After suffering defeat to Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 211 in May, Jessica Andrade (16-6) is hoping to bounce back with a victory that should set her up for another crack at the UFC’s undisputed strawweight champion. Standing in her way is fellow Brazilian (and title challenger) Claudia Gadelha (15-2).
This Friday – at UFC Fight Night: Okami vs. Saint Preux – Andrade and Gadelha will do battle inside the storied Saitama Super Arena outside of Tokyo, Japan. This is Andrade’s first fight in Japan, though the globe-trotting 25-year-old has previously fought in Russia, the UK, and a host of cities in the US as well as her native Brazil.
Despite the flight time and the time difference, Andrade is delighted to be making her debut in the Land of the Rising Sun. “It’s great to be here in the cradle of martial arts,” Andrade told Bloody Elbow (via translator Tiago Okamura). “Everybody who grew up watching Pride knows how the Japanese feel about MMA and MMA artists, so this is something that I have been looking forward to.”
In Japan Andrade is hoping to exhibit improvements that have come as a result of her experience battling Joanna ‘Champion’ over five rounds. “Every fight I have, win or lose, I’m learning more about fighting and I’m learning more about myself,” she said. “So after every fight I have a big jump in skill. In the case of the Joanna fight; that fight was really tough, but by the end of it I realized that I have enough stamina to fight five rounds at full force.”
Andrade claimed that in her championship fight she attempted to pace herself, ensuring that she stayed fresh for the fourth and fifth round. Looking back, she calls this a mistake. “I could have put more pressure for the entire five rounds and I would have been fine. And that’s something I’m going to be able to apply in this fight.”
“Any three round fight, I know that I can go full force for a full fifteen minutes with relentless pressure. With Gadelha, I’m ready for her and I’m going to put as much pressure as I have put on any other opponent and the knockout or submission is going to come.”
Having sized up her opponent, Andrade believes she has a good idea of how Gadelha is going to try and fight her. However, the former bantamweight believes she’s capable of disrupting any strategy the usually grapple-heavy Gadelha brings into the cage.
“Claudia, since she moved away from Brazil, she says she has changed and her style is different, but the big thing is whenever you get hit - chances are you’ll revert back to who you are; to your origins as a martial artist. And as much as she’s probably interested in striking with me to begin with, as soon as the first hand hits she’ll revert back to who she has always been.”
If Gadelha does commit to a stand-up war, Andrade doesn’t think it will do her opponent much good. “I hardly ever feel the strikes of my opponents,” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s my chin that is very good or that they are not as strong. But I also have relentless pressure and I know that I am stronger and I hit harder than anybody in the division. So when you put all of that together, Claudia is going to have a freight train coming after her. And anything she throws at me is not going to stop it.”
In the past, other Brazilian fighters have discussed a reluctance to face fellow countrymen/women inside the UFC octagon. Andrade acknowledged that fighting someone from her home country is a little different than fighting someone from Europe or the States, but she admitted that match-ups like this are inevitable if she is going to get another title shot.
That said, Andrade did have some reservations over labeling her fight with Gadelha as ‘Brazilian vs. Brazilian.’ “I don’t know if you can call it that, since she pretty much left everybody there in Brazil,” said Andrade referring to Gadelha’s public departure from Rio de Janeiro’s Nova Unao in 2016.
When speaking to Combate (H/T MMAfighting) Gadelha disputed rumours that she left the Brazilian super team because of a falling out with gym leader Andre Pederneiras. “I was looking for evolution,” she said. “And evolution is here [in the US]. Brazil is behind in some things, especially in sport.”
Gadelha now trains at Luttrell/Yee MMA in Albuquerque, having also spent some time with Jackson Wink MMA. According to Flocombat, in addition to moving training camps Stateside, Gadelha is also looking into a more formal immigration to the US.
When discussing Gadelha’s national allegiances, Andrade opined: “Since she left Brazil and she went to a US based camp with US coaches and training partners, she left us and everybody back home so it’s not as if she’s fighting for Brazil.”
Andrade stressed that her opinion is not based solely off of Gadelha’s decision to leave Brazil. Instead, she claimed, it is the ‘circumstances around her leaving’ which prompted her to have reservations over Gadelha’s Brazilian bona fides. “A lot of people in Brazil are not happy with her,” stated Andrade. “Because of the way things went and because of the statements she made about the country and the people there who are involved in fighting. This is something that she has to be responsible for. It was her decision, as was the way she dealt with it, and her reputation in Brazil was damaged because of it. Especially around the people that are in the sport.”
Andrade, who trains at Parana Vale Tudo in her home state of Parana, believes there can be no questions over her loyalty to Brazil. She also stated that the support she has received from the fight community in Brazil has been “really exceptional.” So too has the support she has received from Brazilian fight fans.
“I am very hands on when it comes to dealing with the fans,” stated Andrade - proudly. “I respond to pretty much everybody who messages me or visits me in training. I don’t think Claudia does the same. I have had people complaining to me about how Claudia deals with them.”
Feeling secure that the Brazilian fans are behind her, Andrade enters Friday’s bout also confident that the winner of the fight will be next in line for another title shot versus either Joanna Jedrzejczyk or Rose Namajunas. However, despite this Andrade stated she is trying to not look too far ahead and is instead focusing on the challenge posed by Gadelha.
Andrade has allowed herself to look ahead in her personal life, though. After losing the decision to Jedrzejczyk, Andrade decided to use her in-cage interview to propose to her girlfriend, seated cageside. She accepted and together they are hoping to schedule the big day for July 2018, on one of Brazil’s many beaches. For this reason, Andrade is looking not only for a win on Friday, but maybe a Performance of the Night too.
“Here in Brazil, after a wedding, we do a party where people give kitchen utensils and stuff for the house, but since my house is already set up I might ask for travel vouchers so we can go somewhere special, but if the bonus comes in - then I don’t have to ask for anything from anybody, I can just do it!”
Jessica Andrade fights Claudia Gadelha in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night: Okami vs Saint Preux on Friday, September 22nd. The main card begins at 10PM ET on FXX.