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Rose Namajunas (pictured) defends her strawweight title against Jessica Andrade in the main event of UFC 237 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC is returning to Rio de Janeiro in style.

Jessica Andrade, one of Brazil’s favorite fighting daughters, is poised to capitalize on her second world title opportunity when she challenges Rose Namajunas for the strawweight championship in UFC 237’s main event. Aside from Namajunas and longtime champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, there are few women more feared than Andrade, a rare specimen with no-doubt knockout power at 115 pounds.

For Namajunas, she has the chance to further legitimize her reign after twice defeating Jedrzejczyk. It has been a year since her last appearance, leaving some doubt as to whether she’ll be in prime form to deal with a threat like Andrade, but Namajunas has overcome the odds before and she would love to silence a roaring crowd of Brazilians on Saturday.

The co-main event sees living legend Anderson Silva fending off an up-and-coming middleweight in Jared Cannonier, though at this point Silva’s true nemesis is Father Time, who let us not forget remains undefeated. Will a return to Rio invigorate “The Spider” and spur him to victory?

In other main card action, Alexander Volkanovski looks to improve to 7-0 in the UFC when he takes on two-time featherweight champion Jose Aldo, 36-fight welterweight veteran Thiago Alves faces unproven Argentinean Laureano Staropoli, and Irene Aldana takes on Bethe Correia in a 141-pound catchweight bout.

What: UFC 237

Where: Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

When: Saturday, May 11. The three-fight early preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and will air on UFC Fight Pass, followed by a four-fight preliminary card on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available for purchase exclusively through ESPN+.


Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade

Defeating Joanna Jedrzejczyk twice was no easy task for Rose Namajunas, but even the great Jedrzejczyk doesn’t have the stopping power of Jessica Andrade. Few fighters in the UFC do, strawweight or otherwise. Andrade’s nickname, “Bata Estaca,” couldn’t describe her more accurately. She is an absolute piledriver with her punches, though imagine if that piledriver were also capable of tying you up, dumping you on your head, and choking the life out of you.

She has limitations, as evidenced by her own failed attempt to defeat Jedrzejczyk, limitations that can be exploited by the constantly evolving Namajunas. It’s arguable that Namajunas’s five-round decision win over Jedrzejczyk was even more impressive than the fast finish in their first encounter. “Thug Rose” showed poise, maturity, precision, and outpointed an opponent who looked to be unbeatable when going the distance.

Namajunas has always been a good athlete who uses her range well, which she’ll have to do to avoid Andrade’s blitzing style. At the same time, her strong grappling will be invaluable when Andrade inevitably closes the distance. Clinch work is key to defusing Andrade’s explosive offense.

The route to victory for Andrade appears to be to take Namajunas out early, but she proved in decision wins over Tecia Torres and Claudia Gadelha that she’s more than a go-for-broke brawler. If she doesn’t exhaust herself trying to overwhelm Namajunas early, the champ could find herself struggling to survive a 25-minute war.

We are set up for what could be one of the most exciting fights in strawweight history, regardless of who wins. Namajunas playing the matador for five rounds, Andrade constantly moving forward looking to gore her prey. I’m trusting Namajunas’s chin to hold up and for her to win enough rounds to successfully defend her title, leaving the proverbial bull’s blood lust unsatisfied on this day.

The pick: Namajunas

Anderson Silva vs. Jared Cannonier

Jared Cannonier is exactly the kind of skilled, but unspectacular opponent that Anderson Silva used to make mincemeat out of in his prime. However, “The Spider” isn’t exactly in his prime anymore, is he?

That’s what makes Cannonier such an intriguing pick here. It feels like the 35-year-old is catching Silva, 44, at just the right time. He’s a solid striker with legitimate KO power that is only more pronounced at 185 pounds. Even though Silva has always been hard to hit, the former champion has been hesitant to pull the trigger himself these days as age has crept up on him. That cost him against Israel Adesanya and almost cost him against Derek Brunson.

Still, Silva’s defensive skills are still top notch and there’s a reason most opponents are still hesitant to engage him in a straight-up striking battle. Even future two-division UFC champion Daniel Cormier knew better than to stand and strike with Silva, opting instead to wisely ground Silva and cruise to a decision victory.

Cannonier won’t have that option. He’ll have to trade with Silva, a scenario that many fighters probably fantasize about and envision themselves winning, only to find that the reality is far bleaker. Silva remains one of the sport’s preeminent strikers and I’m not convinced that Cannonier has the standup vocabulary to put Silva down or outscore him.

Add in the boost from the Brazilian crowd and dare I say that it’s Silva who actually finds the finish here?

The pick: Silva

Jose Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski

When this matchup was booked, it immediately brought to mind Jose Aldo’s two title fights with longtime contender Chad Mendes. It’s a useful comparison, given that Mendes and Volkanovski have similar measurements as well as similar skill sets.

Volkanovski might not have Mendes’s wrestling pedigree, but he’s not afraid to mix in takedowns or at least the threat of a takedown to keep his opponents off balance. He’s also a much more varied striker and literally showed that he was the superior version of Mendes when he put the Alpha Male fighter away by TKO in the second round of their meeting last December. If Aldo doesn’t respect Volkanovski’s standup, he could wind up eating a spinning kick right to the gut.

And you know Volkanovski will respect Aldo’s striking. The two-time featherweight champion has been as deadly as ever in his last two outings, punishing Renato Moicano and Jeremy Stephens for believing that they could match him on the feet. Aldo still has some of the best counter-striking in the business and also complements his highlight-reel attacks with devastating body work that can break down even the most stout foes.

If the worst thing you can say about current day Aldo is that he can’t beat Max Holloway, that’s not much of an indictment, and I favor him against pretty much anyone else at 145 pounds. Including Volkanovski.

The pick: Aldo

Thiago Alves vs. Laureano Staropoli

Laureano Staropoli presents an intriguing challenge for Thiago Alves. He’s tall and light on his feet, and more than willing to push the pace if Alves sits back in the early going. This would be a huge victory for the 26-year-old Staropoli if he can add Alves’s name to his hit list.

Alves’s striking looked as sharp as ever in his last outing against Max Griffin and though he struggled to stop Griffin’s takedowns, his trademark kickboxing carried him to a split decision win. He’ll fare even better in this one with an opponent who will be looking to show that he’s not intimidated by Alves. Staropoli’s length could give Alves some problems, but the Brazilian is used to being at a reach disadvantage and he’ll punish Staropoli whenever the distance is closed.

This should be an entertaining three-rounder that ends with Alves earning a second straight decision win.

The pick: Alves

Bethe Correia vs. Irene Aldana

I like Irene Aldana here, even if her tendency to brawl could lead to her downfall. Bethe Correia isn’t exactly the hardest target to hit, so if Aldana wants to let loose with strikes she’s likely to have great success. Correia will get to exhibit her toughness here, for better or for worse.

Correia missing weight so egregiously for what was supposed to be a bantamweight bout could mean she has a strength advantage, but it could also mean that her conditioning will take a major hit and that’s not good when facing a high-volume striker like Aldana. A fast pace will drain Correia fast, leaving her with little to offer in the later rounds as Aldana pulls away.

The pick: Aldana

Undercard

Ryan Spann def. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Thiago Moises def. Kurt Holobaugh

Sergio Moraes def. Warlley Alves

Clay Guida def. B.J. Penn

Luana Carolina def. Priscila Cachoeira

Raoni Barcelos def. Carlos Huachin

Viviane Araujo def. Talita Bernardo