On Saturday, May 13th the UFC returns to Dallas, Texas for its first big card of the year. Following a killer 2016, MMA’s most prestigious organization has fallen short again and again in Brooklyn, Las Vegas, and Buffalo. Now though, the UFC looks to stem the bleeding with a stacked card featuring two championship fights.
In the co-main event Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces Challenger Jessica Andrade for the Women’s Strawweight Championship.
The Polish Champion will look for her fifth title defense Saturday in what has been a remarkable reign so far. Three unanimous decision wins and two knockouts (one of which saw her claim that title) are clearly impressive statistics but they do not tell us the whole story.
In Jedrzejczyk’s last two bouts she has taken a considerable amount of damage, so much so that many pundits have expressed concern for her longevity. Those concerns are by no means misplaced. The Champion has fought infrequently as of late (only twice in 2016), perhaps out of a need to recover between bouts, she has appeared to be more susceptible to strikes.
Although a six-month rest period between her last fight at UFC 205 and her upcoming bout on Saturday is certainly a healthy window it more than likely signals an underlying issue. Joanna “Champion” does not seem to be a tough negotiator. Moreover, she is clearly the type of fighter who enjoys getting into the ring as often as possible. What then can account for her need to slow down? Joanna’s slower pace of booking fights, combined with the increased frequency with which she has been getting hit are at the very least indicative of an trend that should raise some red flags. Granted, Jedrzejczyk has been getting past her opponents with relative ease but at the highest level, whittling away at a fighter’s durability can spontaneously come to the forefront at a moment’s notice.
You might say to yourself that the ATT fighter has taken the proper amount of time off between fights to recover. You might say that the damage she did take, especially in the Kowalkiewicz fight was negligible. You might even say that she outclasses her opponent, Andrade, on the feet and so we needn’t worry at all about her being shop worn. I wouldn’t necessarily argue with these points but it is important to remember that in a game of inches everything counts.
Jessica Andrade AKA “The Female John Lineker” has been on a tear, winning her last three fights since dropping down to Strawweight. Her unique blend of power, ferocity, and technique make her a significant threat to the more traditionally-oriented Champion. Unlike the Pole’s previous opponents, Andrade will not play a strict kickboxing game mixed with the odd takedown.
Although the Brazilian fancies her chances on the feet her style is one you do not see many fighters employ. In an age of hyperbaric chambers, macro-nutrient tracking, and the perfection of the sweet science, Andrade is an anachronism. She has technique yes, but blends it with an aggressive brawler’s style that cannot be prepared for. Andrade is the kind of fighter who puts 100% effort into every strike she throws. She will duck her head and jump into the pocket, willing to eat as many shots as necessary confident that her opponent cannot take one of hers.
While the undefeated Champion trains in a state of the art facility, Andrade is preparing a la Rocky on rugged puzzle piece mats and with worn heavy bags. There is something romantic about this juxtaposition. It is almost nostalgic in that we have the Brazilian returning to a simpler time where hard work was everything. While it is very likely that the Champ is working just as hard or harder under a team of professionals counting every calorie and timing every breath we nevertheless are drawn to the blood and guts preparation of the challenger.
But is that blue-collar background enough to overcome a woman who appears to be in her prime? So far the Champion fighting out of ATT has been able to utilize her superior technical striking and takedown defense to ward of challengers of increasing talent and ability.
But on Saturday, May 13th she will be facing a pitbull. Andrade will not be taking a solitary step backwards and that is a scary prospect for a woman who has shown herself to be all too hittable as of late.
UFC 211 is the organization’s desperate attempt at responding to an atrocious first quarter. It is no wonder then that the deck has been stacked with great matchups throughout the card, none moreso than this clash at 115 lbs.