Preview: UFC 237 ‘Namajunas vs. Andrade’

Namajunas vs. Andrade

By Tom Feely May 8, 2019

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 237 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

UFC 237 “Namajunas vs. Andrade” on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro should be a fun card, but the cracks are starting to show a bit in terms of the Ultimate Fighting Championship being able to stage major shows in of Brazil. That is not a problem for this event, as Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo and even Antonio Rogerio Nogueira are all historically recognizable names who have been matched in interesting fights; however, the next class of Brazilian stars has not quite broken through yet.

Jessica Andrade has fully established herself as a contender and could even become a champion here, but she has yet to beam like a bona fide star. Beyond her, there are a bunch of promising fighters in action, but no one quite bubbling as the Next Big Thing out of South America. Again, this should be an excellent offering in terms of action -- even some of the lower-level prelims figure to provide some wars -- but there is an overall sense that you should enjoy this while it lasts.

Without further ado, the preview for UFC 237:

Women’s Strawweight Championship

Rose Namajunas (8-3) vs. Jessica Andrade (19-6)

ODDS: Andrade (-125), Namajunas (+105)

Strawweight has consistently been the best and deepest UFC women’s division since it launched in 2014, so it is nice to finally have Namajunas back; even beyond getting the title picture moving again, she has the potential to break through as a legitimate promotional star. Namajunas has managed to strike an impressive balance just by being herself. Her looks and exciting style made her an organizational favorite during her days in Invicta Fighting Championships and on “The Ultimate Fighter,” but she has been able to connect on an organic level thanks to her honest personality and open struggles with mental illness. All the while, she has managed to improve from fight to fight inside the cage, and taking a step back, it has been a wonderful career arc about overcoming adversity. Namajunas ran through “The Ultimate Fighter” house on the season to crown the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion, but once it came time for the title fight at the finale, Carla Esparza blew through the holes in Namajunas’ wrestling game and reminded everyone that the Milwaukee native was still a raw prospect. Then came a few wins, including a memorable beatdown of Paige VanZant, that put Namajunas close to another title shot, but she gave away the opportunity in a loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz; the win was there for Namajunas to take, but constant mental errors, especially her insistence on trying to clinch with the stronger Kowalkiewicz, resulted in her defeat. Once again, Namajunas learned from the loss, stepped up her game and found herself back in the title picture, as she authored one of the most memorable moments of 2017. Namajunas figured to be the last opponent left for divisional queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk before the champion moved up to flyweight, but instead, “Thug Rose” scored the upset, knocking out Jedrzejczyk in just a shade over three minutes. Still, it was not until the rematch that Namajunas truly felt like the best strawweight in the world. Rather than a quick finish that could have been written off as a fluke, Namajunas managed to win a five-round war that showed she was fully actualized as a fighter. It has been a bit disappointing but understandable that Namajunas has basically vanished since that fight, taking time off to heal from some injuries and recover in both body and mind. After years of showing so much potential, it would be nice to see more of this entirely realized version of “Thug Rose,” but now, Namajunas’ title reign truly begins, and she has a tough ask this first time out, facing possibly the scariest opponent in the division in Andrade.

Andrade’s game is all about power, and “Bate Estaca” brings a level of strength that few strawweights if any can match. When Andrade announced a move down from bantamweight, it seemed like it was worth the risk. While she was powerful even up at 135 pounds, her squat frame often left her at a physical disadvantage. There were some questions about the cut down to 115 draining her of her power, but those were answered quickly, as her strawweight debut was an absolute battering of Jessica Penne. From there, there has been no looking back. Andrade ran through Joanne Calderwood and battered Angela Hill to earn a title fight against Jedrzejczyk, and even that fight was more a case of “Joanna Champion” figuring out how to survive rather than stop Andrade’s physical attack, as she was forced to play matador for 25 minutes. Since that loss, Andrade has bounced back to look even scarier. Claudia Gadelha was thought to be the only fighter who could match her physical strength but instead just got overwhelmed, and Andrade iced the extremely durable Kowalkiewicz in under two minutes with a level of violence rarely seen in a weight class this low. Beyond being a difficult challenge, Andrade also has homefield advantage here in Brazil, so there is the potential that she ends Namajunas’ reign before it even gets out of the gate.

Namajunas has a chance to win, but like Jedrzejczyk before her, it will require a near-perfect performance; and she will probably have to follow the exact game plan Jedrzejczyk did, using her length, staying on her bike and picking apart the challenger as she tirelessly moves forward. The good news is that Namajunas is as ready as she has ever been to stick to a 25-minute plan and earn this victory. Her title defense against Jedrzejczyk showed she had shored up a lot of holes in her game, has a diverse set of tools with which to work and has gotten better than ever in overcoming adversity during the course of a fight. However, even during that fight, Namajunas showed some of her old tendencies to seek refuge in the clinch as soon as she got hurt, which would be a figurative death sentence against Andrade. It lost her the fight against Kowalkiewicz, and while she got away with it against Jedrzejczyk, doing so against Andrade would turn this encounter into a mauling. Over the course of a five-round fight, Namajunas figures to get hurt at least once. A saving grace might be Namajunas’ submission game. Andrade was somewhat prone to submission losses in her days at bantamweight, and while that has not manifested itself at 115 pounds, Namajunas is also a much bigger threat on the ground than any of the Brazilian’s recent opponents. In general, this figures to be a close 25-minute fight where rounds are clearly delineated between those where Namajunas manages to pick apart Andrade at range and those where Namajunas gets caught in Andrade’s web of powerful violence. The expectation is for more of the latter than the former, so the pick is Andrade via decision.

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