One of the most important things to remember about the sport of mixed martial arts is to never assume anything. But that rule may have to be broken for debuting bantamweight Jessica Andrade, whose nickname “Bate Estaca” (which translated to English means piledriver) is enough reason to guess that she won’t be pushing her Saturday opponent Liz Carmouche to the fence or laying and praying in the hopes of taking a three round decision.
Then there’s her 9-2 pro MMA record, one in which she’s finished each of her victories, five by submission and four by knockout. But the real kicker was the answer to the final question of her first UFC.com interview, where she was asked what fans who have never seen her before could expect this Saturday night.
“Action,” she said through translator / manager Tiago Okamura. “You guys can expect that for sure. I will not give up easily, I’m Brazilian, I’m PRVT (Parana Vale Tudo) and I will not give Liz time to breathe in the cage. I will leave my heart inside the Octagon.”
Nothing like promising action and pressure, along with fighting for your country and your team, to get the blood racing, but that’s the sole purpose of the Parana native, who, at 21, is the fourth youngest fighter currently competing in the Octagon. That, and to keep the momentum going in the women’s bantamweight division that has taken the UFC by storm in 2013.
“All the fights have been pretty good,” said Andrade, who will become the first Brazilian woman to compete in the UFC, followed by Amanda Nunes next week at UFC 163. “The UFC clearly handpicked each of the girls, and each fight that passes, the fans gain more respect for the division and the division gains more attention.”
It’s the same story for women’s MMA everywhere. Once fans get a dose of it, it’s impossible not to want to see more, and as Andrade points out, it’s the same way in one of the sport’s spiritual homes, Brazil.
“Most of the public enjoys female MMA, and here in Brazil the sport is growing exponentially,” she said. “It’s always a different thing from watching the men fight, as female fights tend to be more dynamic in general. They will try to get the action going from the start, and for that, people tend to enjoy our fights.”
You would think that the road to recognition is tougher for women as opposed to men in Brazil, simply because the talent pool isn’t as great as it is in the States, but Andrade disagrees.
“There are just too many male fighters out there in each division, while for the females the numbers are much, much smaller. So if on one side we have less fight opportunities, we also have less competition getting into the spotlight. But of course, you only get to the spotlight if you have what it takes to back it up.”
Andrade has that, both skillwise and in her confident, but not cocky, demeanor. It brings to mind former Strikeforce standout Cris Cyborg, who, not ironically, is one of the fighters Andrade admired on her way up the ranks.
“When I first started I identified myself with Cris Cyborg and really looked up to her,” she said. “But after I joined PRVT, I feel inspiration from my teammates. Each and every one has an incredible life story with their ups and downs and stories of overcoming the odds.”
She’s no different, having had to work from a young age, doing everything from working at a "Pesque e Pague" (which she describes as “a place with lakes where people can catch fish and pay for the fish they catch”) to a pharmacy to even a stint as a truck driver on a farm. And all the while she kept her studies up in judo, jiu-jitsu, and Muay Thai, leaving no doubt that she was eventually going to become a fight. So how did the family react to that news?
“My mom has always been afraid for me,” said Andrade. “Even today, she fears I might get hurt or injured. My dad, on the other hand, has always loved it, and has always been behind me. In general, my whole family is quite supportive and they believe in me, and in the end that is what matters.”
Turning pro in 2011, shortly before her 20th birthday, Andrade was an instant hit with local fans as she fought with an attitude that if she didn’t get you, you were going to get her. Eventually though, she was getting her opponents a lot more than they were getting her, and after two submission wins in 2013, she was on the UFC’s radar. Just knowing that was a dream years ago, and being a member of the UFC roster still hasn’t completely hit her yet.
“I always believed that the UFC would eventually have female MMA fights on their cards,” she said. “When they finally announced it, I thought to myself ‘Someday I will be there too.’ It has always been a dream to be able to fight for the UFC and live on Combate here in Brazil. Even today I have a hard time believing in the fact that I am actually a UFC fighter.”
Andrade is a UFC fighter though, and she’s in tough against one of the top bantamweights in the game in Carmouche. It’s a tough hill to climb for a debut, but with the confidence of youth, Andrade believes she’s ready.
“She has a lot of experience but so do I,” she said. “We have not faced the same competition, but I have faced some great fighters too. So I don’t see the in ring experience as much of a issue on the 27th. I’m really well-trained and focused to get in there and put everything I learned so far to work.”
So what does she expect from “Girlrilla?”
“Surprises,” said Andrade. “I don’t think two fights are exactly the same so I’m pretty sure I will have to react to what she brings in on the spot. But I’m really focused on surprising her and the audience as well.”
And if there’s one thing fight fans love, it’s a surprise.
Jessica Andrade: Full Speed Ahead
By Thomas Gerbasi July 24, 2013