Whenever the UFC finally does open up business for a women’s flyweight division, Jessica Andrade will have found her rightful home. Meanwhile, as a uncomfortable guest visiting strawweight, she’s a downhill-steaming tankette that just crashes through the stemware. It’s hell for her to make the weight, but she’s the embodiment of hell once she arrives to the cage.
There was much to admire about Angela Hill’s return to the UFC in Houston on Saturday night, from the Street Fighter homage at the weigh-ins (Sagat!) on down to her chin’s magnificent resilience, but Andrade sold us the idea that she’s the logical next contender for Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She just kind of steadily blasted Hill for three rounds, while containing her own astonishment that Hill kept returning for more.
UFC president Dana White said that Andrade would most definitely be Jedrzejczyk’s next foe, too. At last, the sound restoration of the meritocracy!
And really, what’s not to love about that fight? An aggressive forward-moving Brazilian with a lightning trigger finger against a Polish striker made of sharp nasty limbs with a penchant to draw blood? There could be a comic book franchise centered on that fight alone. Besides, it’s too soon for Jedrzejczyk’s trilogy fight with Claudia Gadelha (fun though that’s been), and there’s just too big a gulf between Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza (whom she took the belt from). Jedrzejczyk just took out her Polish rival Karolina Kowalkiewicz in New York.
That leaves Andrade, who was an apex predator sitting in the willows even before she showcased on Hill.
One of the refreshing things about this Super Bowl card is that things all played out rather neatly for the straws. It was a 115-pound showcase, in some respects, and Andrade did what she had to do to sell a title fight. There was also Felice Herrig ongoing resistance against the young Mexican fighter Alexa Grasso in the co-main event, and a preliminary (catchweight) bout between TUF 20 castmates Bec Rawlings and Tecia Torres. A sign that a division is pretty stacked is that you can’t keep track of all the scenarios.
Hill, as mentioned, came away from her fight with plenty of respect, and will likely stick around for a long time in her second UFC stint. She has social media momentum, which is no small thing in 2017. Grasso is just 23 years old and still putting it all together. She represents Mexico in a big way, which gives her a “pending star” status. Herrig was one of the original starlets of the straws, and is now undergoing a career renaissance. She was calling out Paige VanZant (who at 22 just inked a deal to write her memoirs) and/or Michelle Waterson (who took out PVZ on national television recently).
Everybody came away with a viable future.
Yet if there’s a glaring subtext to UFC Fight Night 104’s strawweight-a-rama, it’s that a flyweight division is not only coveted, but needed. Rawlings couldn’t make the 116-pound weight maximum, and was forced to explain herself on social media. She would be a natural for 125 pounds. As would Andrade, who competed seven times as a bantamweight before whittling herself into a strawweight frame like a yogi. Even Jedrzejczyk has said she would pursue a second title (presuming she still has the original one) at flyweight if and when the division is created.
At this point, why wouldn’t it be? Valentina Shevchenko, who will challenge Amanda Nunes for the bantamweight title in the near future, would be best pegged as flyweight, too. Right now the women’s 115-pound and 135-pound divisions are teeming with talent, and also interlopers. Imagine if the UFC men’s divisions operated with lightweight and middleweight, yet no welterweight? That would be the same as what’s going on currently on the women’s side of things. People are biding time, killing themselves in the short term for the chance at a long-term play. The fights are going on, but there’s a pothole (crater?) everyone is dancing around — and that’s the absence of 125-pound division.
If next Saturday’s UFC 208 pay-per-view can feature a pair of outsized bantamweights in a featherweight bout — an outlier division created for Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, who is dealing with USADA and out of action indefinitely — then surely it’s time to open up business at 125. That 20-pound gap between the divisions is the fight within the fight, and it needs to be addressed.
Andrade came away with a big victory, and she’ll get her title shot against Jedrzejczyk. That’s a damn fine stylistic match-up, that could go either way. It’s also a fight that could happen at 125 pounds, if not now then eventually, and lose nothing but a few asterisks.