Over a year removed from the best performances of her career, “Thug” Rose Namajunas is in a fairly rare position as an underdog champion; despite defeating the greatest strawweight ever back-to-back, Namajunas hasn’t quite gotten the respect that the feat should entail. In enemy territory at UFC 237, Namajunas has an opportunity to cement herself as the best in the world against an opponent worse than her last one but also very different.
Since her loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 211, Jessica Andrade has been on a tear; while she hasn’t really improved since those days, “Bate Estaca” has soundly defeated three solid contenders at strawweight, and the manner of her last win ensured that she was first in line for the title shot. In her home country, Andrade looks to fulfill the destiny that eluded her almost two years ago.
Truthfully, there isn’t a whole lot to say about Andrade technically; “Bate Estaca” is sheer relentlessness and athleticism, which has proven enough to devastate the entire division save Jedrzejczyk. It speaks to Andrade’s deceptive viability as a striker, but also to the weakness of WMMA as a whole; even in the deepest WMMA division, only one person to date could stop Andrade barreling forward with hooks.
Andrade can keep up her aggression for the entire fight, but she habitually follows her opponent rather than cutting them off, and her boxing isn’t strong enough to create and exploit openings; this essentially means that the perfect Andrade fight is chasing her opponent around the cage until they gas out from trying to stay away, and pouring on until they wilt or shoot into a guillotine (in other words, the most reductionist take on pressure fighting). She can punch the body and throw her opponent around from the clinch, but Andrade’s fight-winners are generally more attributes than skills.
Rose Namajunas can, in a way, be seen as the opposite; “Thug Rose” has relied on excellent coaching and technical development to get to the top of a deep division despite a 2-2 professional start. A submission artist by nature, Namajunas has turned into a capable and thoughtful boxer in her recent bouts, playing a mobile in-and-out game which allows her to close distance quickly in between feints. Namajunas has also proved to be a fairly big puncher for the weight class; her wipeout of Joanna Jedrzejczyk was extremely impressive, and while she doesn’t work in combination particularly often, she sets up her potshotting well enough with her feinting.
As far as weaknesses, the biggest were shown in her last loss (to Karolina Kowalkiewicz); Namajunas did a fine job at distance, but got forced into clinch-fighting and was exhausted by knees to the gut. Namajunas will likely prove difficult to overwhelm on the ground, and while she has shown cardio issues in the past, her 5-round fight against Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223 was encouraging in that sense.
Conclusions and Capping
This fight is a tough one to cap, because the technically better fighter is entirely obvious, but she has a few flaws that match up well for the challenger. Namajunas isn’t a particularly laterally active fighter, which doesn’t bode very well against a straight-line operator like Andrade; if Rose had a good pivot, this fight would be an easy pick considering how badly Andrade was run around the cage by Jedrzejczyk, but an in-and-out game isn’t the optimal one against someone just trying to run her down. Also, a concern is the cardio; despite her constant aggression, Andrade has shown a very good gas tank (even in her toughest fight at UFC 211, she was relentless), where the body work in the Kowalkiewicz fight saw Rose look somewhat sluggish. Namajunas’ sole five-round decision was at a more deliberate pace than Andrade generally allows, and that may cause some issues.
That said, just as a function of skill, it’s extremely difficult not to trust Namajunas more than Andrade. Her approach is likely to look very different to Jedrzejczyk’s, but if Rose can meaningfully counterpunch early (and Andrade doesn’t exactly make it hard), she will likely find as much success perhaps making Andrade think twice about mindless aggression. With one of the smarter coaches in her corner in Trevor Whitman, it’s hard seeing Namajunas approaching Andrade less intelligently than she approached a far tougher nut to crack in Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas has rapidly improved in her recent outings, and someone fleet-footed on the outside with capable distancing is a fundamentally tricky matchup for a swarmer like Andrade without cage-cutting tools that Andrade has never shown. Both seem to be annoying matchups for the other, but the one who can be trusted to adapt and show more than she has in the past is “Thug Rose”, and that’s a factor that should make a difference.
Prediction: Namajunas via decision. This writer caps Namajunas at -130.