Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Jessica Andrade entertain the UFC 211 crowd this May 13, 2017 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Unstoppable force meets unpronounceable object.
David: An answer to an old riddle: can Sisyphus’ boulder develop sentience in order to run over Sisyphus himself?
Record: Joanna Jedrzejczyk 13-0 Jessica Andrade 16-5
Odds: Joanna Jedrzejczyk -178 Jessica Andrade +167
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Joanna Jedrzejczyk is cementing herself as one of the most beloved champions on roster. One of the few lights of consistency in divisions mired in various flavours of nonsense, you know you can tune into a Joanna Champion fight and be guaranteed pint-sized swaggering violence. She's also steadily starting to rack up the defenses, at a time when most opponents are struggling to string together one or two. She'll never have Rousey's pop culture clout, but there's something to be said for pure consistency.
David: Three unanimous decisions later, and Joanna has slowly embedded herself in MMA's collective ego, id, and superego as a kind of female Demetrious Johnson; so far beyond her peers that the UFC looks like it's just kind of wasting her time. Especially with her talents in rhythmic dancing gymnastics. However, looks are somewhat deceiving. Her bouts against Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz displayed modest struggles. Or at least struggles that revealed the so called "gaps in the armor". This is a different claim than 'hot take; Joanna's overrated'. Rather, this upcoming bout with Andrade reflects a logical progression of her competition. It's a tough fight.
Phil: I was not bullish about Jessica Andrade's drop down to 115, because there isn't (and now, with the introduction of W125, won't be again) a bigger and more difficult weight differential to navigate in the sport. 205 and 185 also have 20lbs between each other, but that 20lbs makes a much bigger proportional difference to a small fighter than it does to a light heavyweight. Andrade was a decent bantamweight, but it looked like a drop that big would leave her drained and weak. Not only has she been able to throw people around at this weight class, but she's been able to keep a brutal pace.
David: Andrade has led journeywomen-esque career. Until now. It's obvious at this point that the drop in weight benefited her. However, she has managed to refine her skills at the same time she's been dealing with smaller fighters, so there's an exponential effect of progression to many. It's not without merit. But Joanna has nothing in common with Hill. Who got pinned too easily, and flailed away like a bar room brawler. Or Calderwood. Who hides her technique in service of misguided counterstriking. Or Penne. Who exists beneath the shadow of the biological passport. Andrade has momentum on her side, but does she have the advantage?
What are the stakes?
Phil: Joanna will almost have cleared out a "generation" of challengers with a win- there are other strawweights who can challenge her, but if she can beat Thug Rose there won't be many other challenges on the near horizon.
David: Typical stakes for a championship fight. I think the real interest is how Andrade does in defeat (should that happen). If she turns this into a dogfight, her stock gets risen by a bajillion. And it'll say a lot about her progression.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Jedrzejczyk is a mid-range striker, consistently keeping the opponent on the end of her jabs and kicks. She does a solid job of mixing up the lateral arc of the leg kick with the more direct spears of the jab, cross and front kick down the middle. Once on the inside, she's the rare example of a striker who aggressively tries to retain their space. Rather than pushing and recapturing distance when she gets clinched up (like bantamweight champ Amanda Nunes, or JDS in the main event), Joanna frames, pushes, and clocks the aggressor with an elbow to the temple.
The driving impression is "MY territory." There's a danger zone around her, and if you step into it she's going to mess you up. So this generates an interesting bull-matador style dynamic for this one. The fight isn't going to be anything like Hill-Andrade, with extreme movement against extreme aggression. Instead, it's going to be technical trench warfare, measured in inches.
David: At this point we know who Joanna is. She's a mean motor scooter of majestic mercilessness. Her striking contains a unique blend of economy and oscillation. The pressure's not always on, but the suffocation is inevitable all the same. Jedrzejczyk has improved too. Which is kind of incredible. Early on in her career, she was more interested in alternating combinations that nonetheless chained together to punctuate her advantage in the art of war. Nowadays she's shifted her attack into a junction of sorts; rather than chain combinations, she piecemeals different attacks for their corresponding conditions (knees and elbows in proximity, roundhouse footnotes at range, etc). She's just a little bit more deliberate. A little more calculated. The rematch-Gadelha beats the early version of Joanna with ease. But Joanna has progressed in broad framing terms (philosophy, strategy, tactics), as opposed to the narrow framing of Gadelha's progression (punching power, strength, etc). And that has made all the difference.
Still, for all of Joanna's talents, I think people are getting ahead of themselves with this "female Johnson" talk (that didn't come out wrong did it?). Joanna is still a little discrepant at range. Her combinations work best in proximity, meaning she's at her most efficient when pressuring against the cage, or battling inside the clinch. To compensate for this, she'll throw sporadic kicks up high, and lunge in with straight rights. But not enough to threaten at range. A tall, rangy power striker - think a female version of Struve with more corn on the brain cob - and Joanna would struggle. Andrade is the opposite of female Struve, but if Andrade is pressuring Joanna, it'll be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out: Andrade's pressure versus Joanna's proximity counter fighting.
