While UFC Saitama may be headlined by hometown hero Yushin Okami, strawweight powerhouses Claudia Gadelha and Jessica Andrade are poised to steal the show.
The UFC is in their latest run of holding fight cards every weekend. As such, the FOX television schedule has to make choices considering MLB and other coverage, so UFC Saitama will instead air on the smaller FXX network. It’s a travesty considering that the co-main event will feature a collision of Brazilian powerhouses as Cláudia Gadelha takes on Jéssica Andrade.
Gadelha is coming off a huge first round victory over former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in June. The fight is her second since her failed effort to win the UFC title and she is now putting together a campaign to get a third fight with champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
Gadelha is regarded as one of the top mixed martial artists at 115 pounds, but losing twice to the current champion has put her in a difficult position. At 5’4, her frame grants her the perfect blend of speed and explosiveness. There is no atomweight division in the UFC, and she is already very lean at 115 pounds so a move down is out of the question. If she were to move up to flyweight, she would concede numerous physical advantages against taller and bigger athletes.
This leaves Gadelha to replicate the path set by Miesha Tate several years ago. In 2013, Tate had lost to champion Ronda Rousey for the second time. With a move to strawweight impossible and no featherweight division available, she instead went on an impressive run against some of the best opposition at 135. When Holly Holm shocked Rousey to win the title, Tate was the consensus number one contender and would then defeat “The Preacher’s Daughter” to win gold.
The Brazilian has already knocked off one top contender in Kowalkiewicz, and a victory over Andrade would further lock in her place as the second best strawweight in the division. If she were to secure the victory, she would line herself up for another fight with a top contender. Names like Tecia Torres, Felice Herrig, and Cynthia Calvillo are all options that could help Gadelha force the UFC into making a third fight with Jędrzejczyk.
For Andrade, this will be her first fight since her own gritty effort against Jędrzejczyk back in May. She was praised for her tenacity, however she was dissected in the cage by the brilliant striking of the champion. Prior to the loss, she had put together a 3-0 record at strawweight with wins over Angela Hill, Joanne Calderwood, and Jessica Penne.
Andrade now finds herself looking at the crowded field at strawweight where several fighters are jockeying for position. Jędrzejczyk has a tough fight ahead of her in Rose Namajunas in November but the field is wide open after that. Tecia Torres is the highest ranked fighter that the current champion hasn’t faced. Fighters like Felice Herrig and Cynthia Calvillo are all on the short list for a crack at the belt with one more victory. For Andrade, a victory is critical toward staying at the top of the division and securing fights with a contender who could earn her another championship fight.
Stylistically, both women are very similar in terms of their ability to pressure with strikes and take the fight to the ground. Andrade has a few more fights to her resume and a higher knockout rate, but Gadelha is statistically the better fighter in completing and defending takedowns.
That statistic is going to be critical as the ability to control where the fight goes will likely determine the winner between these two multi-faceted mixed martial artists. Stylistically, Gadelha prefers taking the fight to the mat where her wrestling and jiu-jitsu outclass most of the division. Andrade will usually look to keep the fight standing and go to the ground only if the situation requires. For example, while she could easily have taken down and dominated Jessica Penne last year, she kept the fight standing and scored the most brutal finish of her career by TKO.
The fight will look to favor Gadelha as her grappling prowess should keep Andrade on the defensive. On the ground, her skills should be at the level to avoid her countrywoman’s submission attempts and from mounting significant offense. That said, the relentless pressure of Andrade could force Gadelha to fight on her heels and neutralize her attack. On paper, it should play out as a chess match between two of the best strawweights in the world and is a candidate to steal the show in Japan.