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Grasso with potential to become next strawweight star

(Scott Hirano, Invicta FC)

Expected by many to be next in line for Angela Hill’s Invicta FC strawweight champion, Mexico’s own Alexa Grasso has some different plans in store for her next fight.

The undefeated strawweight prospect makes her debut inside the famed Octagon Saturday, taking the long walk to the cage in front of what will likely be a hoard of screaming countrymen. The latest high-level mixed martial artist hailing from a country that bleeds green, white and red, Grasso is now following in the footsteps of Cain Velasquez, Yair Rodriguez and few other Mexican fighters who were expected to succeed from Day 1.

“I feel proud of that, because I’ve been training all my life here in Mexico,” the Guadalajara native told ESPN. “I just want to show everybody that here we have all the resources.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this in another country. It’s going to be amazing. I feel all the good vibes of the people.”

Expected to succeed not only because of her previous accolades — a run that features four TKO stoppages in eight otherwise perfect fights — but also because of the journey she’s taken to get to the Octagon. Unlike many of the fighters plucked from other organizations, Grasso wasn’t the reigning, nor a former champion, of her previous organization.

Because she didn’t need to be.

Because all the signs were there allowing us to believe that Grasso, championship belt or otherwise, was going to be a star inside the Octagon.

A star because she’s only one of a handful of exciting, and talented fighters from a country that’s historically bred some of the bigger names in combat sports history. She may never reach the heights of Julio Cesar Chavez, Oscar De La Hoya or Canelo Alvarez, but she has the sort of fanbase in waiting that would allow her to feel as embraced as any one of those men should she begin to see her hand raised on the sport’s biggest stage.

A star because she’s destined to become one of a handful of truly capable fighters competing in the sport’s 115-pound division. With only but two names recognizable (and one pronounceable) by the average casual MMA fan, what little spotlight is afforded to the UFC’s strawweight class is largely placed on Paige VanZant and champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Despite their best efforts inside the cage, Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Carla Esparza and Jessica Andrade have not been able to break out.

VanZant pushed in large part because of her charisma, looks and grit inside the cage. Jedrzejczyk pushed because of her tenacity and the belt resting on her shoulder.

Grasso stands a good chance of encompassing all of those qualities, including the championship strap, in just a few short years. Just 23 years of age, four of which have been spent training and competing in mixed martial arts, the Lobo Gym fighter has a world ahead of her with about as great a ceiling as one could fathom.

“Everybody is expecting me to win. I expect it, too,” said Grasso. “I know she’s bigger than me. I know she has more experience than me. She’s a veteran. She’s really well-rounded. I have to be really careful in every area, because she’s really dangerous.”

Again, part of that is a result of her ever-expanding skill-set, while the rest is a consequence of the infancy of where women’s MMA stands today.

A victory at UFC Fight Night 98 against Heather Jo Clark likely catapults Grasso into the top 15. Savvy matchmaking likely allows her to progress at a comfortable, natural pace. She may not be quite ready to take on the likes of Tecia Torres, Andrade or Gadelha just yet, but she will be. Time, just like it is for most people wandering the earth just 23 years after they arrived, is most certainly on her side. With what prospects she has not only to succeed in a career of cagefighting but thrive as a star in a sport that will soon be in desperate need of more names, the powers that be in UFC are probably on her side too.

 

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