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UFC Fight Night: Bermudez vs. Korean Zombie - Alexa Grasso vs Felice Herrig Toe to Toe Preview

Phil and David break down everything you need to know about Grasso vs. Herrig for UFC on Houston, and everything you don’t about political matchmaking at its finest.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Grasso vs Clark Etzel Espinosa-USA TODAY Sports

Alexa Grasso and Felice Herrig commence with their pugilistic mandate this February 4, 2017 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.

One sentence summary

David: Felice Herrig tries to avoid being the silenced lamb to Alexa Grasso’s genial slaughter.

Phil: Strawweight vet vs attractive prospect, Take... 3 or 4?


Record: Alexa Grasso 9-0 Felice Herrig 11-6

Odds: Alexa Grasso -320 Felice Herrig +260

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: Grasso is quickly becoming a household hashtag of brown eyes and technical pugilism. Her jump from Invicta to the UFC was a successful, if somewhat restrained transition. Better yet, she’s a better bet to infiltrate Mexico’s market than Brandon Vera ever was to the Philippines. Which is a really unfair comparison for everyone involved, but moving just 23 years of age, Grasso has a bright future in the division. She’s well rounded in a way that isn’t insulting, showing fluid technique and understanding among MMA’s many disciplines. It’s kind of silly to talk about her competing for a title, but she has the foundation for a contender assuming the UFC doesn’t Charles Oliveira her through the division.

Phil: Yup, Grasso represents that potentially lucrative convergence between the UFC's recently discovered love of pretty people, and the organization's long-standing and largely unrequited crush on the Latin American marketplace. She clearly has a bright future: there are probably some stumbling blocks to come, but she's personable, skilled and exudes a maturity and calm beyond her years in the cage.

David: Herrig got her “UFC start” as one of the ‘mean girls’ on whatever TUF I’ve lost count of that she starred in. She’s a decent talent. With a modest kickboxing background, and a record dominated by attrition battles rather than knockouts, she has struggled to be the dynamic fighter she presumes to be, but has settled for a consistent fighter, instead. Which is quite alright in strawweight’s material world.

Phil: Herrig is something of an enigma to me. The strawweight division is still relatively nascent, and we're still seeing and sorting the results of the cash and motivation injection that moving to the UFC provided. Herrig was sort of PVZ before PVZ: she leveraged being pretty and blonde into a bigger impact than her skills alone warranted. The difference was that PVZ's flaws are technical in nature, while Herrig's have often seemed to be centered in mentality and a lack of physical power.

What’s at stake?

David: This is a classic prospect vetting process. Except unlike refugees who undergo a 20 step, two year process involving the UN, the State Department, and multi-agency security checks, this takes place in one night. Herrig is modestly entertaining, and perhaps something of a draw among the chicks shooting guns in bikinis crowd, so a Grasso loss isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world, but it’s not great either. Herrig doesn’t have the ceiling to challenge for the title. This bout is set up as Grasso’s entry into a stronger promotional vehicle. Now the question is, does she steer a Batmobile, or a Flintstones car? (this analogy checks out, right?)

Phil: Very similar to the Waterson-VanZant fight. Both fighters are marketable, but the younger one likely has a higher ceiling in terms of the impact they can have on the UFC's bottom line.

Where do they want it?

David: Grasso is a real creature of fundamentals. She’s a student of the game even within the game. You could call her an outfighter in some sense. True to form, she has a potent jab when she’s not pawing with it, good inside leg kicks, and a chopping front kick she likes to aim to her opponent’s pineal gland. She’s good at range, but her being Mexican makes me think of the nominal similarities to the classic boxer punchers of yore (Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, et cetera). These men were technicians, but the technique switched between raw percussion and hacksaw precision. As such, you see some legit, efficient, sinus crushing combinations whenever her opponent is out of position (even a pretty evil counter right she doesn’t throw often, but can); such as scrambling to defend a takedown, exiting the clinch, or just generally in vulnerable positions. She’s an opportunist in some sense, but she does so with a small dose of rhythm manipulation, pivoting and moving her head in broken rhythms that help repeal obvious punch entries before they happen (like a psychokinetic defense).

Like I said, she’s excellent at clinch exits, and it helps that she’s pretty deft at pummeling and looking for her own takedowns when they’re available. On the ground she’s classified as a blue belt (?), but is clearly more advanced than that. She’s very quick to position herself for submissions, and really just has a general spatial awareness on the ground that will serve her well against Herrig, who can be persistent on the ground.

