Chookagian vs. Andrade is the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 180, taking place right before Ortega vs. Sung Jung. In it we’ll see Katlyn Chookagian, the highest-rated contender in the flyweight division, go up against Jessica Andrade, the second highest-rated contender coming up from the strawweight division. Seeing as how both women have high pace, high-pressure styles, although they both go about it in drastically different ways, this is bound to be an exciting matchup. Let’s go ahead and break down the different pieces.
I’ll admit, when I first saw Chookagian’s record of eleven decisions across fourteen wins (and no finishes to her name under the UFC banner), I wasn’t expecting much. I vaguely remembered seeing her name on the undercard of Cejudo vs. Moraes, but had never gotten the chance to watch her fight and was vaguely expecting a Jackson Wink-esque, point oriented kickboxer.
While I can’t say that I was wrong on my assessment, I was more than glad to also find one of the most dexterous and well-rounded talents I’ve seen in women’s MMA in a long time.
Chookagian is a long-range, high volume striker who uses combinations to overwhelm her opponents. While she’s not the most explosive or powerful the division has seen, her flow and accuracy are second to none, and this is in great part due to her ability to set up her opponents through the use of misdirection and feints.
I’ve written at length about feints in my analysis of Adesanya, and while I wouldn’t go as far as to say Chookagian’s feints are equally effective or versatile, she’s certainly shown she knows how to throw her opponent for a loop. Chookagian throws her feints with intent but doesn’t commit to a point where she can’t move out of the way of retaliation and uses them as fakeouts just as much as to set up combinations.
Perhaps more impressive, however, is Chookagian’s footwork. I briefly mentioned in my analysis of Holm that even decent footwork can take you very far in WMMA, so imagine my delight when I saw Chookagian not only circling away from pressure but actively exiting out the side after exchanges.
This skill gives Chookagian the opportunity to play spoiler in the first few rounds of the fight, using her long-range to poke at opponents while avoiding compromising situations. Then, as the fight goes on and her opponent’s stamina begins to wane, she’s more easily able to close in and start applying pressure of her own.
While she’s not a knockout puncher, her strikes evidently have enough power in them to stun her opponents and anyone who tries to take her down will find themselves having to deal with a strong, well-developed jiu-jitsu game. Mix this with her long-range and seemingly inexhaustible gas tank and you’ve got yourself a very solid, very difficult to deal with kickboxer.
Other than footwork, another thing that can take you very far in WMMA is power. While yes, most fighters in the UFC roster probably hit pretty hard, finding women with true one-shot-knockout power at 125lbs (let alone at 115) is going to be a bit of a rarity. Having said that, perhaps it should be no surprise that Jessica “Bate Estaca” Andrade, someone who literally got her name from picking up women larger than herself and slamming them onto the ground, is currently still considered one of the biggest threats at strawweight.
Andrade is coming into this fight on a two-loss streak, the first a knockout at the hands of current strawweight queen Weili Zang, the second a one-sided (but for some reason still split) decision on her rematch against Rose Namajunas. Her last victory, a slam KO against the aforementioned Namajunas (which I refuse to include in this article for the sake of my mental health) was also widely considered to have been going against her prior to the knockout.
This isn’t to say that Andrade is a bad fighter, but up until recently, she’d appeared to be a bit unrefined. While the scary levels of power she carries are a thing to be respected and her aggressive boxing style allows her to use it well, she didn’t have much else to pair it with beyond good punch composition and a solid guard. She lacks dynamic head movement and doesn’t cut the cage very well, meaning savvy opponents are more often than not able to lead her around without much in the way of a threat.
What has carried Andrade against more skilled opponents thus far, other than the fact she hits like an eight-wheeler, is her downright impressive level of awareness during exchanges. Andrade isn’t afraid of being hit, a trait surprisingly lacking at all levels of MMA, and as such can see punches coming better and doesn’t crumple if she gets hit in the middle of a combination. This allows her to keep up the pressure even as her opponents try to counter her, which can wear out people trying to keep her on the outside very quickly.
Part of the reason Zhang was able to find success against Andrade was that she wass also able to keep her wits about her in the pocket, which enabled her to exploit Andrade’s poor defense to find a monstrous right-hand counter. Namajunas, on the other hand, was able to use smooth footwork to close the gap and create distance at will, while avoiding most of Andrade’s hard shots with good head movement.
In spite of this, Andrade did show some improvements through the Namajunas fight, keenly on the aspects of head movement and closing the cage. This allowed her to much more effectively maintain pressure and get some good counters in, and while this was ultimately not enough to defeat Namajunas, it remains to be seen the effect it’ll have against Chookagian.
While Andrade is a dangerous fighter regardless of circumstance, she comes into this fight with a serious disadvantage in terms of size: At 5’9”, Chookagian is a full seven inches taller than her, with a six reach advantage to boot. Just for reference, Namajunas has a comparatively minuscule three-inch reach advantage, which had already made it very hard for Andrade to close the gap against her.
Add to this Chookagian’s footwork and ability to keep distance and I simply cannot see this fight going Andrade’s way, not unless she manages to seriously hurt Chookagian early on or outright knock her out. Andrade has been showing she has a lot of improvement she can still do, yes, but against a fighter as well rounded as Chookagian? Asking her to develop the necessary skills might be a bit too much.
I see Chookagian taking this via decision.
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