EXCLUSIVE | Jessica Andrade: Gold hunter on a warpath

Jessica Andrade
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‘Excitement’. Three syllables and a noun. Everybody loves something that causes them the feeling of excitement.

It’s a great emotion, really. The possibilities are endless when it comes to what can trigger it. For many people around the world, a sport can be one of those things.

It doesn’t matter what it is, if you follow football religiously, you’re going to get excited every time there is a big game coming up or when your favorite team is playing. Seeing two teams come together to fully utilize their abilities as a collective unit is always something to admire and find appealing.

However, it’s different in combat sports as rather than those team efforts, excitement is instead personified by a single individual who is looking to leave their playing field as the last one standing.

When it comes to female mixed martial artists, not many do that better than Brazil’s ‘Bate Estaca’ Jessica Andrade.

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Starting her career as a compact 19-year old bantamweight at 135-pounds in 2011, Andrade attracted the eyes of many from the get go by racking up finishes in all of her first nine victories (five submissions, four KO/TKOs).

To say that Andrade got her career off to a fast and furious start would be an absolute understatement as she fought an insane seven times in 2012.

Now at age 27 and having fought in a total of 25 professional bouts, Andrade still loves to fight as often as possible.

With her second career UFC title shot currently awaiting her, it begs the question of if she was ever reaching a little bit of a boiling point by having to wait for this opportunity that she arguably could have gotten sooner than she now is.

“Honestly, I don’t think it was frustrating at all,” Andrade told BJPenn.com.
“For my first chance at the title I had to win three fights in a row, so having this three fights now was expected.

“The best thing about this latest run was that I was able to beat a much higher level of opposition, including the KO over Karolina [Kowalkiewicz] who had been very competitive fighting the top of the division. Everything happens when it’s supposed to happen and I know that I am now coming into this title shot as a better fighter than I was going into the first one.”

At UFC 237 on May 11, Jessica Andrade fights in the fight of her life as she once again challenges for the UFC strawweight title. But as exciting as the road has been to get to this point, it hasn’t come without some setbacks.

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In 2016 Andrade made the decision to drop 20 pounds to go from her original home in the 135-pound bantamweight division to the relatively new 115-pound strawweight class. A decision that in hindsight has definitely worked out pretty well.

The 5’2″ ‘Bate Estaca’ (which translates from Portuguese as ‘pile driver’) has gone 6-1 at strawweight (19-6 overall) with her lone loss coming to the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first UFC title shot in May 2017.

Due to Andrade’s great amount of fights and experience in the sport, it’s easy to forget how young she still is. Meaning that there is still plenty of things to learn on her journey. Especially in regards to the title scene.

“For sure, a loss in a title fight will change you,” Andrade explained. “I learned a lot about myself in that match [with Jedrzejczyk]. Dealing with adversities in camp, physical adversities and the added experience of fighting five rounds.

“When I lost that match I told everybody that it was going to make me stronger and they would see a different Jessica when I had another shot. And this is what the past two years have been about, every loss I had in my career gave me a push to better myself, I have definitely learned more from every loss than for any of my victories.

“I believe I am also much more mature, I know I am the best measuring stick for myself, I have to be a better version of me every time I go in the Octagon,” Andrade continued. “I just have to focus on learning and improving, making sure the Jessica I bring in for a fight is better than the one we brought last time.”

As thrilling as it is to watch fighters literally duke it out inside a cage, sometimes it can be just as fun to watch them grow throughout their careers and develop over time. And with that comes losses as Andrade mentions.

Because of that, learning is required. It’s like the old saying goes, ‘win or learn’

There are endless ways that losses can be learned from. And for Umuarama’s finest, despite the vast amount of fights she had already had prior to her first title shot, none were five rounds.

Now having gone through that experience in a real-time situation, she feels much better prepared for the current champion Rose Namajunas.

“Yes, actually fighting five rounds is something that puts on a different stress on your body and it’s not something you can replicate in the gym,” Andrade said. “Last time I was being very cautious with my gas tank because I was very worried about gassing out on the later part of the fight and get picked apart by Joanna as she did to so many others. But that was a good lesson, I know that I am able to go full pace for five rounds and this will be a great improvement going into this next bout.

“I know Rose is a very dangerous fighter and one with a great story behind her, there is no doubt in my mind that we will put on an unforgettable match for the fans.”

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When someone walks people down the way that Andrade does inside the Octagon, it’s hard to ever forget about it. What would be forgettable would be if she’s ever taken a step backward because surely that’s a sight that’s as rare as seeing a unicorn.

As someone who has become such an established force as she has, it’s difficult to see Andrade losing at 115-pounds, especially as she only continues to grow as a fighter. She has left a trail of bodies in her wake with the exception of Jedrzejczyk who is more often than not, sensational in her own right but now out of the picture.

