Ten Steps to Victory for Claudia Gadelha against Jessica Andrade

Saturday night on September 23rd in Saitama, Japan we get an important strawweight bout between two of the last three challengers to the throne of 115 lbs queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk. In one corner we have Jessica Andrade, the Brazilian wrecking ball who cut a path of destruction through the division before being thoroughly out-fought and out-classed to a unanimous decision loss to the champion. In the other corner is Claudia Gadelha, a former title challenger who has lost two spirited decisions to the reigning the Polish champion.

Both women are two of the top three fighters in division before this fight and will remain so after the fight, so this fight itself isn’t particularly important to the division in a rankings sense. Win or lose both women really won’t lose much in regards to ranking as no currently ranked strawweight has done enough to challenge their standing, much less surpass it. What makes this fight important is the fact that for all intents and purposes it sets up the next title challenger. If Andrade wins she really is no more than one more win away from challenging Joanna, if Namajunas emerges victorious then she would be immediately placed in the role of challenger. And for Claudia, currently riding a two fight win streak including a win over Cortney Casey and recent title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz. A victory over Andrade would catapult her into an immediate title fight regardless of who walks out with the belt after UFC 217.

Today I am taking a look at the things Claudia Gadelha needs to do to win the fight and punch her ticket on her return trip to challenge for the strawweight championship. But first we will take a very thorough look at Gadelha’s opponent, the technical, tactical and strategical things that are the foundation of her overall approach to mixed martial arts.

Unlike many other fighters in division, like Cortney Casey, Rose Namajunas, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Tiana Suarez and Angela Hill who are still learning their trade and developing their overall identity as fighter, Andrade, having competed at two divisions with a 19-4 record as a Bantamweight and a 3-1 record as a Straw weight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, is a seasoned veteran and a fully formed fighter. The downside is that Jessica won’t be making huge leaps in regards to technical and tactical progression but the benefit of this is that she has clearly defined paths to victory. She knows how to get into the positions that she is most effective in and is superb in her ability to execute when she gets into those positions. This awareness and seasoning doesn’t allow for her to fight against type, more importantly it allows her to efficiently and effectively setup her best weapons and maximizes the effect of said weapons.

Andrade is a power punching swarmer, a fighter who at straw weight uses her prodigious physical tools to make up for her lack of technical diversity and height/length. Jessica has a rare combination of size, durability, strength, physicality, explosiveness and stamina and while she is not an unskilled or uneducated fighter (I refer to her as an educated brawler). The effectiveness of her game is defined by her athleticism much more than her technical acumen, diversity or ability to adjust. Jessica’s game is beautiful in its simplicity, she seeks to apply pressure and stay at range while stalking her opponent.

The pressure she applies works on two fronts, one it forces them to spend more energy trying to stay away as mixed martial arts fighters are notoriously poor at fighting off the back foot (especially under duress), the second things this does is force them to feel threatened due to her positioning and forward pressure, which forces them to generate offense in spots where they don’t have to which a) gives Andrade their timing to counter them and b) has them waste huge amounts of energy with ineffective strikes. Think of what Floyd Mayweather did to Conor McGregor or in women’s mixed martial arts look at Pearl Gonzales vs Cynthia Calvillo to see a similar approach used. Jessica being a savvy, and fully formed fighter makes these reads as she slowly builds on the pressure she is applying. Then once her opponent is trapped or makes a stand offensively, she swarms them with a high impact, high volume attack consisting of a series of hooks, crosses, overhands, uppercuts and body shots at range. Then she crashes into the pocket continuing her assault of her opponents with knees and elbows.

The secret of Andrade’s success on the feet is that she is able to mix up her shots and place her shots, as well as being able to lead and/or counter with these shots. Her footwork isn’t top shelf but her timing, volume and savvy allows her to use them to bridge the gap, putting her into the position where no fighter has been able to match her at, the pocket. On the downside her inability to use specific individual tools and techniques independently to control, breakdown or setup offense is a limitation on her game; as fighters with a sense of footwork, balanced striking and counter-striking skills will be able to navigate these waves of offense; she doesn’t throw non-stop offense, she swarms (i.e. fights in waves) and in between those swarms she is there to be had.

Andrade is also a powerful wrestler, while not the technician that a Tiana Suarez is, or the tenured and all-round athlete Cynthia Calvillo is, Jessica is a juggernaut, someone whose size, physical strength, low center of gravity allows her to blow through the majority of girls she faced in two divisions. On top her ground and pound is life changing and for those who have the explosiveness or physical strength to improve position, Andrade has a basic but well executed submission/position control game in the form of her front headlock/guillotine combination that can allow her to finish if an opponent gets too desperate in trying to get away from her punishing assault on the ground.  Andrade’s far from bulletproof on the ground, when put on her back her defense, ability to create scrambles or work an effective counter/offensive game is average at best and while she isn’t clueless on the ground regarding submission defense, she has shown to be vulnerable versus less than elite opposition.

