The UFC took a week off, but, this weekend, they return with a second straight fight card headlined by women with UFC Fight Night: Grasso vs. Araujo. The flyweight main event pits a pair of top-ranked contenders against each other as fifth-ranked Alexa Grasso takes on sixth-ranked Viviane Araujo.
Grasso is riding a hot streak heading into this contest, rattling off three straight victories since moving up to the flyweight division. Araujo, for her part, has also been on a hot streak, dropping just two fights over her last 10 outings. With long reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko having seemingly cleared out the rest of the division, an emphatic performance could very well earn the winner a shot at the title.
In the co-main event, nine-time performance bonus winner Cub Swanson drops down a weight class from his longtime home at featherweight and begins his quest at bantamweight. His opponent in his first foray at 135 pounds is Jonathan Martinez, who has dabbled up at featherweight, but is now poised to welcome Swanson to one of the promotion’s deepest divisions.
UFC Fight Night: Grasso vs. Araujo will be held inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV. The event airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Alexa Grasso is undefeated since making the move up a weight class; does she improve to 4-0 at flyweight and outduel Viviane Araujo?
Kuhl: Alexa Grasso has certainly established herself at flyweight, beating Ji Yeon Kim and Maycee Barber by decision, before submitting JoJo Calderwood in the first round last March. Injuries have prevented her from being super active in the last few years, and an injury, followed by a visa issue, caused her bout with Viviane Araujo to be rescheduled twice. The two will finally meet this Saturday.
Araujo dropped a decision to Katlyn Chookagian in May 2021, but she got back in the win column with a decision win over Andrea Lee a year later. Lee was on a two-fight winning streak, both by second-round stoppage, and was climbing the rankings. This pushed Lee back and put Araujo on a collision course with Grasso.
This fight has major title implications. The flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko has already taken out the top four contenders, leaving the winner of Grasso-Araujo as a next-in-line challenger for the belt. Choookagian, who fights next week, lost to the champ. Jessica Andrade and Lauren Murphy got knocked out by the divisional queen. Taila Santos was the only one to get close to beating Shevchenko, when the two fought to a split decision last June, but the belt still did not change hands. So, on Saturday, which lady will get the win? That’s a different conversation.
Grasso has a traditional Mexican boxing style, but is no slouch on the ground. However, her bread and butter is her hands. Araujo is a legit Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the highly acclaimed Leo Vieira, but she is no slouch on her feet. Style factors aside, I’m inclined to lean on two other factors – age and strength of schedule.
At 29 years old, Grasso is fairly young for her experience level, and still, arguably, coming into her prime. She has a ton of upside potential, and the experience of her previous opponents is significantly higher than Araujo’s. Araujo is 35 years old, and while some fighters can hit their primes around then, she has only been a pro for seven years, and her only truly notable opponents in the current state of affairs were her last two – Chookagian and Lee – against which she is only 1-1.
With youth, experience, and superior striking on her side, I see Grasso taking this one either by breezing her way to the judges’ scorecards, or maybe even a late-fight TKO.
Petela: I’m in agreement with my colleague. This should not only be a fun fight, but it could likely determine the next title challenger. Sure, both of these women would be sizable underdogs against long-reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko, but, as we saw in her last contest, “Bullet” isn’t entirely indestructible. Taila Santos had a legitimate case for winning a decision in her fight against Shevchenko and of course neither of these women have the exact same skill set to follow her blueprint perfectly, however their eyes undoubtedly got wide seeing the seemingly indestructible champion struggle for long stretches.
In terms of the end result, I think this will be one of those fights with lopsided scorecards that don’t really tell the full story of the bout. Grasso will have the hand-speed advantage, and Araujo will be the superior grappler, so it will come down to who can dictate where the fight takes place.
It will be the improved takedown defense and submission defense of Grasso that makes the difference. She will thwart the majority of Araujo’s attempts to get the fight to the mat, but, even when she is taken down a time or two, she will be wise enough to avoid any major damage or serious submission threats. Grasso will narrowly win each round en route to victory, but it will be a tough test that shows she is truly ready to compete amongst the best of the best at flyweight.
Cub Swanson will make his bantamweight debut in the co-main event; how does the longtime featherweight contender fare in his new division?
Petela: This is a tough test for Cub Swanson. While he enters the fight on the heels of a “Performance of the Night” knockout over Darren Elkins, it was clear that his days near the top of the featherweight division were over, and that is a scary reason for a fighter to change weight classes, especially going down in weight. Swanson will likely have the power advantage over Jonathan Martinez, but he will also likely be a half-step slower than the 28-year-old Angelino.
Expect Martinez to get the nod when all is said and done and the final bell sounds. From start to finish he will pick apart Swanson, whose unorthodox striking style will not be effective. Down at bantamweight, Swanson will not be fast enough to avoid getting hit when he leaves himself momentarily vulnerable after throwing a wild combination of his own. This will only make him slower and slower as the fight goes on, and, despite connecting with a powerful looping right hand or two, his efforts won’t be enough to get his hand raised over the up-and-coming Jonathan Martinez.
Kuhl: I mean, what do you say about Cub Swanson at this point? From the old WEC days of the “Killer Cub” from Jackson-Winkeljohn to helping out T.J. Dillashaw and other vets on the West Coast, he has a long and storied career. He has a reputation for being one of the best fighters to never have earned a belt, or even a title shot for that matter. Even with a crisp striking game and a ton of experience, I have to agree with Matt that this one is a tough test.
