Judges Gonna Judge: Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko 2 and the draw that shouldn’t have been

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Welcome to “Judges Gonna Judge,” where our MMA Junkie staff panel revisits the most controversial decision that occurred over the weekend.

This week, we take a closer look at the Noche UFC main event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, a women’s flyweight title rematch between Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko.

The fight was a thrilling back-and-forth affair that saw both fighters have big moments over the course of 25 minutes. When it was all said and done, the judges could not collectively determine a winner, as two judges turned in 48-47 scores for either fighter, while a third saw the fight as a draw with a 47-47 score.

Guadalajara’s Grasso retained her flyweight title without recording a win, much to the delight of the crowd in attendance celebrating Mexican Independence Day.

However, many eyebrows were raised at the 47-47 score turned in by cageside judge Michael Bell, who saw Round 5 as a 10-8 in favor of Grasso. Sal D’Amato scored the fight for Shevchenko while Junichiro Kamijo saw it for Grasso with dueling 48-47 scorecards.

Media members who had their scores recorded on MMA Decisions were nearly equally split as well, with 12 seeing the fight for Grasso and 11 for Shevchenko.

MMA Junkie’s Matthew Wells, Farah Hannoun and Simon Samano put on their judging hats and break the fight down by each round.

If you need a refresher on the official scoring criteria before we dive in, you can check it out here.

Round 1

Alexa Grasso (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

Wells: Shevchenko was sharp in the opening striking exchanges. She went first, put together clean combinations and connected well with the overhand left. Grasso landed a few strikes of her own, but Shevchenko’s attacks were more solid, including a nice kick to the body a minute in. Shevchenko’s first takedown attempt was easily stopped at the 2:28 mark, but she would continue to land fast punches until the next clinch about a minute later. This time, Shevchenko successfully took Grasso to the ground, transitioned to mount and then back mount. Grasso slipped out as Shevchenko looked for a  choke, and the fight returned to standing in the clinch with 40 seconds to go. They would exchange short strikes with little significance in this position until the horn. A solid start for the former champ, who takes a clear 10-9.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Hannoun: Shevchenko started off with a couple of hard body shots, finding success in the southpaw stance. Grasso landed a nice left in the clinch, and attacked with low kicks. With just over a minute left in the round, Shevchenko got Grasso down with a body lock takedown and briefly took her back, but Grasso exploded out. They ended the round in the clinch with Shevchenko backing Grasso against the cage.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Samano: Shevchenko set a tone early with her striking that she didn’t set in the first round of their first fight, and you knew right away that she was coming out with a different mindset. She was the sharper, crisper striker this round, and there’s no debate about this round going to Shevchenko.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko 

Round 2

Wells: Grasso began to connect with her punches more often early in Round 2. Shevchenko clinched and tried for a trip takedown just 30 seconds in, but Grasso defended well. After a few exchanges in the center, Grasso connected with a clean right hand a 3:40 that sent Shevchenko to the ground for one of the biggest moments of the fight. Shevchenko rolled back to her feet and looked for a double leg as Grasso rushed in, but the champ was able to push her into the fence and land solid punches and elbows to the head along with some nice knees to the body in a Thai clinch. They returned to the center with 3 minutes to go, and just as Grasso started moving forward, she got double legged cleanly. However, she held Shevchenko in an arm-in guillotine from 2:55 until 2:18. Grasso didn’t appear to crank on the submission much, but kept the position well from her back. Shevchenko postured up to land punches but was pushed away by Grasso, who then played the upkick game for a few moments before Shevchenko jumped back into guard. Both were active with punches here until the horn. Another easy round to score, but this one went to Grasso.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso

