The strawweight division in MMA is undeniably better than its ever been. The talent-levels expand far and wide as top competitors hail from all around the world. In the UFC’s still relatively young history at 115-pounds, it has already seen titleholders out of the US, Poland, Brazil, and China. For the country repping the green flag, Jessica Andrade was the division’s first from that country.
At UFC 237 in May 2019, Andrade captured the crown that had evaded her almost exactly two years prior. “Bate Estaca” lived up to her nickname which translates to “piledriver” when she took care of the then champion, Rose Namajunas.
After a first-round that saw the champion look better than ever at Andrade’s expense. It was all a part of the Brazilian’s gameplan. A rare sight for a fighter who we’ve grown accustomed to seeing bulldoze over her opposition.
Despite the opening round going to Namajunas, Andrade showed a brief flash of how the fight would inevitably end. Pressuring her way into a clinch position against the cage, the challenger dropped her head down to attack Namajunas’ legs and look for the big slam we’d seen from her time and time again. Defending well via an attempt at a kimura lock submission, Namajunas avoided major damage as the two moved their way to the ground in the transition.
However, that wouldn’t be the case come Andrade’s second shot at the takedown.
Mid-way through round two, Andrade got back to the same position, but this time, she made some minor yet ultimately major adjustments. Namajunas again went for the kimura and it cost her the gold strap.
Hoisted above Andrade’s head, Namajunas came crashing down to the mat where she found herself unconscious. Andrade was the next to hear “and new” as she was overflooded by emotions in the center of her fellow countrymen and women surrounding her in Rio de Janeiro.
Unfortunately for Andrade, her title reign would wind up being one of the shorter in UFC history.
Turning around to defend her new title in August, it would now be the champion’s turn to go onto enemy soil to fight. Welcoming her to their turf in Shenzhen, China was the one known as “Magnum,” Weili Zhang.
“For sure, I wanted to get some rest after the fight in Rio, but I wasn’t able to,” Andrade told MyMMANews, “As soon as the fight was over I was already fully booked with interviews, TV spots, travel … and when I thought I was going to be able to rest a little and enjoy the win I was booked to fight again and went straight into camp. Everything was very rushed, but it was a great learning experience. I can’t complain about anything. The show must go on.
“During my camp for China, everything went fine. I trained a lot, improved a lot too. But this is a fight, I got caught and every time you go out there you are running the risk of something like that happening. So I just came back home to rest a bit because the whole year before that had been very, very busy with the fights, promotional activities, and travel. I was finally able to get a couple of months to rest and travel with my family. I had a lot of fun but now it’s back to business as usual.”
After suffering the loss of her title in only 42 seconds by her first finish defeat at 115-pounds, the show will go on for Andrade. And her next dance partner will once again be Namajunas.
This, of course, is assuming that everything still ends up coming to fruition when it’s supposed to. According to UFC President Dana White, the fights are all still set regardless of the recent worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.
Andrade vs. Namajunas 2 is scheduled for UFC 249 on April 18 in Brooklyn, New York. Ultimately, the UFC’s plan is that the card will happen. It’s just a matter of where at this point as we’re a month away and White admits that the card will unlikely take place stateside. Even in the discussion of the event, the primary fight in focus is the main event between lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson. Thus making everything else beforehand even more up in the air.
With such uncertainty, all Andrade and her fellow fighters can do is keep training like their fights will happen as currently booked … despite not knowing the exact location. When it comes to current problems, Andrade’s manager Tiago Okamura says those lay in the traveling department.
“For now, the biggest concrete issue we have is that her teammate was fighting in Portland and we were all going there together and from Portland to New York,” Okamura shared, “So considering that card is canceled we will have to rebook all flights for that. Two of her corners were coming for Karol Rosa’s fight [vs. Julia Avila] so now we need to see how to adjust that.
“American Airlines has canceled all flights to Brazil. United canceled some routes. So finding the flights to accommodate us will be tough. Ion Cutelaba, who is on the same card [at UFC 249] had a major issue. The airports in Moldova are shutting down tomorrow. So we had to put him on a plane to Vegas today.”
In the case of UFC Portland, as Okamura mentioned, it has been canceled along with UFC Columbus after being relocated to the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas. Along with those two events, Saturday’s UFC London card also got the ax.
Now with the US consulate in Brazil suspending visa applications until June, per Jason Burgos, Brazilian fighters may be in and even trickier situation going forward.
Throughout this all, we’ve heard White say that he and the UFC will do their best to take care of their fighters. And in the case of Okamura and his fighters, travel coordinating falls on them – unless the UFC has already gotten involved.
“In Ion’s case, getting him out of Moldova was on us as they haven’t really begun working on his flights,” he said, “Jessica’s and Karol’s, the UFC will help as they booked those flights.
“Ion went to Vegas to train at the [UFC Performance Institute]. It was just decided that the P.I. is closed until the end of the month starting tomorrow. I also have Alexander Romanov from Moldova fighting in the US on the 25th [of April at UFC Lincoln] and I have no idea if he will be able to leave when the time comes.”
Worldwide chaos aside, these fighters are still needing to fight and earn their money. So that’s exactly what they’ll do if they’re allowed to.
When Andrade meets again with Namajunas, it will be only the 28-year old former champion’s second rematch in her 27-fight career. The first coming back in 2015 under multiple different circumstances when she still fought at 135-pounds. Obviously, a lot has changed since then.
“For competition, it’s 50/50,” Andrade said, “For you to perform to the best of your ability, you have to have your mental and your physical side at their peak. Unlike for this rematch with Rose, I only had two weeks to train to take on the rematch with Raquel [Pennington]. Her opponent couldn’t fight so I offered to take the match.
“This time I’m having a full camp, time to weight cut properly and especially to train. Having been in there with Rose before helps a lot. I know her physical attributes better than we knew last time so we have more information to prepare even better for this rematch. It should be a great match and I am looking forward to working with Rose again.
“I am training a lot and adding some tools to my arsenal, I know how it is to be in there with Rose and got some ideas that will make the second time around even better,” she continued, “You will see a new Jessica in this one. Still with the same strong points, but with some added features.”
Assuming everything goes according to plan, even without fans in attendance, UFC 249 will just be another major event added to Andrade’s resume. Having had several chances already to compete alongside some of MMA’s most legendary figures, especially from those she’s looked up to in Anderson Silva, José Aldo, and Rogerio Nogueira, “Bate Estaca” embraces all opportunities to compete alongside the sport’s very best.
As she closes in on her 28th bout and inches closer to No. 30, it’s wild to think that Andrade isn’t even 30-years of age yet. So with such vast experience at 28 and having now been at the top of the mountain … if she could go back in time and tell the Jessica Andrade that debuted in 2011, what would she tell herself?
“Train a lot, but also rest, be careful with your money and pay attention to who you fall in love with and don’t push relationships with people that don’t value who you are,” Andrade stated, “The right person for you is going to show up soon.”