UFC 251: Same Partners, A New Dance for Andrade and Namajunas

Jessica Andrade UFC
ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 10: Jessica Andrade of Brazil poses on the scale during the UFC 251 official weigh-in inside Flash Forum at UFC Fight Island on July 10, 2020 on Yas Island Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

In a rematch of former champions, Rose Namajunas will be looking to secure her first shot at champion Weili Zhang while Jessica Andrade will begin her own path back to the belt at UFC 251.

It’s hard to quantify the pressure on Rose Namajunas.  Most of the MMA world hopes for a victory so they may see an exciting match-up between herself and current champion Weili Zhang later this year.  Furthermore, Namajunas is seen as the last hurdle before Zhang will have swept the division’s top contenders and turn her focus upwards towards a fight with flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.  To be focused on one’s own fight is enough, but to be in the position to undo the promotion’s best laid plans is another level entirely.

The task at hand seems both easy and complicated at the same time.  On a tactical level, avoid getting into a position to be slammed like the first fight is an easy enough adjustment.  Mentally, there is pressure for Namajunas to perform just as brilliantly as she did in the first five minutes of their last encounter even with the adjustments that her opponent will likely be making from their first contest.  Furthermore, the mental hurdles of facing an opponent who stopped you so violently before is also a factor.  But all of it is entirely possible.  After all, “Thug Rose” is also the same fighter who dominated contenders such as Michelle Waterson and Paige VanZant en route to a title shot and bested former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk not once, but twice.

Though it hasn’t been nearly as long of a road back to action for Jessica Andrade, the other former champion competing in Saturday’s contest has perhaps even more to prove.  While she triumphed in the last fight, she has to prove that it’s not just a matter of Namajunas not making the same mistake in the rematch.  Furthermore, she wants to erase the memory of the unceremonious end to her title reign where she was stopped by Zhang in a wild brawl that ended before she could implement the rest of her game.  While the MMA world clamors to see Namajunas try to stop Zhang’s sweep the strawweight division, Andrade is hoping an impressive performance could elevate her back into the title picture.

Forgotten in the entire picture is just how much success Andrade has had in the UFC.  A veteran of the promotion since 2013, Andrade holds the record for most fights by a female in UFC history (16) and is tied with Namajunas for the most strawweight finishes (4).  En route to her first title shot, “Bate Estaca” turned away one ranked contender after another with victories against Joanne Calderwood, Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.  A second victory over Namajunas would bring her right back to where she was prior to her first title shot: alone as the top contender in the division.

For Andrade, the key is to be more active and initiate the action from the get-go.  While she will still face the massive challenge of the footwork and reach of Namajunas, the biggest lessons from the first fight should be to work her leg kicks and body shots much earlier to chop away at her opponent’s gas tank and mobility.  Furthermore, the advantage of the scheduled 15 minute bout as opposed to the 25 minutes they had before means that Andrade can afford to take more risks and expend more energy.  For Namajunas, keeping the fight at mid-range again will be the key to neutralizing the power advantage of Andrade.  In terms of adjustments, working harder to break the clinch more immediately with Andrade should they close the distance should be a priority as it was one of the few positions where Andrade gained an advantage in the first fight.

A victory for Namajunas sets up an obvious title shot against current champion Zhang in what would be one of the most anticipated women’s title fights in recent years.  A victory for Andrade would be a major feather in her cap, but another title shot so soon after being stopped by the current champion would be unlikely.  Depending on the timetable and options available for Zhang, one proposed opponent would be top contender Tatiana Suarez who has been out of action for more than a year.