UFC 238: Will Alexa Grasso ever become the contender everyone envisioned?

first_imgThe larger question, however, is if Grasso is simply one of those athletes who hit her peak extremely early and has since plateau because of a combination of factors, including injuries, inactivity and continuing to be the biggest fish in a small pond by remaining under her father’s guidance at the Lobo Gym in Guadalajara?It’s been over a year since her last appearance and nearly three since she arrived on the big stage as a fresh-faced, unbeaten fighter with an abundance of potential.If Grasso is ever going to have a chance of becoming the superstar many forecasted her to be at the outset of her career, she needs an impressive performance this weekend at UFC 238, otherwise there is a real strong chance she ends up being another overhyped rising star who failed to live up to the lofty expectations and projections that accompanied her into the UFC. Alexa Grasso was supposed to be a superstar.Signed by the UFC two days after celebrating her 23rd birthday, Grasso was 8-0 and the darling of the Invicta FC strawweight division, with a championship opportunity looming before matriculating to the biggest promotion in the sport. Her UFC debut came in Mexico City and was given a tremendous amount of attention, serving as the opening bout of the main card and receiving more discussion than any fight on the card other than the main event pairing between Rafael dos Anjos and Tony Ferguson.Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearAnd Grasso didn’t disappoint as she waltzed into the Octagon and collected a unanimous decision win over durable veteran Heather Jo Clark to push her record to 9-0 and put herself on the fast track to contention.For her sophomore appearance in the Octagon, Grasso was paired with Felice Herrig and the duo occupied the co-main event slot on the UFC’s annual “Super Bowl Saturday” card, which took place down the road from where the big game was being played in Houston, TX.It was a clear indication that the organization saw something in Grasso and wanted to get her out there in front of as many eyes as possible, as her bout with Herrig was given greater priority than a strawweight clash between emerging contender Jessica Andrade and the reigning Invicta FC champ Angela Hill, who was making her return to the Octagon after amassing four wins in 11 months.Andrade would win the entertaining back-and-forth contest and go on to face Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the strawweight title three months later. Grasso suffered her first career loss in a tepid performance against Herrig that left many questioning her potential.Two years later, those questions are still being asked. Only now the volume has been turned up to 11 as Grasso readies to return to the Octagon and tries to get her career back on track.That last sentence might seem like an overreaction given that the native of Guadalajara is 2-2 in the UFC, 10-2 overall and a couple of months away from turning 26. But given how she’s looked over her last three outings and the limited amount of development she’s shown since her Invicta FC days, it’s more than fair to question whether everyone jumped the gun in declaring Grasso “The Next Big Thing” and if she is capable of turning things around and becoming a contender in the 115-pound weight class.Great Start Gone AwryGrasso absolutely looked like someone poised to do big things in the future when she was competing inside the Invicta FC cage.She was 21 years old when she made her debut and rattled off four wins in two years, including starching Alida Gray, outworking Japanese highly-regarded Japanese prospect Mizuki Inoue and getting the better of Jackson-Wink product Jodie Esquibel. Grasso showcased smooth boxing, strong conditioning and a willingness to push the pace and press forward, confident that she would give better than she would get.After going 4-0 on the regional circuit in Mexico, she scored four straight wins under the Invicta FC banner to establish herself as one of the best prospects in the sport.She carried all of that over into her debut bout with Clark, outworking the former TUF contestant and registering a solid victory in her UFC debut, but it has been a struggle since.Grasso beat the ever-loving hell out of the space eight to 12 inches in front of Herrig in her sophomore effort, but landed very little of substance against the Chicagoland veteran herself, resulting in her catching the first loss of her professional career in her most high profile fight to date.Losing to Herrig isn’t the end of the world, as the Jeff Curran trainee has a wealth of experience and went on to pick up two more victories to push her winning streak to four before dropping her last two against Top 10 competition. What was worrying, however, was Grasso’s shocked reaction to the results being read, which was immediately turned into a terrific GIF.Although she rebounded with a victory in her next appearance, it wasn’t exactly a dominant effort or one that inspired a great deal of confidence.Not only did Grasso miss weight for her bout with Randa Markos, but she struggled for stretches of her second consecutive co-main event assignment. Though she got out of the gate well, Markos controlled the second with her grappling and it wasn’t until the final 60 seconds of the third that Grasso was able to swing the decision in her favor. Even then, you could make a case for Markos winning, as a great deal of Grasso’s punches came up short earlier in the frame, while the Iraqi-born Canadian ran out a minute of clock in top position in the middle of the final stanza.There was no questioning the verdict in her next fight, however, as Grasso got absolutely steamrolled by TUF 23 winner Tatiana Suarez, who immediately put her on the canvas, advanced to a dominant position and locked up a rear-naked choke.Much like losing to Herrig, getting trucked by Suarez isn’t a terrible result as the former Olympic hopeful has established herself as a marauding force in the strawweight division, but what stands out throughout Grasso’s last three bouts is that she hasn’t made any noticeable improvements. If anything, she’s regressed.She only presses forward in spurts and comes up short on too many strikes, while her takedown defense remains average at best and she accepts being on bottom too readily. Rather than look for sweeps or to kick free by getting her feet on her opponents’ hips, Grasso starts by looking to tie up and minimize damage. She has shown solid offensive grappling skills of her own in the past and by this point in her career, you would hope that she would have developed that area of her game further, but that hasn’t been the case.This weekend in Chicago, Grasso returns to action against Karolina Kowalkiewicz and while it’s not quite a “do or die” situation, the 25-year-old is certainly under the gun to get back into the win column and turn in a more complete effort.Can Grasso Get Her Groove Back?What makes Grasso such an interesting case study right now is that despite the inconsistent start to her UFC career, she’s still managed to secure a pair of victories and is still only 25 years old, meaning there is plenty of time for her to turn things around and show why there was so much hype around her during her Invicta FC run and into her UFC debut.And this weekend’s fight with Kowalkiewicz provides a great opportunity to start that resurgence.Although she enters on a two-fight skid, the 33-year-old Polish fighter is still regarded as one of the top talents in the division, having put together a 5-4 record in the Octagon that includes a win over former champ Rose Namajunas and her setbacks coming against a collection of the top strawweights in the sport. Beating Kowalkiewicz still means something and from a stylistic standpoint, the pairing is the best Grasso could ask for at this time.While she does solid work in the clinch, Kowalkiewicz traditionally keeps things in kickboxing range, which should give Grasso every opportunity to get loose with her hands, press the action and try to make something happen against the highly respected veteran.last_img

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