Women’s StrawweightsRanda Markos (7-4) vs. Alexa Grasso (9-1)
THE MATCHUP: Just when it seemed that Markos would never get her career on track, that perhaps she would never fulfill the potential suggested by her upset wins on “The Ultimate Fighter,” she returned to the Octagon in February and turned in one of the finest performances of her career. Markos fought out of a low stance, forcing Carla Esparza to chase her takedowns by maintaining a long distance whenever possible. In bursts, she would charge forward with strikes, but her best offense came when she was able to land counters at long range. Though she gave up a few takedowns, Markos scrambled well with the elite wrestler and stuffed six of 10 attempts, even while coming forward in the third round. Sure, it was not a perfect performance. Markos hardly attacked the body at all, did very little with her feints and kept a fairly slow pace. Nonetheless, Esparza was the first contender Markos has ever beaten. For Markos, this was a breakthrough moment.
Thus, a matchup with Grasso is compelling for obvious reasons. Markos was a surprise prospect who seemed to fizzle out before finding her feet. Grasso, on the other hand, entered the UFC with a good bit of hype and won her first bout with the promotion. Her next fight, however, proved to be a stumbling block. Felice Herrig gave Grasso trouble on the feet early, and while she worked her way back into the fight and ultimately landed 20 more significant strikes than Herrig, she also gave up two takedowns and failed to predict the Team Curran rep’s more powerful combinations; Grasso turned into a muted kicker down the stretch rather than the fearsome boxer she was expected to be.
While not an outstanding takedown artist, Markos will shoot to keep her opponent guessing and create opportunities from top position. Her athleticism is her greatest asset. Markos has quick hands and feet, and she can explode suddenly. Grasso has hand speed and efficient movement, but Herrig’s power and aggression shut her down in her last fight. As far as wrestling is concerned, Grasso should be able to hold her own. She stuffs takedowns very well and uses her quick hips to scramble and explode quickly back to her feet when put on the ground.
THE ODDS: Grasso (-160), Markos (+130)
THE PICK: Markos is a solid athlete, but she is smaller than Grasso -- shorter of both stature and reach -- and probably not a consistent enough wrestler to penetrate the prospect’s strong clinch and scrambling chops. Forcing Grasso into exchanges, however, may work. Grasso is normally the higher output fighter of the two, but Markos is a sharp and increasingly awkward striker with which to deal. If Grasso reacts the way she did in the Herrig fight -- by going on the defensive and throwing naked kicks from range -- then Markos will have a chance to upset her. Until Markos gets two straight wins under belt in the UFC, however, it will be difficult to trust her against a more active, more technical striker with good hips. Grasso by hard-fought unanimous decision is the pick.
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