Former UFC strawweight champion Jessica Andrade knew the first part of her UFC Vegas 52 headliner with Amanda Lemos would be unpleasant. But she had a plan for that, and a move in her back pocket that she had practiced.
As it turned out, Andrade got the perfect opportunity to apply it and, on Saturday at UFC APEX in Las Vegas, she became the first UFC fighter to submit an opponent by standing arm-triangle choke when Lemos tapped out at 3:13 of Round 1.
“The plan, on paper, was to tire her out in the first round, maybe second round, so I could take over in the third,” Andrade told reporters afterward. “I know she was going to hurt me, and I had to be cautious about it in the first round, and the moment I get in close quarters, girls get a little bit desperate, because I am pretty scary at close quarters.
“The moment that I connected with her, she put her arm up, and I said, ‘OK, that’s the move we’ve been playing with the entire week.’”
Watching cageside, Andrade’s coach talked her through the sequence, advising her to stay with the choke and to stay on top if the action pitched to the canvas. That might have been one expected outcome given Lemos’ height, which she used early to pepper the ex-strawweight champ with kicks and punches at distance. In close, however, the disadvantage melted away.
“Pretty much everyone is taller than me, so it’s not that big of a deal,” Andrade said with a smile.
The highlight-reel win marked Andrade’s return to 115 pounds after a three-fight stint at flyweight. She wasn’t forced to make the move because of a skid, earning a 2-1 record at 125 pounds. Instead, she chose to return because the circumstances of her life and training changed.
“I had two rough weight cuts in my last fights at strawweight, and that is what prompted me to fight at flyweight,” Andrade said. “Things weren’t going well – my head wasn’t in a good place. It was a little traumatic, the last two ones I had. So we decided to just take a break. Let’s give it some time, let’s do something in a weight class above. Let’s just remove weight cutting from your mind for a little bit.
“As well as things went at flyweight, strawweight is where I’m going to excel at. I know I can to do well at flyweight, I know that I can beat a bunch of girls at bantamweight. But if I want to be champion again, strawweight is the place to be.”
Indeed, Andrade has often fought at a disadvantage in the octagon, starting her career as a bantamweight when there were scant opportunities for women in the UFC. The addition of new weight classes gave her options, but the one she sees the best for her career is at 115 pounds, where she once held the strawweight title.
In the next two months, three of Andrade’s former opponents will face off in pivotal strawweight fights, with current champ Rose Namajunas scheduled to rematch Carla Esparza at UFC 274 and ex-champs Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili confirmed to meet at UFC 275.
Andrade re-started her journey ranked at No. 10 in her former weight division, so she wasn’t expecting to jump back into the title picture. With a highlight-reel finish and another victory, however, she believes she could be in a different position,
“I think this is a big win,” she said. “We were aware that going into this one, I was ranked No. 10, so I couldn’t really expect to be a title challenger right away. But it was also on my mind that, maybe if we do something different, if we have a devastating win, if we really do something outside of the norm, maybe, who knows. It’s a tough division. There are a bunch of girls ahead of me. Maybe we can get the conversation going.
“No matter what, I want to keep active if the girls are fighting right away – Joanna and [Zhang] Weili. If I can fight someone there it would be great. Hopefully, it could be soon, because they’re fighting next month. But if that doesn’t happen, if there’s something good at flyweight, I don’t mind fighting there. If there’s something interesting at bantamweight, I’ll fight there. It’s all good. Just keep me ranked everywhere, and I’ll fight whoever’s in front of me.”