Hannoun: Grasso started Round 2 aggressively, forcing Shevchenko to clinch. Grasso broke free and a few seconds later, landed a big right which floored Shevchenko. In survival mode, Shevchenko grabbed a hold of Grasso, but the champion reversed position and unloaded a barrage of short uppercuts, punches and knees in the clinch. Shevchenko used Grasso’s forward pressure to shoot for a double leg takedown and got it. She maintained top position for the rest of the round, but Grasso’s big knockdown and flurry won her the round.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Samano: The champ rebounded in a big way when she sent Shevchenko to the canvas with a hard right hand that connected flush to the face. Shevchenko fell backward and rolled straight to her feet, but she was seriously hurt. Grasso didn’t take full advantage of because of the way she rushed in, rather than square up, and she moved right into a deep defensive body lock that allowed Shevchenko to get her wits about her. Grasso did well to find the space for some dirty boxing to land some more punches, but you got the feeling at that point that Shevchenko would survive, which she did. Shevchenko nicely hit a double leg to reset things for herself, but nothing major came of it, and so this round was clearly Grasso’s after the knockdown gave us the biggest sequence of the fight to this point.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso 

Round 3

Wells: Output was higher from Shevchenko in the opening stages of Round 3. Her right jab was snappy and landed repeatedly. At 3:30, Shevchenko completed a takedown and began working from half guard. As Grasso scrambled to escape, Shevchenko latched onto her neck for a deep mounted guillotine. Grasso remained calm, but was stuck from 3:08 until 2:18 when Shevchenko gave up on the attempt. The former champ then took Grasso’s back with a body triangle, and worked from this position until Grasso was finally able to turn into guard. However, Shevchenko transitioned to an armbar attempt in the final seconds before the horn. So far, this fight has been easy to score, as this was another easy 10-9 for the former champion. Things get weird from here on, though.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Hannoun: The pair traded leg kicks and punches to kick off Round 3, with neither landing anything significant. But Shevchenko changed things up by landing a takedown, and transitioned to a mounted guillotine which appeared to have Grasso in all sorts of trouble. Grasso managed to pop her head out, but Shevchenko immediately took her back and held onto that position for the rest of the round until she attacked an armbar with seconds winding down. A clear round for Shevchenko.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko

Samano: Another clear sequence made this round easy to score after, roughly two minutes in, Shevchenko transitioned to a mounted guillotine when Grasso scrambled to escape from bottom position. Grasso was stuck for over a minute, and for about 30 seconds the choke looked TIGHT, and it had me thinking a submission was imminent. But Grasso did a nice job defending and found the space needed to get out of trouble, even though Shevchenko still held the position. For about 30 seconds, Grasso lay there calmly until Shevchenko let go of the choke but held top control the rest of the way. This was easily a Shevchenko round.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Shevchenko 

Round 4

Wells: This was a tricky round, so I’ll be more detailed about what went on. Striking exchanges were pretty equal in the first minute, but Shevchenko began connecting more frequently with fast right hands. Grasso landed a calf kick and looked for a right hand behind it. Both then appeared to connect in an exchange of right hands upstairs. A solid left got through for Shevchenko at 3:16, and a nice right followed. Grasso connected with a leg kick as Shevchenko landed another right. At 3:01, Grasso stuffs a takedown attempt and puts Shevchenko in a front headlock. Shevchenko tried to keep one hand down, but Grasso yanked her up and connected with a series of hard legal knees to the head as they moved to the fence. Playing that game backfired for Shevchenko here. Grasso then connected with some short punches, then scored with knees to the body in the Thai clinch. More punches from Grasso followed as Shevchenko was pressed against the cage. Grasso then dipped under for a back take, lifted, and slammed Shevchenko to the ground. Grasso got high on the back and attacked an arm at 2:20, but Shevchenko was able to reverse into guard. Grasso was able to get back to her feet just a few seconds later. Shevchenko kept with the clinch against the cage, and landed a right elbow on the exit at 1:48. Back in the center they exchanged punches. Both connected with solid strikes as they moved around the cage, but Shevchenko was sharper. She then briefly got Grasso to the mat with a takedown, and then took back control when the champ popped back up. With 10 seconds to go, Grasso rolled for an ankle lock and tried to crank until the horn.

