A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2023. In the coming days, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
In a sport with so many ways to win and lose, upsets are bound to happen. Most of the time, they are noteworthy for a day or two before becoming old news. However, every year a few fighters defy the odds in such a way that they stand out in a major way.
In 2023, Sean Strickland had the performance of a lifetime en route to a unanimous decision win over Israel Adesanya to capture the middleweight title. Seemingly, from the opening minute, the fight’s outcome was never in doubt. Late in the first round, Strickland dropped Adesanya and was close to earning a stoppage victory. Adesanya would win only the second round on every judge’s scorecard, and Strickland’s defense got more impenetrable as the fight went on, using his Philly-shell boxing style to perfection. That fight comes in as this year’s runner-up for the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Upset of the Year. However, As impressive as Strickland’s showing was, what Alexa Grasso did against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 285 stood out as even more noteworthy.
Shevchenko hadn’t lost since she moved to the flyweight division, and, for years, she looked unbeatable. When Grasso was announced as the next title challenger, many pundits thought she was the wrong person to try and unseat Shevchenko. As boxing is her forte, few gave Grasso any chance at out-striking the multiple-time world Muay Thai champion. While Grasso impressed fans by out-boxing the incumbent in the first round, ultimately, it would be her grappling that earned her the belt.
In the fourth round, with Shevchenko leading two rounds to one, Grasso would use her momentum to take the back of Shevchenko from the clinch and lock in what was almost a rear-naked choke. He squeezed so tightly that Shevchenko was forced to tap without the choke being under her chin. As soon as Grasso released her grip, the color rushed back to the head of Shevchenko, which had been turned a ghostly white from the lack of blood flow. This was only the second submission victory for Grasso, by far the biggest victory of her career, and a huge moment for Mexican mixed martial arts, as she became the third reigning UFC Mexican titleholder at this point in time.
The nature of the win, and its impact across the sport as a whole, wins Grasso’s title-claiming performance over Shevchenko the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Upset of the Year.
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