Andrade is not a dumb fighter, she has developed a system built around her rather impressive tangible and intangible tools. While she isn’t extremely efficient or technical, and she is very effective in consistently and effectively executing her game plan versus a variety of different styles and calibers of fighters. Jessica is a clever, well trained and fully formed fighter. Her self-awareness, activity, cardio and mental toughness allow her to exceed the rather one note skills and approach she has in fights, which has allowed her to have good success at bantamweight and to be proven as elite in the Straw weight division.  

Nonetheless she has holes that can be exploited, and in part two of this article we will discuss these holes in depth as well as how and why Claudia needs to attack them.

Part 2:

Now that we clearly described, discussed and explained what Andrade wants to do in a fight, how she wants to do it and why she wants to do it, we are going to discuss what key things Claudia HAS to do to limit Jessica’s opportunity to get into the spots she wants to, neutralize her when she gets into those spots and ultimately defeat her by being able to ply her trade effectively.

10) Claudia has to use her footwork, she cannot back straight up. It will result in her being in the fence where Andrade’s own limitations regarding footwork and range finders won’t be exploited, what Gadelha needs to do is enter & exit on angles which will limit the amount of targets Jessica can get to and allow Claudia to get into/out of the pocket/clinch clean. The second reason she needs to do these things is it allows her to take advantage of Jessica’s pressure, allowing her to gain superior position on entries and exits which allow her to tee off on the lead or counter. Finally Claudia needs to turn Andrade, if her feet aren’t set she can’t throw combinations and she can’t get full power on her shots. Claudia needs to turn her to walk her into shots or needs to land shots then turn her so she isn’t there for the return. The most important thing about angles, circling, pivoting is that it allows Claudia to get away without having to throw as much, i.e. she won’t throw shots she doesn’t have to because her own footwork/positioning will help her NOT feel threatened.

9) Establish a jab, footwork alone won’t get you away from Andrade, her chin, stamina and aggression are going to give her spots to get to you, so you have to disrupt that pressure so you have space to escape without burning excess energy or not getting blasted. The jab will blunt the pressure, and will disrupt her opportunity to get her offense started. It will also allow her to control the range in between Andrade’s waves (swarms) of offense, most importantly it allows Gadelha to get reads on Andrade to figure out her timing and decipher her patterns.

8) Initiate Clinches, I recommended this for Claudia versus Karolina because of Kowalkiewicz habit of getting the clinch and dominating from that point on. In the case of Andrade the pocket is her wheelhouse , her variety of shots, willingness to fire and durability make it hard to deal with her there. Gadelha needs to make Jessica have to think about coming into the pocket and needs to make her work in a manner that goes against what she wants to do. Andrade wants to exchange in it, and Claudia can’t let that happen or at the least can’t let her dictate when the terms of engagement. In the Kovalev v Ward fights the importance of this tactic was clearly established. The first fight Sergey tied up and forced Ward to work in trying to get free of these extended grappling exchanges, in the second fight and more decisive loss Kovalev instead chose to exchange on the inside which resulted in him being systematically broken down before he was stopped midway through the fight. Claudia needs to follow Kovalev’s lead in the first fight initiate clinches, force Andrade to tie up, attempt to pummel through and try to gain position in the clinch and in the cage, the second thing she needs to do is work her striking offense in the clinch  Andrade will fight in the clinch her game is a bit wide open and dependent on her physicality much more so than her crisp striking and defensive awareness, think a higher level more athletic version of Correia vs Pennington if you want a visual example.

7) Attack the body, I keep hearing that Andrade doesn’t get tired, that she can’t be stopped when she starts going but I don’t buy that. Andrade hasn’t faced a fighter with the power, overall athleticism and skills to do so. Hill is undersized, Calderwood wasn’t a dynamic enough athlete, Penne isn’t good enough on the feet or durable enough to do so and as great as Joanna is she hits for average not for power. Claudia is one of the bigger hitters in division, has one of the better chins in division, and has one of the best all-round skillsets in division. She needs to touch the body, that will disrupt Jessica’s forward pressure, it will cut into her gas tank and it will allow Gadelha to be consistent with her offense as the body is always there to be touched for one. Secondly there is a good chance Andrade will show some newfound head movement and a consistent, heavy body attack will take that away creating lines of delivery for shots upstairs. Knees, hooks, jabs, kicks to the body and legs are a must to slow “Bate Estaca” which will further expose the clear limitations in her game.