This was certainly the closest round of the entire fight, but I felt Grasso had the more meaningful moments with the front headlock knees and the punches against the fence that followed. Also, the slam and kimura attempt, plus ending the round in a submission hold outweighs the work Shevchenko did in the striking department.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso

Hannoun: Looking to rebound, Grasso pressured Shevchenko, who fired back with sharp counters. Shevchenko shot for a takedown, but Grasso sprawled and landed a flurry of knees to the head of a moving Shevchenko, who was trying to put one hand down. She indicated to Herb Dean that the knees were illegal, but the fight went on. Grasso slammed Shevchenko on the mat, and worked for a kimura, but lost position. Shevchenko wound up on top, but both fighters got back to their feet quickly. Shevchenko landed a beautiful combination which busted Grasso open, and ended the round with a takedown. But Grasso got up, and rolled for an ankle lock to end the round. Very close round, but Grasso’s more significant moments may have stolen her the round.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Samano: Round 4 was the closest round of the fight, and I gave it to Grasso, and here’s why: For the first two minutes, it looked like Shevchenko was gonna have her way piecing up Grasso with the jab. That jab was on point. She was sniping Grasso with it, and Grasso was struggling to find her range. But then Shevchenko shot in for a double, and Grasso defended it beautifully, which led to the biggest sequence of the round: those knees. Once Grasso sprawled, she got a hold of Shevchenko’s neck and punished her with six hard knees to the head that Shevchenko couldn’t defend. Up against the cage, Grasso took Shevchenko’s back and took her down, but she got too excited and lost the position. When they got back on the feet, Shevchenko hit an elbow that cut Grasso and continued to find success with her jab. And while she got another takedown, Graso bounced right back up and rolled into a threatening ankle lock for the final 10 seconds. So I look at the round like this: Shevchenko’s steady striking with the jab vs. Grasso’s big moments of attack with the knees and ankle lock.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso 

Round 5

Alexa Grasso (red gloves) fights Valentina Shevchenko (blue gloves) during UFC Fight Night at T-Mobile Arena. (Stephen R. Sylvanie, USA TODAY Sports)

Wells: Shevchenko came out working very well behind her right hand jab. Grasso returned fire at a lower volume, but it was apparent Shevchenko was landing the more effective punches as she darted in and out with the jab. Grasso tried to grab a single leg at 2:24, but Shevchenko easily escaped. With just over 90 seconds to go, the entire tone of the round flipped when Shevchenko looked for a head and arm throw. Grasso easily reversed and took the back, and began raining down hard punches. Shevchenko covered up as best she could while trying to get out of the position. Grasso stayed put with a body triangle, and then slapped on a rear-naked choke with just under a minute to go. Grasso gave up on it with 45 seconds remaining, opting to go back to punches from the dominant position instead. Grasso then pulled Shevchenko back, and looked for one more attempt at a choke or neck crank before the horn.

Shevchenko was sticking, moving, and ultimately winning the round until the last 90 seconds. That’s when Grasso erased everything that happened before the takedown attempt with hard ground strikes and submission attempts. While Grasso clearly took the round, there’s no way this was a 10-8.

Wells’ score: 10-9 Grasso 

Hannoun: Grasso kicked off Round 5 with a nice right, but Shevchenko returned with a jab. Shevchenko continued to find a home for that jab. Grasso shot for a single-leg takedown, but it was easily stuffed by Shevchenko. With less than two minutes remaining in the round, Shevchenko was landing with better volume. But Shevchenko gave up her back when attempting a takedown and it cost her big. Grasso landed big ground and pound in back mount, and almost cinched the rear-naked choke. She continued to rain down punches and worked for a neck crank, but Shevchenko survived.

