By Schwan Humes
Two weekends ago, a hype train rolled into UFC on FOX 23, when a fighter who had moved divisions and gone on an amazing win streak against increasingly difficult opposition stood on the precipice of a title shot if he could get past the last and most difficult obstacle. This past Saturday at UFC Fight Night 104 we had a similar situation. Another fighter had changed divisions and gone on a streak against increasingly difficult (albeit flawed) opposition. However, that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Donald Cerrone’s hype train, which came to a screeching halt, this past Saturday’s hype train picked up speed and barreled through the obstacle on the way to the final goal of a title shot. The hype train was that of Jessica “Basta Estaca” Andrade, the obstacle being one Angela “Overkill” Hill, and the final destination being champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
We still don’t know how good Jessica Andrade is as a fighter; her time at bantamweight revealed some very obvious flaws in regard to her overall skill set and cage IQ. And while she has improved her overall performance in fights and in their final results, we still see the same limited skills and dependency on the physical tools she has been blessed with. At bantamweight this lack of layers and nuance forced her to leave the division, as her skills were not up to par when faced with opponents she couldn’t physically dominate with strength, durability, physicality, and power.
Until Hill came into the equation, there were a litany of questions regarding Andrade and her resurgence in this new division: What would happen if her opponent didn’t wilt under the pressure, if the opponent was able to make her work to get into and stay in the range she is most effective in, if her opponent beat her to the punch, exchanged with her, or was able to out-position her? These were things we didn’t know because no one had been able to create enough opportunities to force Andrade to answer, but Hill forced her to answer these questions. Hill showcased controlled aggression and defensive responsibility (especially under duress); she flashed head movement, pivots, and tie-ups in the clinch. Hill jabbed and threw kicks, lead knees, counter hooks, and extended flurries. On top of these technical responses to Andrade’s all-out physical assault, Hill showcased heart, grit, and athleticism, forcing Andrade to go harder and longer than she had in almost two years.
The questions were finally asked: What would happen to Jessica Andrade; what would change? The answer, not a damn thing. In the face of an opponent who would push back when pushed, get away from her offense, make her chase all over the ring and engage her in the clinch, Andrade kept on rolling, refusing to take a backward step; in fact, she increased her pressure and activity. She won the fight by showing that, not only was her brute strength and volume more than enough to beat the fringe contenders, but she had another gear to go to when facing the best opponent she has faced since dropping divisions. Andrade didn’t show new technical wrinkles or an ability to adjust; she did show that we haven’t seen the best she has to offer when it comes to how hard she can fight, how much she can take, and how hard she is willing to push to become a champion.
Andrade vs. Hill showed how much of a difference a change in divisions can make in the career of a fighter, as Jessica Andrade went from also-ran at bantamweight to the next challenger for the strawweight championship, and in the eyes of many, the stiffest test facing the champion since she became the face of the division. On top of establishing the newest and possibly biggest challenge for the champ, UFC Fight Night 104 reintroduced us to a renewed and rebuilt Angela Hill, who went from strawweight outcast to strawweight contender in the biggest spot, with the most attention, against the best opponent she had faced in her short career. Saturday night it got real -- two fighters answered questions about their character, their class, and their place in the division moving forward.