The Octagon's burgeoning female contingent lands a main-card slot at Saturday's UFC 161: Evans vs. Henderson event, as submission standouts Alexis Davis and Rosi Sexton Rashad Evans vs. Dan Henderson.
28-year-old Canadian Alexis "Ally-Gator" Davis (13-5) hails from the Cesar Gracie fight team, holds black belts in Brazilian and traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, and also accrued a Muay Thai championship in Ontario. She's been a staple among the women's pound-for-pound candidates and recently came in at #8 on the correlating SB Nation rankings. All five of her career defeats were dealt by the women's elite (Sarah Kaufman twice along with Tara LaRosa and Shayna Baszler), though Elaina Maxwell (7-4), who is still a solid fighter, might be her only semi-questionable loss.
Rosi "The Surgeon" Sexton (13-2) hails from England and is a bit older than Davis at age 35. She shares Davis' penchant for choke-outs as a BJJ brown belt and is also no stranger to respectable competition, though she hasn't immersed herself in the deep end as often or successfully as Davis. With a frame better suited to women's flyweight (125-pounds), Sexton started off with four-straight 1st-round submissions and a 3rd-round TKO (to win the Cage Warriors 132-pound title) before suffering her first defeat to a noticeably larger Gina Carano (2nd-round TKO).
Sexton went on to score a big upset over submissionist Carina Damm that was made more impressive by the fact that she tapped Damm out with an armbar. That was the first of five-straight wins for Sexton before Zoila Gurgel (at a catch-weight of 121-pounds) stopped her with a well-timed knee at Bellator 23, and Sexton's resulting medical suspension prevented her from competing in Bellator's 115-pound women's tournament that followed (which Gurgel won).
Neither are lauded for their stand-up prowess, though Davis should have a slight edge on the feet with her Thai skills. Sexton is a Taekwondo black belt but that experience hasn't translated well into her MMA striking game, which generally consists of bull-dozing her way into the clinch and assaulting with dirty boxing from the single or double collar tie, or working trips and throws in order to impose her submission grappling.
Davis is known as a grappler, but her kickboxing is proficient enough to establish range and dictate things on the feet. She stalks forward methodically, using a sharp low kick from outside or a stiff 1-2 in the pocket with jabs sprinkled in, which greases the rails for her takedown attempts. The aforementioned term "bull-dozing" for Sexton was quite intentional as her entries can be a little telegraphed and, while she still strikes her way into range, her less than threatening stand up doesn't command as much attention as Davis'.
Davis has also shown some solid takedown defense and defensive clinch-work. She has good instincts, knowing when to circle off the fence with an under-hook, get a wide base and hold her ground to stay upright, or amp up her offense with knees to the body or legs from the Thai plum. Because she's confident in her ground game, Davis will often stay locked in the clinch after circling off the fence in order to pin her opponent in the corner and do damage with short punches.
Both Davis and Sexton are entirely well versed on the mat, whether on top, from guard or in scrambles and transitions. Their submission acumens were authenticated with momentous wins: Sexton finishing Damm was huge and put her on the map while Davis became the first and only to tap out experienced SmackGirl champ Hitomi Akano (14 of 18 wins by submission) at Invicta FC 2.
The combination of Davis being more experienced against top competition and having the edge in striking and strength are likely behind her landslide on the betting lines. Sexton is a gamer to the core and will fight valiantly, but I don't think her entries and takedown ability will be enough to overcome Davis' ongoing and multifaceted pressure. Sexton might be reduced to pulling guard if Davis has her way on the feet and, while she's a talented guard player, Davis' grappling acumen and top-side strikes will present quite an unfriendly environment.
My Prediction: Alexis Davis by TKO.