Phil: You might think the kind of sweeping brawler that Andrade epitomizes would be more likely at the higher weight classes, where power is king, and where pressure and rib roasting body shots could thrive. Instead, it seems like dynamics like the small gloves and the crushing pace of MMA have driven the archetype into the lower weight divisions. Like her closest analogue, John Lineker, Jessica Andrade is a fearsome tank of a fighter. She weaves in and waits for a single shot from her opponent, and then attacks with thudding hooks to the head and body. She shares Lineker's aggressive guillotines, but unlike him is a far more effective offensive wrestler, working from single legs or the body lock to hoist and slam. The clinch should be a notably interesting battleground: JJ as the more classic Muay Thai stylist working with knees and elbows, while Andrade tends to simply wail away at her opponent's body.
David: Andrade is approaching somewhat of a John Lineker phase (I wrote some of this at work so I had no idea you would namedrop Lineker). The move down in weight has allowed her to hulk smash her way through trouble. At bantamweight she was just too undersized. Like a female Tyson Griffin, it seemed like she was doomed by the physiology of pugilism. But then she dropped down in weight, and all was right in her world.
Andrade hasn’t improved in exponential terms. After her loss to Pennington, Penne, Calderwood, and Hill all lined up for the facepunch express. Keep in mind, I believe Andrade is legit. She has the tools to make this an incredibly tough fight for Joanna. But her current resume is half mirage, half trojan. Hill and Calderwood in particular, have garnered reputations that belie their actual talents. So even though I believe Andrade will provide a challenge, I don’t know that she’s adequately prepared.
Andrade is at her best stalking forward like a boulder on an incline. She’s not a great boxer or anything. But the mechanics are solid. And her philosophy is even stronger; digging to the body for support when the headhunting is unavailable. It also gives her the unique distinction of being female MMA’s first real dedicated brawler. Sure female MMA has had strikers. But a brawler in the mold of Igor Vovchanchyn, Chuck Liddell, and so forth? I don’t think so. Maybe women are just smarter at this facepunching thing. That’s not to say that Andrade isn’t: just that it’s atypical as a strategy. Jessica will be threatening in top position, where she owns real acumen, but it’ll be hell getting there.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: The Kowalkiewicz fight perhaps reiterated a small flaw with the champion which Gadelha had already exposed: it is not *all* that difficult to close her down. It'll cost you, for sure, but Jedrzejczyk still has a tendency to occasionally throw what I describe as starburst combinations; brief multi-punch flurries which are intimidating and impressive, but which have little of her weight behind them. These mostly scared Kowalkiewicz off, but when her fellow Pole bit down on the mouthpiece and traded, she was able to make it through those strikes. Andrade will be far more willing to march through them.
David: Gadelha had her moments at closing distance and stifling elements of Joanna’s offense. The Kowalkiewicz fight is fascinating for different reasons. Karolina had a much different rhythm that lent itself toward catching Joanna. Whereas with Andrade, Joanna will be dealing with telegraphed brawling. That can either make things easier for her, or confuse her just enough to let Andrade win exchanges she might otherwise be halted by.
Phil: I am sold on Andrade's ability to fight consistently at this weight. I guess the only thing I really don't know about her is how she deals with a genuinely unpleasant fight. Jedrzejczyk will take her to hell if she can. Andrade can keep a pace, but can she do it when her own blood is running into her eyes from an elbow? How much did she feed off the feeling that Angela Hill was scared of her? How much does she dislike it if every step forward leads to her eating three punches in the nose?
David: Joanna is in tip top shape, but I’ve seen hard men molded by steel and smoke fold up like lawn chairs to undercooked huevos rancheros. With her frame, was this the best idea?
Nie będę was oszukiwała Ostatnio moim ulubionym śniadaniem jest meksykańskie Huevos Rancheros (tortilla, jajka, f… https://t.co/sdgvF5ZofG pic.twitter.com/G8YDEVpfMv— Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannamma) May 2, 2017
Phil: The essential dynamic of this fight is an exceptionally brutal one. A clubbing, come-forward puncher taking on a vicious volume kickboxer who absolutely will not give up ground unless she has to. I've said it before, and I stand by it: I think the most likely outcome in this fight is that whoever wins, these two are going to take years off each other's lives. My fear is that Joanna's good-but-not-great athleticism and power finally becomes a match-losing liability- that she simply cannot hit hard enough to deter Andrade. Regardless, this should be an absolute can't-miss fight, for any MMA fan. Jessica Andrade by unanimous decision.
David: That’s a bold move. I agree that Joanna is gonna be grinding it up in the facepunching muck. But the Andrade-Hill fight was a disaster. Don’t get me wrong. It was fun. But Hill isn’t some magical striker who just has some “ground flaws” that keeps her from being better. And Andrade kept her in the bout because she never adapted other than to simply out-will Hill. It’s entirely enough since Joanna might not be used to being pressured. But it’s also not what I’m predicting. Joanna’s a smarter fighter with the type of clean violence that accrues over time. As long as she’s still standing in round 4 and 5. The fight is hers. Don’t get me wrong. It’ll be close. And it’ll be nasty. Joanna Jedrezejczyk by Split Decision.