Rose Namajunas fought for the inaugural UFC strawweight title in her promotional debut in 2014. In that fight, it was clear that she was talented, but there were some obvious holes in her game that ultimately led her to come up short against Carla Esparza.
However, she continued to learn on the job and built herself into a champion. Her improved overall game will be put to the test by Jessica Andrade, who has also reinvented herself after dropping down from bantamweight, and there are multiple statistical categories that favor the challenger at UFC 237 on Saturday. If Namajunas wishes to retain her title, she will need to continue to show growth and evolution.
The biggest differences lie in several key divergent statistical categories, which could end up determining who holds the UFC strawweight title on Sunday morning.
A key element of Andrade’s success has been her ability to pressure with volume. During her UFC career Andrade has attempted 12.76 significant strikes per minute — and over 200 significant strikes in five of her 14 fights. In many cases Andrade’s opponents have had trouble keeping up with her volume. The pace wears out an opponent not only through damage, but also from a conditioning perspective.
Early in her career, Namajunas was a dynamic submission threat who could turn a small opening into a fight-finishing sequence. She has continually learned on the job and improved her striking ability. However, she still likes to pick her spots and explode when given favorable opportunities. She attempts far fewer significant strikes per minute than Andrade (8.91), and it really highlights her picky offensive tactics. For example, in both of her fights against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Namajunas threw fewer attempts. However, in both of those matchups, Namajunas scored with the better shots. After a first-round knockout in the first bout, Namajunas routinely landed the harder strikes over 25 minutes in the rematch.
Andrade has been the more active and persistent striker throughout her career. She will likely come out looking to throw with volume in this fight. With that being said, Namajunas has her own distinct striking style, which has produced positive results against volume strikers.
Even though Namajunas has been able to win difficult fights with a measured striking approach, her strategy does not reflect particularly well on the stat sheet. Her striking differential, which is significant strikes landed per minute minus significant strikes absorbed per minute, currently stands at an even zero. That differential is ranked 12th among the 16 ranked UFC strawweights, and her offensive striking volume is the main culprit in dragging down this measure. She absorbs 3.72 significant strikes per minute, which is only slightly below average for a ranked strawweight (3.5). However, in terms of landed significant strikes per minute, her 3.72 rate is much further from the average (4.39).
Andrade, meanwhile, has the fifth-best striking differential among ranked strawweights, and it is due almost entirely to her impressive offensive volume. She lands 6.58 significant strikes per minute, which is the highest rate among the same group and the fifth-best rate of all time, regardless of division. However, she allows her opponents to land 5.04 per minute. The only other ranked strawweight to absorb more strikes on a per-minute basis is Karolina Kowalkiewicz (5.05).
While Namajunas has not distinguished herself from her opponents in terms of striking rate, Andrade has relied on her outstanding volume. This will be a tricky strategy to impose against Namajunas. If it is effective, Andrade will be able to overwhelm her opponent and take home the title. However, her lack of defense should open her up for a variety of counters and other offense from the champion. Over the course of a 25-minute fight, Andrade will likely throw and land more strikes, but that wide-open style also will give Namajunas ample opportunities to leave her mark on the fight.
Even though Namajunas absorbs 3.72 significant strikes per minute, she has shown solid defense and therefore made her opponents work for those shots. During her UFC career, she has avoided 60 percent of the significant attempts thrown her way. At distance, which is standing and not in the clinch, she has been even more effective and successfully evaded 66 percent of her opponents’ attempts.
Although Andrade relies on somewhat reckless volume, she’s surprisingly fairly accurate. She has landed 51 percent of her significant attempts in the UFC. However, her ability to control the position of the fight is an essential element to this strategy. At distance, she lands only 44 percent of her attempts.
If Namajunas is able to step up her defensive efforts, Andrade’s volume striking approach could backfire. If the challenger is continually coming forward and hitting nothing but air, she will exhaust herself instead of wearing down the champion. Once the volume begins to decline, Namajunas will have even more opportunities to take over the fight.
Andrade is able to maintain her accuracy despite throwing with outsized volume because she does a large portion of her striking in the clinch and on the ground. Like most fighters, she does the majority of her striking at distance (60 percent), but 22 percent of her landed significant strikes have come in the clinch and 18 percent have come on the ground. Not only does she prefer to strike in these positions, but she is also extremely accurate. She has landed 61 percent of her significant clinch attempts and 77 percent of her attempted significant ground strikes.
Namajunas is much more focused on striking at distance. Of her landed significant strikes, 72 percent have come at distance. While she has impressive overall striking defense, she has trouble avoiding strikes in the clinch and on the ground. She has avoided only 30 percent of her opponents’ significant clinch attempts and 24 percent of their ground attempts.
The challenger has been successful maintaining her volume and accuracy on the ground and in the clinch. Namajunas would be smart to keep her distance and land from the outside whenever possible. This will allow her to work from her best defensive position, while avoiding the places where Andrade does some of her best work.
Andrade has been able to impose her clinch and ground striking on her opponents because she is both a persistent and legitimate takedown threat. In her UFC career, she has attempted 5.43 takedowns per 15 minutes and landed 3.2. Even when she is not able to score the takedown, she uses the attempt to set up the clinch along the cage. Considering her striking style, the high rate of takedown attempts often allows her to implement her style of offense on opponents.
For the most part, Namajunas has shown solid defensive grappling in the UFC. She has stopped 75 percent of the attempts against her and allowed her opponents to land only 0.88 takedowns per 15 minutes. She allowed Esparza to land five takedowns in her UFC debut, but since then Namajunas has surrendered only one takedown. Michelle Waterson scored an early takedown in their 2017 bout, but it took Namajunas only 50 seconds to reverse the position directly into back control. In the next round, Namajunas picked up the third submission of her UFC career.
With the exception of her UFC debut, Namajunas has not really faced a skilled and determined takedown artist. Her ability to avoid the attempts from Andrade and fully extricate herself from the clinch will say a lot about this fight. If she finds herself stuck on the bottom for long periods, it could be a tough night for her. However, if the champion is able to maintain distance, the fight should swing in her favor.