LAS VEGAS — La Noche UFC was a great idea executed perfectly on Saturday. In their wildest dreams, UFC officials couldn’t have hoped to write a better show: The promotion’s first card on Mexican Independence Day weekend was sensational from start to finish, and the title rematch of the women’s flyweight between champion Alexa Grasso and former champion Valentina Shevchenko has been for the ages.
It was a close and competitive fight and a case could be made for both sides to win, but it ended in a split draw. Junichiro Kamijo had it 48-47 for Grasso, the same as Yahoo Sports. Sal D’Amato scored 48-47 for Shevchenko.
Both scores were reasonable, acceptable and defensible.
Then there was Mike Bell’s 47-47 score. He left both fighters, as well as the 18,766 fans at T-Mobile Arena, miserable and sucked much of the life out of a very loud and energetic crowd.
Bell awarded Shevchenko rounds 1, 3 and 4, putting her at 39-37 heading into the final round. Shevchenko came out intent on taking fifth place to regain the title. And for the first three minutes or so of the last one, she was in charge.
He attempted a headlock takedown, but Grasso ended up on top when they landed. He had his back to Shevchenko and put her in a body triangle. Grasso was hitting Shevchenko with hammerfists and threatening submissions.
Although Grasso was clearly trailing midway through the fifth round, almost everyone who watched, including the most die-hard Shevchenko fan, would have to admit that Grasso did enough to win the final round.
Bell, however, inexplicably gave Grasso an extra point that brought his fifth-round card to 10-8, giving him a final score of 47-47. Since Shevchenko was clearly ahead in the fifth before the takedown, that means Bell gave Grasso a three-point swing for his work in the waning moments. And there’s no way he came close to making a three-point swing in the final seconds.
That score, though, turned a great night into a horrible one. As champion, Grasso retained her title, but did not win. She donated her blood to pursue victory, but she didn’t get it.
Shevchenko put her heart and soul into the rematch and gave everything she had. She continued to fight after breaking her thumb in the first round. She didn’t complain after Grasso kneed her in the head several times in her third while her hand touched the mat. Since Shevchenko’s hand was on the mat, the knees were illegal, but referee Herb Dean didn’t call it.
By a very narrow margin, 8-7, Shevchenko won multiple rounds but did not get either the victory or the belt.
“I think I did everything to ensure the victory, but unfortunately this event was Mexican Independence Day and that’s why it influenced the judge’s decision to give 10-8 in the fifth round,” Shevchenko said. “In my experience, [the judge should give] a 10-8 when a fighter has completely nothing.
Obviously that wasn’t the case here.
Bell is a good judge and has been among the best used frequently in the UFC. But missing the fifth round for an MMA judge in a championship fight is like an umpire missing a strike up the middle on a 3-2 count with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Championships. Series. .
The bout may have been the best women’s bout of the year and one of the best women’s championship bouts in recent memory. There were takedowns, lots of submission attempts, momentum shifts, and drama everywhere.
Shevchenko added: “I left everything, including my heart, in the Octagon.”
Grasso did the same. But after the fourth, it was clear that the fight hung in the balance. Shevchenko opened with two after four, but benefited from questionable calls. Grasso appeared to win the round, but Bell and D’Amato conceded fourth place to Shevchenko.
Neither side knew where things stood, but both knew the situation was close.
“My coaches said, ‘Hey, let’s do this,’” Grasso said. “This is the fifth and you go out and make a statement. And that’s what I did.
Shevchenko made the statement in the first part of the round, and Grasso did so in the final 90 seconds or so.
But in the end it wasn’t the fighters who dictated the outcome. It was a judge who made the questionable choice to score the round 10-8.
That’s why a potentially celebratory night left a bad taste in so many mouths.