Jessica Andrade impressed in her strawweight debut, and hopes to be one win away from fighting for the UFC title.
Andrade went 4-3 as a bantamweight inside the Octagon, and decided to try cutting down to 115 pounds following a loss to Raquel Pennington last September. Nine months later, the Brazilian striker stopped former title contender Jessica Penne in devastating fashion in California, quickly earning a spot in the division’s top 10.
The Parana Vale Tudo fighter decided to live full time in the gym in order to get closer to her dream, moving to Niteroi, Rio de Janeiro. On Saturday night, Andrade faces Joanne Calderwood in the pay-per-view portion of UFC 203, and finally feels at her best.
"My speed and cardio have increased a lot, and my power continues the same," Andrade told MMA Fighting of fighting at 115 pounds. "It has been a great move for me. Now I can control my weight easier. I wasn’t the type of person to gain much weight after a fight, but at 115 I can be bigger and more powerful than my opponents.
"It’s amazing when you enter a new division the way I did, putting on a great fight and showing that you can become a top 5 or even a champion. I already scared some people there [laughs]."
Andrade spent her first three years in the UFC competing as a bantamweight, but doesn’t feel that those days were a waste of time.
"Everything happened at the right time," she said. "I needed this time at 135 to gain confidence and experience. I was able to do nice things at 135, and came to 115 at the perfect time. It had to be now. My biggest fear was not being able to make the weight, but there was no secret. I didn’t even need to do sauna or bathtub. It was a matter to concentration and doing the right thing, so no regrets."
Calderwood enters the bout coming off back-to-back wins over Cortney Casey and Valerie Letourneau, but even thought Andrade expects a tough clash in Cleveland, she sees her opponent as an one-dimensional fighter.
"It’s a great challenge, and she’s a great athlete," Andrade said. "That’s what I needed right now in my career, to fight a top contender and win and fight for the belt next. The UFC believes in me, and they are giving me tough opponents because they know I can go there and put on a show.
"I don’t see her as a good grappler," she added. "Her ground game is not good, and neither is her takedown defense. She doesn’t offer any danger on the ground, but her muay thai is really good. Her front kick is great. She usually studies her opponents in the first round and grows in the next rounds, so my strategy is to do exactly what I did to Jessica (Penne).
"She has the same problem as Jessica, she doesn’t react well when she gets hit, and that will be the perfect opportunity for me. When she feels my hands, I will unload until she goes down or the referee steps in. It’s complicated to stand and trade with me. My first hand lands and you already feel it."
Andrade hopes to be the next in line for the title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a win in Cleveland, but knows that Karolina Kowalkiewicz also deserves a chance after defeating Rose Namajunas via decision at UFC 201.
"I read that Joanna mentioned that her next opponent would probably be the winner of the UFC 201 fight or my fight," Andrade said. "I’m not so sure it will be me because Karolina is also Polish, and the UFC wants to do an event in Poland. But I’m sure that if I go there and put on a show like last time, I can be the next in line and bring this belt to Brazil. It’s time for this belt to finally come to Brazil [laughs]."
Jedrzejczyk is unbeaten in MMA and has defended her belt three times already. Andrade knows how good the champion is, but doesn’t think she’s unbeatable.
"‘Claudinha’ (Gadelha) showed that one good hand can drop Joanna," said the Brazilian. "’Claudinha’ threw a jab and knocked her down. She came back up right away, but she went down. I think that a good striker can rock Joanna, and I have quick, heavy hands. Joanna also has quick hands, but she doesn’t have the same punching power. She has great elbows and kicks, though, but my hands can rock her and bring the belt home."
Jedrzejczyk defeated Gadelha in a thrilling fight at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale in July, and the rematch was full of bad blood. Such a rivalry won’t exist if the champion has to defend her belt against Andrade.
"We have a nice friendship. I’m a huge fan. So we will go out after the fight to celebrate regardless of the result," Andrade said with a laugh. "We have the same manager, Tiago Okamura, and we never thought about this possibility because I fought at 135 and she fought at 115. When Tiago suggested that I should go down, he already started thinking about this possibility. It’s too much for him because he likes us both, but he knew that this fight could happen one day. We’re professionals, so let the best win in there.
"Joanna is a nice person. She helped me a lot before my fights at bantamweight. We trained once during fight week. She was coming off surgery so we just rolled a bit just to sweat. It was cool. She’s a nice person. I hope we can do a great fight in the future, and the friendship will continue the same."