The conversation was short, but it spoke volumes. Far from her home in Brazil, Jessica Andrade prepared in the American Airlines Center locker room in Dallas, Texas, her UFC 228 co-main event against Karolina Kowalkiewicz rapidly approaching.
The hay was in the barn, the work was done, and all that was left was putting the final touches on before the call came to make the walk to the Octagon.
As Andrade waited, her-then girlfriend and now partner Fernanda approached.
“I’m going to put water to cool for you to drink between rounds,” she said.
Andrade looked at her and responded.
“There won’t be time between rounds. I’m going to knock her out in the first round.”
Less than two minutes into the clash of strawweight contenders, Andrade lived up to her words, scoring a spectacular first-round knockout of Kowalkiewicz.
In a career full of impressive performances, this one may have been the most impressive and certainly the most important, as it put “Bate Estaca” back in a 115-pound world title fight, this one against Rose Namajunas in the main event of UFC 237 this Saturday.
“The fight with Karolina was the essential key to bring me to fight for the belt now,” Andrade said. “I knew that if I had a good performance, I would have the chance now to fight for the belt, and that’s what happened. I went in very focused.”
And once the Octagon door closed, Andrade was like a buzzsaw, cutting through the Polish standout like she wasn’t even there. A flush right hand then ended the bout, one of the rare one-punch knockouts that you’ll see in women’s MMA. When it was over, Andrade had won her third straight, and considering that she beat Claudia Gadelha, Tecia Torres and Kowalkiewicz in succession, it was clear that a fight with Namajunas was next.
But what has Andrade learned from her first world title fight, a 2017 loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk that saw her shut out over five rounds? That she can go five rounds hard and still be the same Wanderlei Silva-esque berserker in the fifth frame as she is in the first.
“I think that my fight with Joanna for the belt made me even stronger for this title fight now,” she said. “I believe that now I don’t worry about entering the Octagon thinking it’s five, five-minute rounds. No, I’ve been through that, I’ve gone five rounds. I saw where my body could go, I tested my stamina and saw that I can fight five rounds easily, and I’ve been maintaining that since the fight with Joanna, even knowing that I would fight three rounds with the other girls. I trained in all of those camps as if it were five rounds.”
It seems like everything is lining up at the right time for the 27-year-old. She got her title shot, she got married earlier this year, and when she gets her chance to strike gold this weekend, she will do it at home in Brazil, where her last bout there over four years ago was a loss to Marion Reneau.
“I’m very happy, I haven’t fought here in Brazil in a long time,” Andrade said. “And I believe my return to Brazil will be my redemption, because I lost the last fight I had in Brazil against Reneau, and then I only fought outside of Brazil after that. And now Rose gave me this opportunity to fight for the belt here in Brazil, at home, with my fans, in Rio de Janeiro, which I’ve accepted as my home. I was born in Parana, but now I live in Rio, so it’s going to be wonderful.”
Even oddsmakers have Andrade as a favorite to bring Brazil its first strawweight champion.
But the challenger is taking nothing for granted. Nothing.
“Rose is a very tough opponent,” she said. “And before getting in the cage, everybody is a lion, everybody is ready for everything. We’re going to war.”