Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade headlines UFC 237 this May 11, 2019 at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
One sentence summary
David: Rose vs. Bedrock
Phil: Flower-pressing, piledriver style
Record: Rose Namajunas 8-3 | Jessica Andrade 19-6
Odds: Rose Namajunas +115 | Jessica Andrade -125
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Rose’ ascent has been nothing short of miraculous. It’s just fighting through the stigma of being a “TUF fighter” (which admittedly carries a lot less baggage these days), but also fighting through personal demons that felt tangible in her losses. Against the toughest challenge possible, in Joanna (Former) Champion, none of that mattered. She didn’t just blitz through Joanna twice; she looked confident doing it. Like a prophecy fulfilled, it was as if none of it was ever in doubt. We doubted her then, and yet I think we’re doubting her again. For good reason...
Phil: Rose Namajunas has been one of the more unique UFC champions. On her way up, the mark against her was that she seemed too fragile, too breakable to withstand the siege that is top-level MMA. The strange thing about it is that the take wasn’t exactly wrong, but it wasn’t right either. Rose’s struggles with the McGregor dolly incident and Jedrzejczyk’s mind games are a matter of public record, but... she won that Jedrzejczyk fight. Perhaps she is a bit too fragile to be a long-term champion. Or, she may be someone like GSP, who channels their insecurities to make a surprisingly durable competitive mindset.
David: Andrade has never left any doubt as to who she is: a rawhide rex of a human, slashing through competition with an impenetrable persistence. It’s rare that toughness defines a fighter’s profile so thoroughly, but it’s a real element that stakes her presence in the cage. Technique and acumen are certainly part of it, but it’s merely the icing rather than the cake. That makes Andrade dangerous. Fighters survive moments — an armbar attempt, a flash knockdown, or a big slam — but few are prepared for 25 minutes of the Stalking Killer from your favorite horror movie.
Phil: Jessica Andrade ploughed her way to a title shot, doggedly followed Joanna Jedrzejczyk around the cage for five rounds eating endless punishment, then went right back to the drawing board and punched people until she got a title shot again. It’s hard to think of any fighter on roster right now who is as characterized by pure physicality: at bantamweight Andrade was a handful, but at strawweight she’s nothing less than a force of nature; an avalanche. So far, the book is that you can get out of the way, but you can’t stop it.
What’s at stake?
Phil: As I mentioned to Connor on this week’s Heavy Hands, this is something of a referendum on Rose: is she a Cody Garbrandt, uniquely suited to taking out the long-reigning champion who came before her, or is she destined for a longer time at the top?
David: That’s a great analogy, but all it does is remind me of Cody’s trash talk...or at least what he thinks passes for trash talk.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Namajunas has become something of a boxer-puncher. In some ways she reminds me a little of Max Holloway. Not necessarily in the pace she sets, but more in how she defines an angular, arrhythmic approach which lives in her offense more than her defense. Much of it is built around the left hook, with the jab as precursor and the right as followup, and the big step-in hook as her damage dealer. While she’s reverted largely to being a boxer of late, it figures that the big head kick that carried her through TUF and her fight with Michelle Waterson is still there, as is her submission game. The question for Rose is how she adapts her style to one where she has to fight off the back foot: she’s built to create collisions and play with offense, not to chip and pivot and circle like Jedrzejczyk.
David: Namanjunas is a dangerous range fighter, not because she can threaten with the knockout, but because she’s in such total control at length with her opponent on the end of her punches. With her constant shifting, movement, and pivots in and out of the pocket, she lands a variety of strikes, creating a territorial bubble of boxing not even Joanna could break through. In the past, she wasn’t comfortable following a strict gameplan of creating punch entries from afar, but that’s her bread and butter now. The real question in this fight is how she maintains her flow amidst transitions. She’s good on the ground, but more in relation to being able to re-set on the feet, defend submissions, or pressure on top. The rest — enduring prolonged ground and pound, and dogged positioning — is something she’ll need to be prepared for better than she has previously.
