Don’t Sweat The Technique: The Ins & Outs of Jessica Andrade’s Game – Part Two

In part one, we addressed what led Jessica Andrade to the Strawweight division; we also discussed the benefits of the weight change, and the results it produced. Today we take a closer look at the stylistically and athletic challenge posed to her by Angela “Overkill” Hill; what that tells us about the evolution of “Bate Estaca” as a fighter and how that might determine how she performs when she faces the champion at UFC 211.

As dominant as she looked at strawweight, Andrade hadn’t been put in any danger, hadn’t been forced to do anything more than what she did at bantamweight, so questions still remained about what could and would Andrade do when an opponent hit her back, when an opponent made her work to land, when an opponent was willing to trade, and able to exchange using a variety of tools.

On that Saturday night we found out; Hill landed counter knees, jabs, right hands, 1-2’s, counter elbows; showed an improved sense of poise and control defensively when under duress and good but not great mobility. Creating opportunities to out position Andrade when she over pursued her, allowing her to get off the fence when Jessica committed too much to her shots or got too wide on them, and to walk her into power shots by creating space and attacking the space that Jessica filled in her attempts to overrun Hill. Angela gave no ground, fought in every range and made sure to punch with Andrade, not letting her decide when and where exchanges would happen.

The fight plan was well scouted and structured, and allowed us some definite answers about what Jessica could or would do when in tough spots; but what it didn’t do was get Hill a win, once again Andrade’s durability and physicality won her the day.

“Overkill” was unable to generate enough power to slow or stop the bull rushes and unrelenting volume handed out by “Bate Estaca” but of more importance was the lack of disciplined and consistent defensive footwork, as Angela was repeatedly forced to the cage from round one to round five and was either physically manhandled (draining her gas and explosiveness) or physically punished with a series of body shots (breaking down her resolve, work rate and confidence in the pocket).

Andrade’s assault was neither fluid in its aesthetic quality nor dynamic in its athletic expression; it was equal parts ugly, awkward, unrelenting and punishing. These things, in light of the Hill fight, left an impression that maybe the champion is coming to meet her match; in a fighter who clearly lacks the class in execution, but seems to have all the intangibles necessary to create the kind of spots that could gain her a world title.

The problem for Andrade is that while she showed some new wrinkles, namely the body shots; used both to chop down opponents and to corral opponents who may seek to circle out to escape or turn her to walk her into shots; unlike previous versions of “Bate Estaca”, Jessica made it a point to attack the head and the body, enhancing the effectiveness of both attacks.

Still she depended largely on her physical tools to create these opportunities, eschewing consistent defense, combination punching and sharper striking in favor of activity, forward pressure, and physicality; and while it wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be handled versus Hill, it may in fact be a major problem versus Joanna who, unlike Hill, has the shot selection, poise under duress, consistent volume and disciplined footwork to limit the effectiveness of Jessica’s physical attributes unless she has made rather noticeable strides in the areas of footwork, feints, defense and offensive diversity.

As good as Hill is, she hasn’t always been great when her physical tools don’t intimidate or harm her opponents; when she can’t impose her will and when an opponent presses, her defensive awareness, ability to counter effectively and willingness to commit to long range weapon (Jab-front/push kick) collapses.

Another problem for Andrade was the lack of cage IQ displayed, as Andrade “chose” to stand with Hill for the majority of the bout; instead of punching her way into the pocket and using her array of trips, slams, or throws to force “Overkill” to the ground. Angela has shown development as a grappler, she has become competent; but is still fairly limited in extended grappling exchanges, meaning that while Hill has become more defensively adept and offensively aggressive she is no Tatiana Suarez; meaning that grappling/wrestling is still the clearest path to defeat for her and striking is still her surest path to victory.

Even with all this knowledge, Andrade still chose to force and extend striking exchanges; when in many instances, given her massive size and strength advantages, she could have forced the fight to the ground. If she couldn’t take Hill down, that is a bad sign; meaning that one of her key weapons versus Joanna wouldn’t be a dependable option, which also limits her effectiveness on the feet if she cannot threaten the champion with takedowns.

But if Jessica “chose” to stand, that’s even worse as it smacks of a fighter so cocky and undisciplined that they would rather give their opponent the best chance to win rather than show any sort of intelligence and maturity in attacking a historically obvious hole in her opponents game; these type of mistakes, lack of strategy and creativity may be forgivable versus Hill, they will not be versus Jędrzejczyk.

Joanna is willing to give away a round to feel out her opposition, she has the cardio to incrementally increase her movement and activity, she also has the veteran savvy to use all the tools (elbows, fist, knees and legs) and attack all the targets (head, legs and body) repeatedly to break an opponent down instead of using them in big spots hoping to turn a fight around. Most importantly, Jędrzejczyk has the poise to not panic and be drawn into the fight her opponent wants, the discipline to use key weapons, like her jab, to slowly turn a fight around and the IQ to make the adjustments (fighting at range, clinching and pivoting) to put her in the positions to allow that to happen.

Unlike Hill, Jędrzejczyk is both physically gifted on the feet, and sublimely skilled; possessing a calm, a versatility and a poise that comes from years of training, drilling, strategizing and fighting at a world class level. Joanna isn’t a dynamic athlete with good striking skills, like Hill; she is a dynamic athlete with world class, balanced and obsessively refined skills. The mental lapses, the technical gaffes and lack of shot selection which has allowed Andrade to run roughshod over a division won’t exist in this fight, Joanna won’t beat herself; meaning that Jessica will have to take the belt. This will require her to show a level of precision, discipline and diversity she hasn’t shown in the entirety of her career.

Andrade is one step away from greatness, but as close as she is to turning the world of women’s mixed martial arts upside down; she is still an unknown quantity in regards to what she has to offer as a trained fighter. We know the physical tools she has, we know she has the intangible qualities; what we still don’t know is if she has developed the craft, she never addressed it at bantamweight.

As she realized her skills weren’t up to par, she went to a division where her lack of layered skill and nuance would be further shielded by an incredibly large advantage in size, strength, durability and pace. And while her tools, tangible and intangible are impressive; I still have no idea if she knows how to maximize them, nor do I know if she is capable of working her way into position to make them a determining factor if and when Jędrzejczyk neutralizes them and then begins to attack the very real holes she has regarding efficiency, accuracy, defensive awareness and offensive variety.

For that reason I must favor the champion who has shown comparable (albeit different) physical skills, superior intangibles and a far wider and deeper set of tools versus a better class of athlete and fighter.

On Saturday May 13th, “Bate Estaca” makes her bid for greatness; versus the very best women’s mixed martial arts has to offer, she either makes good on the promise shown when she entered the strawweight division, steamrolling her way to a decisive victory over the long time champion or once again she is exposed as a limited, technically unpolished fighter who used her physical ability as a crutch to get her wins, instead of a contributing factor that helped her win.

Photos via Zuffa