Jessica Andrade hopes to earn her first title defense of the strawweight belt at UFC Shenzhen, but being a reigning champion at 115 pounds is far from her end goal.
“My dreams are much bigger than being a champ champ,” Andrade told John Hyon Ko of The Body Lock. “I want to fight in three divisions, try to win three belts and make history, so people can say there was a Brazilian who had three titles. I dream it and want to go after these dreams.”
To eventually earn triple champ status, she needs to first defeat Weili Zhang to retain her first belt. Andrade acknowledged this and reiterated that she is not looking past her opponent on Saturday.
“I will ask for this after the fight, because I don’t want to get ahead of myself,” Andrade said. “I need to win this fight and then I believe I’ll have the credibility with UFC to ask for this.”
The next logical step in her plan would be a move up to 125 pounds to face flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko. The two share common opponents in Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Raquel Pennington and Liz Carmouche, but Andrade and Shevchenko have yet to step into the cage across from one another.
Andrade praised Shevchenko for her accomplishments inside the Octagon in her callout.
“I think Shevchenko is one of the best girls of all the divisions; she’s faced Joanna, [UFC bantamweight and featherweight champion] Amanda [Nunes]… I believe it would be a great test, so this is what I want – hopefully by the end of the year,” Andrade said. “If I’m not able to beat Shevchenko, I’ll at least be able to say that I tested myself and that I gave my best.”
After claiming the strawweight belt from Rose Namajunas by slam knockout at UFC 237, Andrade was tasked with making her first title defense in enemy territory. Zhang is sure to draw cheers from the Chinese crowd when both fighters make their walks to the cage.
The Brazilian has no issue playing the villain though.
“I’m really calm about it,” she said. “Most of my fights I faced my opponents in their home. Only a few times I fought in Brazil and had the opportunity to have the crowd rooting for me from the start, so I’m used to it. I’m used to step into the octagon being booed and walking out applauded. I’m really confident.”
The UFC’s decision to give Zhang a title shot drew some criticism when the news broke, but Andrade is not underestimating her opponent. She expects Zhang to come out firing once the bout begins.
“Weili has a style similar to mine,” Andrade said. “She is aggressive, strong, she moves forward all the time, really well rounded, so she is the type of opponent that you need to be paying attention at all times. I need to focus on my game and be careful with her takedowns.”
When the two similar styles clash, Andrade expects that an entertaining fight will be the result.
“I believe this will be one of those fights where no one will be able to blink,” she said. “I’m really well prepared, I know everything that she can bring, so I’m calm. She is a tough opponent and this will probably be one of my best title defenses – I don’t know what the future holds, but I know for sure I’ll give my best to keep this title.”
Andrade expects a war, but she has no interest in letting the judges determine whether or not she remains the strawweight champion.
“I want this fight to end fast. I want a knockout or a submission on the first or second round, but it will all depend on how the fight starts, what she will do, what will be her strategy,” Andrade said. “I have many possible strategies depending on what she will bring, because sometimes you start with one strategy and that is all you had planned, and then the fight plays out differently and you are not ready for it. I already went through this with Joanna, so I don’t want to make the same mistake. I want the fight to end before the fifth round.”
Shane Connelly is a journalism student at Penn State with a passion for sharing the stories of MMA fighters.