Heading into the big showdown with Namajunas, Andrade finds herself as the favorite in the eyes of the oddsmakers. However, even if she’s expected to win, that doesn’t make it necessary to believe that’s the consensus foregone conclusion.

“Every fight is a fight and I believe Rose has some things that can make the fight easier on me, but she also has some things that will make it more difficult,” Andrade said. “She has a [longer] reach than me and her movement can be an issue to figure out, to some extent a similar issue that I faced with Joanna.

“As much as people think of me as a favorite into this fight I always consider myself the underdog and even if the betting odds say otherwise I am coming into this match as the challenger and I know that in order to get that belt I have to go in there ready to put on a performance that leaves no questions to judges and fans. If I can’t do that and the fight is close I know the chances of me taking the belt are slim.”

When it comes to betting odds and who is favored and who isn’t, it’s just another mental aspect that has to be ignored or utilized advantageously in the sport.

One of the reasons that this upcoming title shot could be looked at as in favor of Andrade could be due to the added bonus that the Brazilian will actually be getting to challenge the champion in her home country rather than the opponent’s.

Only one of those things was anticipated.

“I expected I would eventually get another title shot, but never to be able to challenge for it in Brazil,” Andrade shared. “Maybe after I got the belt I could possibly ask [for] a defense in Brazil, but never in a million years was I expecting to challenge for it back home.

“If nothing else, this will give Rose the added step of having to travel across the continent to get herself into fight week, something I had to do for all but two of my 14 UFC fights.”

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There are multiple different angles and perspectives to be analyzed as to what kind of effects certain little changes can make. In this case for Andrade, it is indeed getting to fight at home for the title rather than elsewhere like she’s used to.

As a top fighter in the world, no matter who it is, there will be pressure to perform and win. But perhaps even more so when the environment around you is depending on you.

Maybe it’s extra pressure, maybe it’s extra fuel.

“I think there are some pros but also some cons,” Andrade explained. “Biggest pro I think would be having easier access to the food you are used to during fight week, this can be a major problem depending on where you are fighting.

“The biggest con would probably be the much, much bigger pressure on me especially during fight week from the fans and the media.”

Regardless, at this point as time continues to go on, the preparation for each and every scenario only gets better. Which leads to much more exhilarating potential outcomes.

And although fighting is a singular sport with only one person walking into the battle, it does take a team to get them there.

It takes champions to make champions, and aiding Andrade along the way has been one of the greatest hidden talents in MMA in the unbeaten BJJ wizard and Invicta FC strawweight champion, Virna Jandiroba.

With both fighters having the potential to be the very best and Jandiroba’s arrival in the UFC inevitable, it presents the strawweight division with a potential Daniel Cormier-Cain Velasquez type of situation.

“I believe Virna is just as capable as me as a strawweight,” Andrade said. “She has trained here with me and heck, we sparred 100 percent here so it’s pretty similar to having a proper fight. So if we have to fight we will be able to deal with it professionally, and go in there and do what we have done in the gym with the added bonus of being paid for it. And at the end of the night whoever wins will pay for dinner… Maybe dinner and lunch if we get a bonus!”

PhotoCred: Instagram – @jessicammapro

No matter what the profession is, what the task at hand involves, leaving a lasting legacy is always something that holds great value.

Having had the ability to start so early and fight with such fearlessness, Jessica Andrade has been hunting for gold on her warpath of destruction since day one. And if she has anything to say about it, she’ll find it too.

In the current day and age, the fascination, at least from the UFC’s perspective, seems to be that of allowing champions to bounce from division to division to attempt capturing multiple divisional titles.

However, that’s not everyone’s idea for how to leave their mark and Andrade would love to be able to do things the old fashioned way while reaching for a greater purpose… Even if her 31″ arms won’t allow it.

“On the long term, I think the main thing… If I am able to get the belt is to be able to hold it,” Andrade stated. “Our weight class is undoubtedly the one with the most talent per capita from the female divisions, we have new talents coming up constantly and I know that whoever is holding this belt will have their work cut out for them. Now with this new belt, all I want is to get it and fill it with red stones!

“Being a two-division champ is great but I want to be a dominant champion in my weight class. Maybe at some point we might play around a bit in other classes, but I want my name in the history books 50 years from now when anyone looks for how strawweight was in the early days in the UFC, I want my name there, and the way to do that is by getting the belt.

“And with the belt you get chances to do something bigger beyond fighting, there are so many people in need of help and support here in Brazil and if I can get the belt I believe it will open chances to do a lot of good in my community,” Andrade continued. “Today I am able to do some good, give support to people in my team and those that are around me, but as a champion, my reach for good will go much further than my arms can physically reach.”

PhotoCred: Getty Images

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 1/29/2019