Hannoun’s score: 10-9 Grasso 

Samano: The fifth was kind of a repeat of the fourth, only this time Grasso more definitively took advantage. For a little over three minutes, you had Shevchenko staying at distance and continuing to find success with her jab. It felt like the round would go to Shevchenko so long as it stayed standing. BUT THEN Shevchenko ducked under a right hook and closed the distance to try and take down Grasso, but when Shevchenko tried to throw her, Grasso slipped out and took her back immediately. For the next 90 seconds, Grasso pounded away from behind and, at one point, had Shevchenko turtled up. Then when Shevchenko tried to pop her hips out, Grasso sunk in a rear-naked choke that appeared tight. More punches from behind followed to close out the round, which Grasso stole for the win.

Samano’s score: 10-9 Grasso

Was the fifth round really a 10-8? If not, who should hold the title right now?

Wells: Every round in this fight deserved a 10-9 score. I was shocked to see a 10-8 score in the fifth round from judge Bell, considering the success Shevchenko had in the early stages of the round. Yes, Grasso flipped the script and prompted referee Herb Dean to get closer to monitor for a potential stoppage, but it wasn’t as if Shevchenko was badly rocked, nor was she dominated for a lengthy period of the round. I was also equally shocked to see and hear some chatter from others in the MMA space who claimed the final round could have been scored for Shevchenko. We’re talking about a round in which one fighter worked well behind a jab the feet but nearly got finished by strikes and submission attempts. There’s no debate about who won Round 5, but it certainly wasn’t a 10-8.

For me, it came down to seeing Round 4 as the deciding round, which I thought Grasso took with the bigger moments. At the end of the day, my scorecard had Grasso keeping the belt, but with another win on her record.

Wells’ overall score: 48-47 Grasso

Hannoun: The round were pretty easy to score except for Round 4 which was the deciding round of the fight. Not according to the judges however, as Round 5 is where the controversy lies. Mike Bell’s 10-8 in Round 5 is absolutely uncalled for, but to me, that doesn’t change the outcome of the fight. It did however for Shevchenko, as it cost her the fight.

Shevchenko was winning Round 5 until she gave up her back. So, to give Grasso that round a 10-8 makes no sense. Round 4 was the tough one to score as it was a matter of weighing Shevchenko’s more active work vs. Grasso’s more significant moments. Overall, the champion had the more significant moments, where Shevchenko won more minutes of the fight. When considering damage, Grasso had more impactful moments and her ability to capitalize on Shevchenko’s mistakes won her the fight.

Hannoun’s overall score: 48-47 Grasso

Samano: “Was the fifth round really a 10-8?” Let me answer that with a resounding HELL NO – not when Shevchenko was in control standing up for the first 3:30. You look at Mike Bell scoring the fourth 10-9 for Shevchenko, and that had to mean he valued Shevchenko’s steady striking attack over Grasso’s big moments. So it makes absolutely zero sense that he’d overvalue Grasso’s big moments in the fifth when Shevchenko had even longer of a steady attack. Feels like Bell may have been dwelling on his fourth-round score and decided to go with the equivalent of a make-up call. We’ll never from him, but that’s just my hunch here.

Still make no mistake about fifth: Grasso should’ve won based on the criteria. That 3:30 by Shevchenko was undone by the 90 seconds of Grasso threatening a finish, which is why I scored it 10-9. For those who think Shevchenko won the fight, I certainly understand. But she gave that fight away in the fourth and fifth by going for takedowns that didn’t work and resulted in big moments for Grasso. Credit to Grasso for capitalizing on those mistakes, but that’s what this fight came down to for me: mistakes by Shevchenko. Perhaps in totality you could say Shevchenko was the better fighter, but this isn’t ONE Championship, and that’s not how the scoring system works. For me, Grasso should’ve won because she had the more numerous bigger and threatening moments that, in my estimation, gave her Rounds 2, 4 and 5.

Samano’s overall score: 48-47 Grasso

Official decision: Alexa Grasso vs. Valentina Shevchenko ends in split draw (48-47, 47-48, 47-47)

Official individual judges’ scores:

Mike Bell: 47-47 draw
Sal D’Amato: 48-47 Shevchenko
Junichiro Kamijo: 48-47 Grasso

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