One of the best fights in UFC history took place last Saturday night at UFC 248 in Weili Zhang v. Joanna Jedrzejczyk. It was the perfect display of violence, skill, durability and heart that was followed by a standing ovation from the UFC fans in Las Vegas.
The bout was great for Zhang’s career, as she edged a former champion in Joanna while beating “The Boogeywoman” at her own game. Not only was it a career-defining moment for her, but it was a defining moment for women in MMA. On the eve of International Women’s Day, these two knocked the door down.
The question everyone always asked following a huge title fight is the simplest one: what’s next for the champion?
The idea of a rematch against Joanna is extremely enticing. After all, both put it all on the line, a similar feeling to the first Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald bout. However, the difference here is the record. Heading into the fight, Joanna was 2-3 in her last five. She also lost three championship bouts; against Rose Namajunas for her own title, against Rose again as a challenger and against Valentina Shevchenko for the Flyweight Championship. Would an automatic rematch do her any good now that she is 1-2 in her last three and 2-4 in her last six?
An idea to freshen things up comes to mind, even if the idea also includes former champions. There is an upcoming fight on April 18 at UFC 249 in Brooklyn that has people talking. Namajunas will face off against Jessica Andrade in the co-main event. Both have unfinished business, which could result in another strawweight classic. The next fight to make at featherweight is Zhang v. the winner of Andrade-Namajunas.
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The last time these two fought was at UFC 237 back in May. “Thug Rose”, after just defeating Joanna for the second time, made her second defense of the Strawweight Title against Andrade (20-7), who knocked out Karolina Kowalkiewicz to earn the title opportunity. Namajunas (8-4) controlled all aspects of the bout, and it looked to be an easy night.
That is of course, until the above video where Andrade dropped Namajunas on her head and struck away. Just like that, it was all over.
Since then, Andrade lost the title to Zhang and Namajunas has been biding her time. Rose was supposed to be the one to face Zhang instead of Joanna at one point. Speaking on the UFC Unfiltered podcast, Rose talked about plans for her and why they changed.
“I think everyone else felt the same way, too,” Namajunas stated, via MMAJunkie. “I was even offered Weili at the time, but I just – at the time I was still dealing with a lot of my own (things), just getting my head right, and I hired a mental coach that’s helping me do a lot of different things. And so there was a lot of work that needed to be done.
“I wasn’t ready for that just yet. I didn’t even really know if I wanted to fight at that time anymore, just because I wanted to make sure that this is something that I wanted to do and I wasn’t just like, ‘Let’s have another fight just because I’m good at it.’”
Namajunas, a big advocate for mental health awareness, was not feeling like herself after the Andrade fight. She even considered retiring from the sport altogether. This also came after the infamous UFC 233 incident with Conor McGregor. However, she found a new love of the sport and a desire to compete.
“It was definitely one of my harder losses that I’ve dealt with,” Namajunas went on to say. “I think the thing is, I knew exactly – it was easier in the sense that I knew exactly all of the things that I did wrong. The harder part is taking responsibility for myself, and yeah, maybe situations around me that I couldn’t control could have been better. But I could have taken control over a lot more things in my life. So ultimately, taking that responsibility is the hardest part out of everything.”
With seven wins via KO, Andrade is as dangerous as they come. She showed that by dropping Namajunas. “Bate Estaca” has also shared her skills with Joanne Calderwood, Jessica Penne and Raquel Pennington. Even while losing fights she looked as dangerous as ever. As Bleacher Report stated not too long ago, she is a fighter that can “put the fear of God into people.”
Following her loss to Zhang, Andrade posted a lengthy statement on Instagram to talk about her doubters and what a fighter really goes through. It was a way to show just how poised she is while talking about who she is as a fighter and as a human being.
“A champion isn’t made of wins only. It wasn’t my first loss and it certainly won’t be the last,” Andrade stated, via MMA Fighting. “I know how to deal well with all this, this landslide of critics and absurds that the Brazilians are saying. I just want to leave one message for the critics: NO ONE ENTERS THAT OCTAGON TO LOSE but the career I chose has these things. We’ll come back stronger.
“It’s not the end of the world, it’s just a restart. I have a solid career with 27 fights, I was the first Brazilian woman to fight in the UFC Octagon, I’m a veteran in the promotion and in women’s MMA. I became the No. 1 (ranked) in the world now because above me there’s only the champion Weili Zhang, who fought really well! And deserves the title. We continue at the top because there’s our place, and life goes on!”
Now, Andrade heads back to the drawing board, while also proving her win against Namajunas wasn’t a fluke. Can she rise to the occasion?
The drive and determination by both fighters can be turned into a story. It may very well lead to a bout to remember. Add the fact that Andrade is ranked number one in the UFC’s strawweight rankings with Namajunas at number two, it just feels right to place them ahead of everyone else, including Joanna.
Zhang needs time to heal her wounds. Given enough time after April, we could see her next defense by the end the year.
Who do you think will win the rematch between Andrade and Namajunas?