Phil: Andrade is about the most straightforward fighter in the UFC. She comes forward without nuance or subtlety, and attempts to punch the opponent real hard as many times as possible. If she gets her hands on them, she attempts to throw them on the floor as hard as possible. Can she be run around and diverted with this kind of approach? She certainly can. She’s often compared to a female John Lineker, but honestly Lineker is a marvel of technique and subtlety in comparison. He has, for example, a jab, and quite a good one at that. Andrade really is physical force made manifest, and unfortunately for many of her opponents that genuinely is enough. Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres and others simply did not build styles which took into account that one day they would fight someone much more physically strong than them, who was also completely tireless.
David: As wrong as I think Rogan usually is with his cliched analogies (this young person fighting vaguely similar to this big name is JUST LIKE that big name), I thought he was pretty on point with the Wanderlei analogy. Wand’s style might looked a little reckless, but like Andrade, there was just enough underlying technique to explain why they’re so effective beyond raw aggression and strength. Andrade, for example, has a lethal variety of left hooks. Whether it’s a clipping hook inside, a nice mid-range straight, or the sweeping hooks she destroyed KK with, Andrade makes those exchanges with elite fighters count for a reason: the attack might be the same (one-two, one-two, rinse, repeat), but the strikes aren’t, and she’s used to switching them up as she sets up either a punch-entry, clinch-entry, or at range (where she’s a lot less effective, granted); made better by what appears to be a timely jab when she chambers one. Beyond that, I take no issue with your description. Andrade was born amidst salt and smoke. And this is one ham that won’t be easy to carve up.
Insight from past fights
David: This is a tough one. I think Torres-Andrade is a great foundation for what to expect mechanically, at least. In it you saw where Andrade could be defeated. Torres was able to land crushing right hands, and pivot out of danger for stretches of their fight. Meanwhile, Andrade was able to rush through them enough to land takedowns, and takeover as the fight wore on. A few things. One, Namajunas won’t have to move as much because she has the natural length over someone like Torres. Two, Rose is much better at sustaining distance not just because she’s taller, but because she has more strikes to threaten with, making her movements less predictable. So I expect this to be a tale of two fights: the first two and a half rounds in which Rose maintains her distance, and second half, in which Rose has to backpedal effectively.
Phil: The two ones here are clearly Jedrzejczyk-Andrade, laying out the blueprint for how Rose can stick and move, and Namajunas-Kowalkiewicz, which shows how vulnerable Rose can be once someone closes in and locks up with her. The question is which one is more illustrative- both surprised me in the moment, but I think I trust Rose to make the adjustments better. She’s always struck me as a tremendously coachable fighter- even if her basic style doesn’t mesh well with Andrade’s, the book has already been written on her opponent in huge, block capitals. For other examples of this phenomenon, see Kevin Lee vs Barboza, and McGregor vs Diaz II.
David: The psychology of both fighters — without wading into any problematic “emotional” tags — is a legitimate question not because they’re women, but because rarely does a challenger get to challenge in their homeland, and rarely does the champion enter with this much ‘subterfuge’ (to the extent psychology is a legitimate x-factor to begin with).
Phil: How Rose reacts to Brazil I guess, together with how well she’s recovered from her recent struggles. Does having a stadium full of people chanting “Uh vai morrer” tighten her game up or freak her out?
David: I think Andrade’s pressure game is a little overstated as it relates to breaking through Namajunas’ defenses. It’s one thing to walk forward. It’s another to threaten in so doing. If she’s doing actively impacting Rose’s comfort moving backwards, then Andrade’s effectiveness comes down to whether Namajunas will tire in rounds 4 and 5, or get caught inside within the first three. The former is more likely than the latter, and that’s without taking into account the punishment Andrade will endure herself. Toughness is nice, but it can still be hit on the jaw. Rose Namajunas by Decision.
Phil: It’s an extremely hard fight to call, and in some ways a nightmarish one for Rose, who will struggle to set up her blitzing offense on someone who is permanently moving forward. However, Rose is just... better. She’s just a more skillful fighter, and I really don’t trust Andrade to have made any adjustments to keep up with her. Rose Namajunas by unanimous decision.