I’ve had the Valentina Shevchenko and Alexa Grasso rematch pinned to my refrigerator for quite some time. I’m excited to break down that main event and a couple of other interesting matchups on the slate this week.
Forgive me for passing on the Israel Adesanya vs. Sean Strickland card last week, as it was a rough slate to break down from a betting perspective with so many heavy favorites. We have several closely contested fights on tap for this Saturday, which I will dive into below.
Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko
This is a rematch from March that sent the MMA world spinning. Grasso upset the former flyweight champion Shevchenko, submitting her with a rear-naked choke late in the fourth round.
I simply did not expect Shevchenko to lose in that fashion as a near -900 favorite, and I am quite interested to see how she responds from this adversity on Saturday. Heading into that first fight, I thought Grasso had some hope to keep the fight competitive, in the same way in which I thought Strickland might keep the fight competitive with Adesanya.
|Alexa Grasso||Valentina Shevchenko|
Shevchenko isn’t an elite volume striker, and she only lands 3.29 significant strikes per minute. Should the fight take place solely on the feet, where Grasso is a competent boxer and can land in volume herself, it’s plausible to believe rounds could be close.
That played out early in the fight with a very competitive first round, in which Shevchenko outlanded Grasso 26 to 24 in significant strikes.
However, Shevchenko was smart to initiate wrestling sequences in Rounds 2 and 3, where she clearly had the advantage. That’s been one of her biggest strengths throughout her career. She now averages more than 2.5 takedowns landed per 15 minutes.
Shevchenko was able to land four takedowns on four attempts in Rounds 2 and 3, and earned more than five minutes of control in that 10-minute period, putting her cleanly up on the scorecards. Then in Round 4, a round in which Shevchenko had reverted back to her striking, she threw a sloppy spinning kick late, and allowed Grasso to take her back standing. Grasso dragged her to the mat and immediately choked her out.
Now Shevchenko sits at a much more cautious moneyline of -165 on BetMGM, which is an implied win rate of 62.26 percent. I have personally already bet on her at -162.
Mostly, it comes down to the paths to victory for both. I believe Shevchenko can win rounds on the feet and on the mat.
The biggest concern I have, by far, is how Shevchenko defended that submission attempt late. She had both hands on Grasso’s choking arm, which is a very poor display of defense and it allowed Grasso to very easily lock in the secondary arm behind her head. That’s extremely concerning because it tells me I cannot be confident in Shevchenko’s defense in positions like that. It’s possible that Grasso may only need one big moment to find a finish.
The problem, however, is that Grasso is not a very strong wrestler. She only lands 0.38 takedowns per 15 minutes and won’t have an easy time holding Shevchenko down. Her biggest moment of the fight came from a standing back-take, which is not something I find to be predictive.
While Grasso also does have a path to victory standing, she’ll need to win a very close fight and that’s tough to rely on. Her volume is historically superior, landing 4.88 significant strikes per minute on average, but she was only able to land 2.95 per minute against Shevchenko.
Shevchenko outlanded Grasso to the head 68 and 31, and 80 to 50 at distance. While I think Grasso can stay competitive at times, I still do favor Shevchenko standing per round. I don’t expect either fighter to have considerable knockout equity.
Shevchenko’s biggest advantage will be in the wrestling department, where she landed four takedowns on six attempts in the first fight. Yes, Grasso is a good submission grappler, but she shouldn’t put Shevchenko in danger from her back.
At best, I think Grasso can do enough to survive, and avoid the dominant crucifix position that Shevchenko likes to use. At worst, Grasso will get taken down and held down for several minutes at a time.
Overall, I believe Shevchenko’s control ability on the ground, and her superior distance striking still give her a very reasonable chance to win this fight, and I consider her a slight or moderate value at her current betting line.
But, hey, Grasso is going off at +350 to win by submission if you are high on her in this rematch and think that outcome is more repeatable than I do.
Jack Della Maddalena vs. Kevin Holland
This fight is “The People’s Main Event” this week, in what is a huge test and step up for the hot prospect Maddalena. I’ve had a tough time being decisive with this matchup as I look into tape and analytics, and I’ve come away with the idea that being opinionated on either side is reasonable.
|Jack Della Maddalena||Kevin Holland|
I loved Maddalena coming into the UFC, as he profiles as a high-output fighter who can win rounds at a pretty strong rate. He’s currently averaging 7.27 significant strikes per minute, while absorbing 3.50 per minute at a 69 percent defensive rate.
But he’s impressed even more than I expected, knocking out three opponents in a row in the first round, and following that up with a first-round submission win over Randy Brown. It’s caused Maddalena’s hype to skyrocket.
The biggest concern I’ve always had in his game is his defensive grappling, which isn’t horrendous, but is also clearly a weakness. He was taken down and put in a deep submission on “Dana White’s Challenger Series” but he survived. He was taken down and put in a submission by Ramazan Emeev, but he survived.
