A day before scoring her third straight UFC victory in September 2014, tapping Larissa Pacheco in the first round at UFC Fight Night 51, Jessica Andrade told MMA Fighting it would be "impossible" for her to cut down to 115 pounds despite her height and reach disadvantage as a bantamweight. Less than two years later, she’s ready to make her strawweight debut.
After improving to 3-1 in the UFC with the win over Pacheco, Andrade lost two of three bouts, with a win over Sarah Moras sandwiched by submission losses to Marion Reneau and Raquel Pennington. With a 5-3 record inside the Octagon, Andrade decided to cut to 115 pounds.
"It’s true, I said I would never go down to 115 because I thought I wouldn’t be able to make the weight, but thank God we started working on that," said Andrade, who makes her strawweight debut against Jessica Penne at Saturday’s UFC 199. "When I saw it was possible and I would fight well… I realized that I would have more opportunities at 115, would be better ranked and put on better fights, I spoke with my coach and we decided to do it."
Andrade hasn’t changed anything in her training camp -- she still trains with lightweights on a daily basis -- but can’t say the same about her diet. Used to competing at 135 pounds, the Parana Vale Tudo fighter had to change a few things in order to cut extra 20 pounds.
"I started eating healthier, more salad, sweet potato and chicken, and I’m feeling stronger than I was before," Andrade said. "I train with the same people I used to train before, and I’m using less strength against them. It was weird. I even asked them if they stopped working out because I felt stronger against bigger training partners.
"I used to eat a lot of pasta and cookies, things like that," she continued. "I really eat a lot. I’d eat everything if you let me [laughs]. I had to cut all that and start eating better, sometimes food with no salt at all. That made me a bit angry at first, but I know that I’ll be able to eat that after the weigh-in [laughs]."
Andrade believes that "eating healthy food, a lot of things will change for the best." Her first test will be at Inglewood’s the Forum, and the Brazilian loves the match-up.
"Penne likes to grapple and isn’t that good of a fighter standing, but stands and fights when she has to," said the Brazilian. "It’s a favorable match-up for me, and she’s not just someone. She’s coming off a title fight. But I’m confident that I will be able to impose my game and she won’t have any chance. I focused on defending the rear-naked choke during this camp since I know she loves to go for it. I also felt faster standing. When my hand connects, it will be fast and strong.
"Every time someone lands a combination on her, she closes herself and doesn’t react that quickly. I will work on her mistakes, and stop the takedowns. It’s not a complicated game, but I can’t make mistakes. I have to be focused on what I need to do."
Andrade wasn’t ranked in the top 15 as a bantamweight, but makes her strawweight debut against No. 6 ranked Penne. However, Andrade claims that the original idea was to put her against the No. 2 at UFC Fight Night 88, which took place May 29 in Las Vegas.
"It’s a good fight for me because (Penne) is well ranked," Andrade said. "Winning this fight, I’ll be at the top 10 right away, and that’s great. I was supposed to fight Carla Esparza, but she decided not to take the fight, and chose to fight "Ju Thai" instead, and they gave me Jessica Penne. But the idea was fighting Carla last week."
"Carla’s game is different than Penne’s," Andrade said. "She goes for takedowns all the time and doesn’t stop until she gets it. I think God does things in the right time. He gave me the right opponent now. It’s an excellent fight for me, but I would have no problem fighting Carla either. I was ready for that.
"My focus is to win this fight and ask for Carla next, so I’ll be better ranked and maybe fight for the title next," she continued. "Jessica Andrade fighting for the strawweight title."