Since her one-sided title win in March 2015, Joanna Jędrzejczyk has been dominating and devastating the UFC’s Strawweight division. With violent striking and a polarizing cocky swagger, Jędrzejczyk has risen to fame and whilst there has been some testing moments as of late, still stands tall above her now almost completely conquered contenders. However, dominant champions often breed better contenders and it seems Strawweight will be no different. In fact since June of last year the 115lbs division has been introduced to a brand new threat, even if it’s gone under the radar somewhat. That threat is former Bantamweight fighter Jessica Andrade.
Making her debut in 2013, Andrade started her octagon career with a loss, being finished by former title challenger Liz Carmouche. Even though Carmouche was far from a big Bantamweight fighter, she still looked to have a tremendous strength advantage over the Brazilian and it seemed that the 5ft 2 fighter was going to struggle to compete at 135lbs. Nonetheless, Andrade bounced back three months later, violently battering Rosi Sexton for three rounds in Manchester. Against a similarly sized opponent unable to take her down like Carmouche previously had, Andrade’s aggression and pure striking ferocity shined in a big way throughout the fifteen minute showcase.
Andrade would turn that victory into a winning streak too, next scoring an impressive decision victory over Ultimate Fighter alumni Raquel Pennington. A seemingly hesitant Pennington was outworked by the once again aggressive Andrade and suddenly the Brazilian was riding a two fight win streak. Andrade’s surging momentum wouldn’t stop there either as she then made it three straight by defeating her countrywoman, the undefeated Larissa Pachecho. Though the doubts surrounding her size still understandably stood, Andrade had seemingly solidified her spot as a rising star in a division desperate for contenders whilst the dominant champion Ronda Rousey was rapidly vanquishing the challengers.
In February 2015 though, Andrade’s ascension of the Bantamweight division was surprisingly halted as she was quickly submitted by Marion Reneau in less than two minutes. The submission was particularly startling due to Andrade’s early success in the fight, even dropping Reneau just moments prior to succumbing to the triangle choke finish. Regardless, Andrade would quickly rebound with a pummeling decision win over Sarah Moras. However, at UFC 191 in September 2015, Andrade’s over two year stint in the Bantamweight division would come to an end as she took on Raquel Pennington in a rematch of their fight eighteen months prior.
Just like she had the first time, Andrade did have some success but the Pennington’s undeniably massive improvements coupled with her already existing size advantage eventually led to the Brazilian’s demise as she was submitted at the very end of the second round. It seemed that for all of her positive traits and natural fighting instincts, Andrade had reached her ceiling at 135lbs and that ceiling seemed to be a lower end top 10 contender. The result led to Andrade’s move down to 115lbs and that brings us back to where we started, June 2016, her Strawweight debut. On that night Andrade would make a very big impact, violently battering former title challenger and top contender Jessica Penne.
All of Andrade’s natural assets were still prominent but now suddenly to a much, much larger degree. Still aggressive as ever, Andrade was quicker and seemed to be hitting even harder as she virtually chased Penne around the octagon on the way to a merciful 2nd round stoppage. Though she was often outsized at 135lbs, Andrade always possessed physical strength and explosiveness and that was now almost frightening at Strawweight. A thrilling and unforgettable UFC 199 main card would rightly overshadow Andrade’s win that night but everyone watching knew that they had seen a brand new threat added to the Strawweight division and a very scary one at that.
Three months later and Andrade was back again against one of the world’s best in Joanne Calderwood. The Scottish striker was fresh off of an excellent recent win over former title challenger Valerie Letourneau and posed a tough style matchup for the shorter, perhaps less technical striker Andrade. However, in a showing of real maturity, Andrade fought without ego and used her well roundedness to highlight her advantages. Whilst most expected a stand-up battle, Andrade immediately engaged in the grappling and scored a takedown. Showing her now particularly prevalent physicality, Andrade even elevated and slammed Calderwood. Eventually, the anxious Calderwood would try to fight to her feet but in doing so was caught in a guillotine choke and had to submit at the end of the first round.
Now 2-0 at Strawweight Andrade is back in the cage this Saturday night, opening the main card against Invicta champion Angela Hill. Just like it was when Andrade seemed to be climbing the Bantamweight ladder, a dominant champion is wiping through contenders and fresh talent is needed. However, this isn’t that same Jessica Andrade. At 115lbs, Andrade has been even more dynamic than before and seems certain to be a real title threat. The Brazilian recently actually turned down a title shot but that shows self-awareness and maturity as the truth is at only 25, Andrade has time very much on her side. Either way, Strawweight seems to have a new contender and on Saturday night, we learn a little more about where her ceiling really is.