The Octagon returns to the Jeunesse Arena in Rio De Janerio this weekend for the company’s annual May Pay Per View in the homeland of the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
A solid card will be highlighted by the return of two Brazilian legends, as Jose Aldo looks to continue his remarkable career comeback against undefeated Aussie, Alexander Volkanovski and Anderson Silva looks to get back in the win column against surging young middleweight Jared Cannonier.
But in the main event we have a true gem as UFC Strawweight Champion “Thug” Rose Namajunas returns from a thirteen month layoff to face Brazilian challenger Jessica Andrade in what has become the rarest of matchups in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
More and more it seems rare that the legitimate world champion is fighting the legitimate number one contender who has earned their shot. In the era of super fights and interim titles, what we will see between the legitimate two best strawweights in the world is a rare beauty, no matter what happens when the cage door closes.
The champion hasn’t fought since last April in Brooklyn, when she used deft movement, hard strikes, and a timely fifth round takedown to take a comfortable five round decision from the woman she beat for the title six months earlier, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Despite repeated postulations from the Polish fighter that she won the fight, it’s all delusion. Rose out-struck her, landed the bigger shots, and wrestled when she needed and made it clear she was the best strawweight in the world. Of course, the last time Rose defended her title it was the day after the darkest day in UFC history, when Conor McGregor threw that infamous dolly at a UFC bus in Brooklyn, reportedly spraying glass all over Rose.
After that incident, the champion felt the need to take extra time off to tend to her mental health, something for which she should be applauded. But while Rose was away, a little terror from Brazil proved herself to be more than ready from a title shot.
No woman has had more fights in the UFC than Jessica Andrade. After seven fights at bantamweight, Andrade moved down to strawweight and started killing girls. Three big wins earned her a title shot at Joanna at UFC 211 in Dallas, but that night she was thoroughly out kick boxed by the taller and faster champion. But that didn’t differ Jessica. Four months later, she went to Japan and bloodied and slammed Claudia Gadelha across the ring, destroying the woman thought to be the second best strawweight in the world. Gadelha hasn’t really been the same since.
Andrade followed that up with another dominant three round win over the very brave Tecia Torres and last September she eliminated all doubt she should be Rose’s next challenger when she destroyed Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 228. Andrade had Karolina hurt with the first ten seconds and never really stopped throwing punches until a huge overhand right dropped Karolina like a bad habit. It’s one of the best knockouts in the history of women’s MMA.
It’s tempting to believe that since Rose beat Joanna twice and Joanna won a virtual shutout over Jessica that this would be an easy fight for Rose. But fighting don’t work like that.
Where two years ago, Jessica was relying more on her wrestling and jiu-jitsu to best her foes, Andrade has really improved her striking since her fight against Joanna. She believes in her power, which she showed against Karolina and her recent fights, she has looked like a tiny Wanderlei Silva with the way she comes forward throwing punches. That’s not an easy style to combat, especially when you been off for thirteen months; Rose is gonna have her hands full.
Also posing a threat is that Jessica is the probably best wrestler and overall grappler that Rose has faced since she fought Carla Esparza in the first strawweight title fight back in 2014. Jessica can pull off some huge slams and has good top control and submissions, and her improved striking can only make those takedowns more effective. Generally, Rose’s creative submission game has been so feared that no one dare take her down, but Andrade will probably be brave enough to do it. If Rose accepts the takedown thinking she will just get a submission off her back, she could be in trouble.
If Rose wants to survive this 5’1 Brazilian hurricane that will be coming at her this Saturday, she must be first with her offense. Employing some wrestling and putting Jessica on her back would not be the worst idea for Rose and that is something she is certainly capable. But what makes this fight so much different than Jessica’s last title fight against Joanna is simple — power. For all of Joanna’s striking prowess, she is not a one punch or one kick knockout artist. She is the kind of fighter that beats you up and wears you down over time, as she did in May 2017 in Dallas.
But thanks partly to Daniel Cormier, none of us will forget Rose Namajunas separating Joanna Jedrzejczyk from her sense with a big left hook, the kind that is rare in being able to produce in the 115 pound weight class. You can say the same about the single round kick that dropped Michelle Waterson in their fight in April 2017. Rose will knock a chick out and it remains to be seen if Jessica Andrade can take that kind of power. If she can, we may be in for a fight for the ages this Saturday. If she can’t, it’s gonna be a joyous trip down south for “Thug” Rose Namajunas.