Jessica Andrade is a fighter who has benefited the most from a weight class change. Her first UFC fight was at bantamweight (135) and now she fights and is the champion of strawweight (115). The twenty-pound weight drop has bolstered her tremendously, hence her new crown.
However, I find that the weight drop has resulted in a change in mentality for Andrade. In this article, I’m going to examine how physicality has changed Andrade’s style and what that means for her future. I find Andrade a fun, devastating fighter, but she has yet to show me and others that she can be a technical-thoughtful brawler.
Jessica Andrade: The Pile-Driver
In her UFC debut in 2013, Andrade fought Liz Carmouche at bantamweight. This would be a disappointing loss but also logical as Andrade was clearly smaller than Carmouche. Andrade was easily muscled around, but her striking style had yet to form any clear coherence.
Andrade looked like she had an inkling of an idea, but didn’t possess the strength nor the technique to get her into the face of her opponent. Against opponents like Rosi Sexton and Larissa Pacheo, Andrade’s chin was good enough to take shots and swing back. Against Pacheo, Andrade’s raw strength was enough to get Pacheo down and get the tap. These weren’t fighters that could leverage their weight against the smaller Andrade.
Her last fight at bantamweight was against Raquel Pennington, this was a rematch, where Andrade barely eked by. However, in their second fight, Andrade would make adjustments in her striking. Gone was her habit of punching chin-up, (Kangaroo-esque, Joe). Instead, Andrade moved into her most recent form of the right hand to the body and left hand upstairs. It’s incredibly simple but it works for a smaller, faster Andrade.
Andrade would also exhaust herself going for extremely athletic takedowns. Against a heavier opponent in Pennington, it quickly sapped her strength.
Pennington also would find out that by simply slapping on a double or single-collar tie, she could break Andrade’s posture and throw strikes. It relied on Pennington being bigger and heavier and it worked easily against Andrade.
Andrade would go on to lose by submission after being battered and exhausted by the heavier fighter. It was time for a change.
Change in Weight and Style
In her next fight, now at strawweight, Andrade took on Jessica Penne. Andrade had made various improvements in her game. Against Pennington, she showed lovely low kicks.
Low kicks are great for small bangers, as the low kick can be thrown lightly and still hold their opponent in place. For Andrade, she would low-kick then run into her hooking combinations.
Andrade’s punching combinations were labored and she often couldn’t throw much in combination, fearing the takedown. This is what left her somewhat neutered at bantamweight, however at strawweight, she had the muscle to get past the initial takedown.
Against Penne, Andrade showed what raw physicality can buy you in a much smaller division. Immediately Andrade rushed down Penne and flurried with strikes. But when Penne looked to grab on as Pennington did, Andrade noticed something. Penne couldn’t hold her down. After that, it was a steamroll for the pile driver.
Andrade no longer had to be as careful in her rushes as she did before. Rather, Andrade became a mauler along the cage side.
Andrade would easily pick up the stoppage after flurries of head and body hooks.
It was a brutal introduction to a division in which she would come to smash with an iron-fist. Well, sort of.
Violence over Technique
Andrade has since brutalized all but two of her opponents, Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas. What has allowed Andrade to find success as a fighter is primarily her physicality, Andrade understands that while she may be strong, she is still shorter than most fighters. Therefore, the start of an Andrade fight is anxious to wait outside at kicking-range. What this does is invite her opponent to strike at her so that she can come under and throw punches.
This works because her opponent understands that Andrade can maul them, therefore they put starch into every shot in order to keep her at bay. This in turns gives Andrade the fuel to come underneath them or either strikes or the takedown.
However, this is purely all Andrade does. Either she will throw hard hooks while running forwards or hard hooks into a takedown. The science to get her into that range is severely lacking.
Why Fundamentals Matter
In Andrade’s sole loss at strawweight, she was completely outboxed and outmaneuvered by Joanna. What Joana brought to the table was a fundamental understanding of range and footwork.
To start, Joanna understood that purely moving backward would eventually get her on the fence. So, Joanna would circle, settle into a stance, and set up a non-committal jab and kick.
Firstly, jabs can be hard or soft (non-committal), the jabs Joanna employed were plentiful and worked off her low kicks. Whenever Andrade started rush forward, Joanna would step back and circle out.
Secondly, Joanna understood that Andrade doesn’t cut off the cage. In my last article, I covered how Matt Brown uses his feet to predict and cut off his opponent’s escapes. Using this principle could have troubled Joanna, but since Andrade followed her around the fence, Joanna was free to circle, jab, feint, and kick away.
This is why fundamentals matter. By using feints and the jab, Joanna could gauge how far Andrade was, and how far Joanna needed to be to avoid the next rush. If all fighters could purely run at the other and get the finish, we wouldn’t need footwork. But footwork is what carried Joanna to move away from Andrade and win the decision.
Does Technique Really Matter?
In Andrade’s last fight in which she won the title. She was faced against Namajunas and it was another test of her fundamentals. Like Joanna, Namajunas has tremendous footwork and a good jab to which she can leverage her long-frame. However, against Namajunas, we got to see something different in Andrade.
See the difference? Let me explain, Andrade will most likely remain vulnerable to lateral movement. Her style is swinging massive hooks and coming forward, however, she has learned to cut the cage slightly better.
Andrade also added in low kicks to her opponent’s circling, something that was desperately needed to weaken her opponent’s speed but also keep them in place.
Andrade also reduced her tendency to pull the head back whenever a straight punch came to her face, opting to parry the straights.
The difference this made was small, however, it helped her leverage her strengths. By getting closer and closer and chopping up Namajunas’ legs, Andrade was able to get the slam knockout as a result.
Does technique matter? It does in so much as it lends to the fighter’s physicality, fighters of lesser athleticism would likely rely more on fundamentals it’s nice to see Andrade pick up some sense of it.
Is Jessica Andrade a “good” fighter? Not quite, she lacks preemptive head movement that most fighters should have instilled from day one. Look at a boxer like Julio Cesar Chavez, one of the best at the game.
On instinct alone, one must be able to move their head out of the way of strikes in an efficient and unpredictable manner. What this means is that Andrade needs to learn to move her head while getting into her range, but to also maintain that range and be defensively sound.
While this might be a big ask, Andrade has come far since her bantamweight days and has made serious improvements. Andrade will likely lose another decision to a technically superior fighter. However, in the meanwhile, I’m going to enjoy violence overtaking science.
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