I’ve briefly hung out with Martinez a few times in the past, and this guy defines the term “silent assassin.” He verbally says almost nothing in social settings, and, when he does, he’s one of the nicest, most soft-spoken guys you will ever meet. That, in and of itself, says a lot. Then, you look at what he has accomplished in the cage, and it is truly a “WTF?” moment for those not familiar with his work. He made the move to Factory X Muay Thai in Colorado in 2018, which is when he made his UFC debut. He has compiled a 7-3 record in the Octagon in just four years, and he was only stopped once in those three losses.
Martinez is just good everywhere. He has stamina for days, a great takedown defense, and a highly accurate striking output. Unfortunately, for Swanson, the end is near, and, as we have seen too often in recent history, dropping down a weight class does not give you an immediate advantage on the tail end of a career. If this one goes the distance, which it likely will due to Swanson’s durability, Martinez should cruise to a lopsided victory on the scorecards.
Lucas Alexander — do we need to know this name?
Kuhl: It’s hard to tell what Lucas Alexander will bring to the table, as he is a last-minute replacement for Melsik Baghdasaryan, who had to pull put due to injury. Alexander has not really faced an notable competition, outside of Jacob Kilburn, who is a Contender Series vet with a few unsuccessful bouts in the UFC and PFL. However, he is only 27 years old and has been training out of Fusion X-Cel Performance in Florida, alongside UFC vets like Lyoto Machida and Philip Rowe, amongst others. Joanderson Brito will be a tough test, but one that he is more than capable of winning.
Petela: Definitely a wait-and-see approach for Alexander. His overall background isn’t otherworldly impressive, but, for the most part, he has beaten fighters that he should have beaten. He can only fight the people he’s matched up against. This debut against Joanderson Brito will go a long way in determining how high the newcomer may be able to climb in the promotion.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Misha Cirkunov. Not only has he lost three straight fights, he has done so across two weight classes. His move down to middleweight was supposed to breathe new life into the veteran fighter’s career, but it has not panned out that way. With a fourth straight loss, his third at middleweight, Cirkunov will find himself getting a pink slip after the fight and in search of a new promotion to call home.
Kuhl: This one should be obvious – Cub Swanson. It makes me feel old to go there, but Swanson is knocking on the exit door. Sure, he signed a new contract after his last fight in December, but he hasn’t fought since then, and dropping weight this late in his career is a sign of worry. Just because he has four fights left, does not mean he will retain any sort of relevance, and a loss to Martinez will almost certainly add another nail to his career’s coffin.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Kuhl: I’m really looking forward to Leomana Martinez taking on Brandon Davis. Davis is similar to UFC light heavyweight Anthony Smith, in the sense that he has a kill or be killed approach to fighting. Win or lose, he always puts on a banger. Martinez, on the other hand, is a straight-up finisher, and he’s only 26 years old. This one should be crazy for as long as it lasts.
Petela: This fight card is full of potential sleeper fights. Not the least of which is the middleweight bout between Nick Maximov and Jacob Malkoun. Both of these guys have had big moments inside the promotion, but have not been perfect in their journeys. Maximov is coming off his first career loss and he will be extremely motivated to get back in the win column. This one should be one of the most exciting bouts of the night.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Rapael Assuncao. He has hit quite a rough stretch recently, but it has been against elite competition. His opponent, Victor Henry, has won both of his UFC bouts but this is a major step up in competition for him. Despite being on opposite trajectories. Assuncao’s veteran prowess will be enough to get him the win, and he will do so in emphatic fashion.
Kuhl: I’m going with Jonathan Martinez. The silent assassin could come in and put on a clinic against the veteran Cub Swanson, and his performance against the vet will shock many.
Pair this card with…
Kuhl: Any mystery-flavored candy. People do not know what to expect out of this card, and, historically, that has been something sweet. Enough said.
Petela: The name recognition might not be high for this card, but the actual fights will deliver and then some. Pair this card with a Margarita in honor of Mexican star Alexa Grasso earning the biggest win of her career.
|Fight||Kuhl’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|Women’s FlyW: Alexa Grasso vs. Viviane Araujo||Grasso||Grasso|
|BW: Cub Swanson vs. Jonathan Martinez||Martinez||Swanson|
|FlyW: Askar Askarov vs. Brandon Royval||Royval||Askarov|
|MW: Jordan Wright vs. Dusko Todorovic||Todorovic||Wright|
|LHW: Misha Cirkunov vs. Alonzo Menifield||Menifield||Menifield|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|BW: Leomana Martinez vs. Brandon Davis||Martinez||Davis|
|BW: Raphael Assuncao vs. Victor Henry||Henry||Assuncao|
|MW: Nick Maximov vs. Jacob Malkoun||Maximov||Maximov|
|FW: Joanderson Brito vs. Lucas Alexander||Brito||Brito|
|Women’s StrawW: Piera Rodriguez vs. Sam Hughes||Rodriguez||Rodriguez|
|FlyW: Tatsuro Taira vs. CJ Vergara||Taira||Vergara|
|WW: Mike Jackson vs. Pete Rodriguez||Rodriguez||Rodriguez|