Most recently, he faced newcomer Bassil Hafez on short notice, and Hafez nearly beat him, landing three takedowns and controlling Maddalena on the mat for a while. Yet he again escaped by the skin of his teeth, and now sits at -155 to beat Holland on BetMGM.
I’ve not been high on Holland for the majority of his career, though I will forever cherish picking him to win by D’Arce choke in his last fight against Michael Chiesa, and watching that play out exactly as I’d hoped.
Holland is just awkward, tricky and unconventional. He’s long and lengthy and that poses a challenge for most opponents. He’s very durable and tough to hurt.
He’s also a better submission grappler than he gets credit for, despite having terrible takedown defense himself, and generally poor fight IQ.
The matchup here is interesting because Holland won’t test Maddalena in the way that I’d like in order to be confident in the upset. Holland doesn’t wrestle and doesn’t even average one takedown landed per fight.
It’s quite possible that Maddalena is actually the superior wrestler here, and could test Holland’s takedown defense. However, I am pretty confident that Holland is the better submission grappler, and Maddalena won’t be able to dominate once the fight does hit the mat.
In fact, Holland may actually be the one threatening for a submission. Should Holland ever find his way to top position, he might be able to finish the fight.
On the feet, I consider Maddalena a sharper boxer, with faster hands and more explosive power. But Holland is way longer than him and will carry an eight-inch reach advantage.
Plus, Holland’s striking metrics are good, as he lands 4.11 significant strikes per minute, while absorbing 2.96 per minute at a 52 percent defensive rate. Perhaps Maddalena can find his way on the inside and hurt Holland, but Holland has never been knocked down in 20 UFC fights.
Striking exchanges could be competitive. Maddalena could have the upper hand given his speed and technique. It’s also possible Holland could have the upper hand, given his length, diverse skill set and the experience of fighting top-level strikers like Stephen Thompson and Santiago Ponzinibbio.
I think from a value side, I would have to lean toward the underdog in Holland, who is +125 to win. But I’m not exceptionally confident, and am looking forward to seeing how Maddalena fares against his toughest opponent to date.
Tracy Cortez vs. Jasmine Jasudavicius
The Canadian Jasudavicius pulled off a huge upset against Miranda Maverick at UFC 289 in Vancouver and will now take on a fellow wrestler in Tracy Cortez. I haven’t been high on Jasudavicius’ game throughout her early UFC career, but I’m debating changing my tune.
I do not consider her a great wrestler, and her quality of competition has not been that strong. But Jasudavicius is aggressive, and when she does get top position, she can transition to the back and throw lots of ground-and-pound. Even on the feet, Jasudavicius is aggressive and that pressure can break opponents at this level.
It’s mostly what led to her victory against Maverick. Although Jasudavicius only landed one takedown, she was able to force grappling exchanges through her pressure on the feet, and ended up on the back of Maverick several times.
This will be a different challenge against Cortez, who is a much more traditional wrestler.
|Tracy Cortez||Jasmine Jasudavicius|
Cortez has landed 14 takedowns, with at least two in each match, in her five tracked fights. She won each by decision. It’s her takedown attempts of 7, 9, 5, 5 and 3 that intrigue me.
Any fighter who will consistently wrestle at a moderate pace has win equity in this sport, especially at the lower levels. She can consistently shoot in quality takedowns and earn top position, which will give her a path to victory against most.
The problem is Cortez isn’t an elite wrestler or finisher. Her submission grappling isn’t very dangerous and even on top, she doesn’t threaten very much. She only has one win by submission in her pro career.
Cortez isn’t a great boxer either. While I’d consider her competent, she hasn’t proven herself capable of winning rounds consistently on the feet.
This matchup is interesting because we have two primary grapplers who may neutralize each other. Cortez rates out as the better pure wrestler and has more takedown upside on paper. Jasudavicius defends at 78 percent which is good, but I’d project Cortez to land 2-3 takedowns over 15 minutes. That could be enough to earn control time and win rounds. I don’t think she has much dominance upside though, outside of holding Jasudavicius down.
On the flip side, Jasudavicius doesn’t project to land as many takedowns, but Melissa Gatto did take Cortez down a few times and took her back. Jasudavicius may not easily find her way to top position, but if she does, she could control Cortez and land more damaging strikes.
This fight may actually come down to striking, and it will be tough to rely on either side. I lean toward Jasudavicius, who is taller, longer and more aggressive. She was firing in strikes against Miranda and pushing her backward, and I think those optics could be impactful against Cortez.
I’m not surprised BetMGM has this fight priced competitively. Cortez is -120 and Jasudavicius is at +100. If I have to choose a moneyline, I would lean toward the dog in Jasudavicius ever so slightly. Although Cortez may win on control, I think Jasudavicus is more effective and I favor her on optics.
I expect this fight to go the distance and, regardless of which side you favor, I would be eying the win by decision prop (Cortez at +140 and Jasudavicius at +130) with a slight lean toward the Jasudavicius side.
(Photo of Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko: Jeff Bottari / Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)