With a new champion comes a clean slate for a title picture. At UFC 237, the strawweight title changed hands following a spectacular slam KO by Jessica Andrade. So who’s next?
The strawweight title picture was already crowded heading into UFC 237. Jessica Andrade did her part to make it even cloudier with a second-round slam KO to dethrone champion Rose Namajunas. With the victory, Andrade has rightful challengers approaching from multiple angles.
Nina Ansaroff vs. Tatiana Suarez Winner
How often do we get a true number-one contender fight in the UFC that doesn’t have an interim title attached? I can’t personally consider Jose Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski one because another Aldo title shot against Max Holloway would have been an exercise in futility had he won. This fight, however, is absolutely one. Both Nina Ansaroff and Tatiana Suarez are on great runs in the tough strawweight division and absolutely deserve a title shot with a win at UFC 238.
Nina Ansaroff looks like a completely different fighter from the fun scrapper who lost in her first two Octagon appearances. The American Top Team product has won four-straight bouts with wins over respected names in Randa Markos and Angela Hill. However, it was a decision victory against perennial top contender Claudia Gadelha that absolutely cemented her claim as a top contender. Gadelha does not lose often and has only fallen to Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her career. Pretty good company for Ansaroff.
Tatiana Suarez is certainly the future of the strawweight division. Her grappling has led to a 7-0 record with four of those wins coming in the UFC. While her list of victims (Amanda Cooper, Viviane Pereira, Alexa Grasso, and Carla Esparza) does not carry the same weight as Ansaroff’s, it’s her style that has people clamoring for a title shot. Suarez has finishes in three of her four Octagon victories (rare in the strawweight division) and has looked absolutely dominant on the mat. A TKO over former champion Carla Esparza is her signature victory thus far.
This is great matchmaking by the UFC and it will be tough to deny the winner a title shot (but that could very well happen)…
Because Michelle Waterson exists. Losses in 2017 to Namajunas and Tecia Torres left the former Invicta FC atomweight champion on the outside looking in in the strawweight title picture. “The Karate Hottie” worked her way up with wins over Cortney Casey and Felice Herrig before putting on the best performance of her career against Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
We saw a new Waterson that night. One that was much more aggressive, and one that put her great skillset on display. It was a performance that proclaimed, “I’m ready.”
Waterson has always had star potential, with a UFC on FOX main event in just her second fight with the promotion. She’s been featured as a desk analyst during fight nights and is the subject of a great documentary in Fight Mom. The UFC would love to give Waterson a title shot (even if she’s less deserving than the two fighters above). Hell, she was even featured in the crowd at UFC 237.
Immediate Rematch with Rose Namajunas
Rose wasn’t a dominant champion by any means. She defended her title once against the woman she took the belt from, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Her case isn’t like Joanna’s immediate rematch situation, as Jedrzejczyk had an excellent run of five title defenses. Rose’s case rests on how thoroughly she was beating Andrade before the slam.
Namajunas was diligent behind the jab and was giving Andrade fits with straight punches. Andrade wasn’t able to do much in the grappling department either. But one slam changed everything. Obviously, it was a testament to the Brazilian’s strength; however, don’t be surprised to see people write it off as a freak knockout (slam KOs are few and far between). If that gains enough traction, maybe we’ll see tonight’s headliners share the cage once more, and that’s not a bad thing.
I know, I know. This is crazy. It’s also my wild card. Sometimes, a perennial top talent who just can’t quite beat the champ is waiting for them to lose their belt (see: Joseph Benavidez in the Demetrious Johnson era). This is Jedrzejczyk in this case. She tallied an absolutely dominant win over Andrade during her title reign. And while she’s coming off a loss against flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko, she did win in her last fight at strawweight.
If there is some integrity left in this sport, the winner of Ansaroff-Suarez at UFC 238 will get the shot at the belt. However, we know this isn’t the case and the promotion is looking for any excuse to put Waterson in a title fight. I don’t quite believe Namajunas has a strong enough case for a rematch at the moment given the moving parts in the division.