6) Kick punch combinations, Andrade’s pressure and swarms are really her first line of defense, her physical strength and threat of takedown is the second. Due to those two things fighters are unwilling to throw kick punch combinations for fear of being taken down or getting into clinches with her. Gadelha is strong enough, a good enough defensive wrestler and overall grappler to not be hindered by that fear. Throwing kick punch combination allows Jessica to be attacked at numerous levels and numerous targets that will stymie Andrade attempts to swarm, blunting her offense forcing her to think which takes away from her effectiveness or in the best case scenario she can force her back (reset) which also breaks up the pressure she applies and exposes her already suspect defense. As well as keeping Andrade at the edge of the range that she is effective at limiting her ability to explode with leads or counters.

5) Pick your shots, don’t throw for the sake of throwing. Claudia needs to make her reads and respond accordingly…feinting whether with the feet or the hands will give her Jessica’s timing, help in regards to technique recognition and clearly establishing the openings Jessica will provide when stimulated with the threat of offense. She needs to throw the punches she wants, when she wants and where she wants allowing Andrade to determine things is a sure way of losing. Ask Valentina Shevchenko who took what was given instead of upping her volume and aggression according to what Nunes showed her.

4) Take her down, Andrade hasn’t shown the greatest ground defense historically. When on top she is hard to deal with but when opponents have been able to put her on her back she has shown to be both limited offensively and in regards to counters, defensively she has been a bit of a liability. Jessica isn’t impossible to be taken down, she is harder because of her stature and build but if an opponent would set up the takedown with strikes, or be confident enough in their own wrestling/athleticism to attempt reactive takedowns or clinch takedowns they would get them. But Andrade’s reputation as a wrecking ball and a physical fighter allows her to not be punished for her over aggression and limited development in her all-round clinch game.  Gadelha has the skills at range, skills in the clinch and skills on the mat to attack her in a spot that every fighter not named Cynthia Calvillo & Tiana Suarez wouldn’t attempt unless they are doing so out of desperation.

3) Create scrambles, as domineering as Andrade can be on the ground much of that is pure physical strength, physicality and power. It’s not her well executed grappling or her mobility and fluidity on the ground.  Andrade can be had on the ground and has been had on the ground by lesser grapplers than Gadelha, mostly versus fighters at bantamweight whose size was too much for her to overcome. Claudia isn’t as big, but her all-round athletic ability is enough that I believe she can replicate similar success as it pertains to ground and pound or fishing for a submission and getting the finish especially with her level of skill on the ground.

2) Exchange with her at every level, while I will never suggest a fighter haphazardly attack an opponent in their wheelhouse. At some point or another all fighters will end up in positions that favor their opposition. Gadelha has to be willing and able to handle herself in spots enough to make Jessica work, there can’t be any phase or range where Andrade can cruise through. If that is the case Andrade will have you working twice as hard to avoid certain ranges, while allowing her to rest because the goal becomes to avoid key spots instead of finding ways to neutralize it or ways to get back to the range spots you want.

1)Exploit Andrade’s lack of fight IQ, more times than not Jessica is a physically dominant fighter. The majority of women don’t have the right combination of physical tools and/or technical tools to make her pay for her shaky cage iq. It was highlighted at higher weight because her lack of size limited her ability to turn or control fights with her strength, power, physicality and durability. At straw weight no one was able to stand up to her in those two areas, so her lack of awareness, depth and cage i.q. is exposed but it’s never really exploited. Gadelha, with the exception of her second fight versus Joanna, has shown controlled aggression, discipline, maturity, i.q., balanced attacks and the ability to take advantage of the information she has gotten on reads during a fight. When Andrade faces an opponent who doesn’t have to avoid her athleticism and can make her work across the board, and more importantly can make her pay (hurt her) every time she makes a big mistake. Whether it’s on the feet in wrestling exchanges or on the mat, Gadelha can do it all offensively and defensively in every range in mixed martial arts and that depth of skill will allow her to minimize Andrade’s physical advantages, take advantage of her limited tools and fully exploit her lack of poise and cage intelligence.

Saturday night we have a title eliminator, as two of the best three straw weights go to war to decide who will be the next in line to challenge for the throne. Two physically talented, experienced, tough and clever fighters trying to reaffirm their dominance, their position in the division.

I favor Gadelha, she is the better mixed martial artist, she not only has all the skills of Andrade, she has a better width and depth of skills. She has beaten the better class of opposition and has been the only fighter to be remotely competitive with the queen of the division. Andrade though talented, tough and savvy, is too dependent on her physicality, which was the same issue she had at bantamweight. Two years into her journey as a straw weight those holes, habits and dependencies still exist…I can’t blame her or her team as the advantages she possess are so definitive so it makes sense why she hasn’t developed past a certain point. That being said it wasn’t enough to beat the better talents at bantamweight and in my opinion it hasn’t been, nor will it be enough to beat the very best at strawweight.