Insight the Octagon: A Rose in Rio

By Lou Finocchiaro  () 

UFC 237 comes to us live Saturday from Jeunesse Arena in Rio De Janeiro. The card is steeped with competitive matchups featuring high-profile Brazilian icons like Lil Nogueira, Jose Aldo and Anderson Silva each facing career-defining fights.

WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP (125 POUNDS)

Champion Rose Namajunas 115 vs.

Jessica Andrade -135

Rose Namajunas has done nothing but impress the mixed martial arts community, earning a 6-1 record since 2015. Two fights back she knocked out Joanna Jędrzejczyk in the first round of their championship fight only to turn around immediately and do what few thought she could, thoroughly defeat Jedrezejczyk in their rematch just months later.

Namajunas is a well-rounded fighter. She uses fluid movement, forward pressure behind a good jab, precision striking and a full arsenal of kicks. Her BJJ is stellar, though if on her back she tends to rely on it too much, she is athletic, well-conditioned and is efficient in the art of submitting an opponent. While effective at striking, she uses volume to inflict damage as opposed to power.

Namajunas took time off after her defense of the title to recover from upper neck vertebrae issues suffered in training for that rematch. This is of concern to any in or around the fight business and while it must be discussed it must also be stated that Rose’s camp feels very confident that those issues are past and a non-factor Saturday.

To Namajunas’ credit, she CHOSE to take this fight in Brazil and uses it as proof that she is focused on proving that she’s one of the top talents in Women’s MMA, period. While I’m prone to react to claims by fighters to be the “best ever,” with hesitation, my study has uncovered that Namajunas is solely dedicated to fighting and though she does have to overcome the mental and physical remnants of her neck recovery I expect her to arrive ready to battle Saturday.

From the birthplace of Jiu-Jitsu comes Namajunas’ opponent, a 125-pound Brazilian ‘pile driver’’ named Jessica Andrade. Prior to the UFC establishing a woman’s 125-pound division, Andrade had to compete at Bantamweight (135lbs.) facing larger, heavier longer women where she earned legitimate top 10 recognition despite her smaller stature. Since her move to Strawweight (June 2015), Andrade has also realized a 6-1 record with the only blemish a loss to then champion Jedrzejczyk.

Her first opportunity at the championship, that loss to Joanna in May of 2017 has served as a supreme motivator and lesson. Andrade reacted to that loss by mowing down all opponents since. Each fight has prepared her in supplemental fashion for this second test at the title.

Andrade is the shorter, smaller fighter, she’ll be giving up three inches of reach with her arms, four inches with her legs but that will not prevent her from trying to walk down Namajunas and unleash a barrage of hooks, crosses and uppercuts to soften her up, then try to maul her on the floor. She must resist the temptation to brawl.

While Andrade has no issue throwing down, in this fight her best path to the title is to utilize her grappling by forcing the fluid moving precision striking Namajunas to the ground to gain top position and deliver damaging ground and pound.

Investing in Andrade in Brazil is tempting against anyone in the division but this match-up may be a poor one for her if she is unable to navigate her way inside of Namajunas’ constant movement, precision striking and execute the takedown. On the floor, Namajunas movement is nullified and Andrade’s lack of footwork is no factor. This is the key to the fight in my judgement as I do not see Andrade having success against Namajunas in a stand-up affair.

This fight opened Namajunas -140 vs. Andrade 100, it has now flipped to Andrade -130 vs. Namajunas 110 and it is still slowly rising.

I view this as a most competitive match-up and feel the linemakers got it correct with the opening number. I view Namajunas a slight favorite even in Brazil and will gladly take the value on her as an underdog but I will be patient and monitor this line as it will continue to rise as we near the opening bell (I have hopes of 130 by the time they ring the bell).

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