consistent presence in the Top 10 of two divisions, and at 31 years old, the Brazilian has plenty of time to turn things around and return to a title fight.