Phil: Grasso appears to have that elusive mixture of calm analytics and a fairly pronounced mean streak. It does, as you mentioned, feel very much like bones of the best Mexican boxers. It may be recency bias, but the general architecture between clean distance boxing, occasional brawling, clinch work and a cracking body kick also reminds me quite strongly of Jorge Masvidal.

The Heather Jo Clark fight wasn't perhaps as clean as some might have hoped, but Grasso is as happy banging it out as she is playing distance games off the jab. Debuting in the UFC is a strange, disorienting experience. It normally gnaws chunks off a developing fighter's ability to perceive distance, and often causes them to lose their cardio, but despite being at elevation Grasso kept a fairly torrid pace.

David: Herrig plays a simple, meditative game. Her kickboxing background ensures her poise in the cage, but she’s not a big time puncher, so it’s good for accruing small advantages over time, allowing her to initiate or anticipate scrambles and grappling exchanges. Once there, she’s a solid opportunist, making the most of these grappling exchanges despite limited physical gifts. She’s not a good wrestler, and thus can be bullied onto her back, but she’s technical enough in the clinch with strikes and surface area grappling that she’s difficult to deal with even though she struggles to dictate space. This probably helps explain why no one has finished her either on the feet, or on the ground.

Phil: Herrig is, as I've said, something of an enigma to me. In part I suspect her kickboxing background is an artefact of how weak certain areas of women's combat sports are, because she's not a terribly good kickboxer? It's a bit like Holly Holm, I guess: one of the most credentialed women's boxers ever, but also very clearly not all that good at it. Given space and time, Herrig can peck away with kicks including an underrated push kick, but she lacks either developed boxing or any real power. She is a good clinch takedown artist, able to work trips and dumps (probably the best functional remnant of her kickboxing career), but I'd argue that her best work actually comes from her top game, where she keeps pressure and passes smoothly. So for this fight we have a fairly clear tale of ranges, where Herrig is going to peck with kicks at range and hit takedowns if Grasso closes, while Grasso is going to hold onto the mid-range.

Insight from past fights

David: Two fights in particular. Herrig got overwhelmed by PVZ. Granted, Paige isn’t what I’d call the most technical fighter, but it’s further insight into her general inability to dictate the pace on her own. Grasso doesn’t have the raw forward momentum, and smothering attack that Paige did, but in its place is an offense of fancy stats, and deliberate counter movement. In other words, Herrig just isn’t the same quality of fighter as Grasso. Nevertheless, watching that bout against Inoue at Invicta, someone can always be gotten. Grasso got tagged with some overhand rights, and if Herrig ever got mount on Grasso like Inoue did in the third round, who knows what happens next. Of course, like with Grasso, I consider Inoue a higher class of fighter than Felice as well.

Phil: That was as deep as we've seen Grasso go in the grappling exchanges, and I was interested at how much better Herrig looked last time out when she tapped out Curran. Yes, it's Kailin Curran, but Herrig genuinely looked like she had turned a corner.


David: I was watching the Tim Sylvia vs. Andrew Arlovski rematch the other day. Don’t ask me why. The sheer fact I’d be rewatching it is an indictment on its own. Anyway, seeing Sylvia’s trapped in amber jab, penguin knee movement, and grocery bag grace throwing that right hand of his, I couldn’t help but ask within this technical How the hell does Sylvia get by? I get it. He’s big. But look at this. And yes, Arlovski doesn’t have the strongest chin, but still. Whatever bolo Sylvia threw that landed plunged Heavyweight into a brief dark age. Herrig is nothing like big Tim, but as the cliche goes, anything can truly happen.

Phil: Two here: this is Alexa's sophomore UFC fight, which is generally when prospects tend to show out a bit more. The other is that Herrig has had some mental issues in the past which she appears to have worked out. So either fighter could show out looking a lot better.


David: I don’t see much to really deliberate over. Grasso is excellent at calibrating range, making Herrig’s best entry (clinch takedowns) that much more difficult. Grasso can be a little too reactionary at times, so I don’t think it’ll be a blowout either. But just another clean, technical victory of close quarter combinations and counter wrestling to get the job done. Alexa Grasso by Decision.

Phil: While she's gotten more physically imposing and mentally together in recent fights, it's difficult to forget Herrig just getting bullied by PVZ, and I suspect that's what Grasso will do- sitting at boxing range and simply outworking and out-horsepowering Herrig. Grasso has good first-layer takedown defense, so it will likely cost Herrig to be able to hit takedowns and I'm not sure she'll have all that many opportunities. Alexa Grasso by unanimous decision.

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