Rose Namajunas will be heading outside of the United States for a fight for the first time in her career, and she travels into hostile territory for her second title defense at UFC 237 in Rio de Janeiro at the Jeunesse Arena.
In front of a home crowd, Brazil's Jessica Andrade will try to capture ultimate glory by capturing the strawweight championship.
Namajunas has not competed since UFC 223. She was on the bus during Conor McGregor's tirade, but still competed that weekend. She proved her title win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk was no fluke by taking the rematch with a unanimous decision.
But that bus attack left the champion traumatized, as her coach Trevor Whitman said during an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show (h/t ESPN.com's Jeff Wagenheim).
Now she is ready for her next challenge. Andrade is no easy task and is one of the most intriguing stylistic matchups for belt.
Andrade has quality grappling and is one of the hardest hitters in the women's division. She is a berserker who always comes forward. She is accustomed to five-round fights and will be in Namajunas' face all evening long. If she connects, she'll be the new champion.
But can she?
Let's tackle that question and more with a head-to-toe breakdown of UFC 237's strawweight title fight.
If you've watched these two women do battle before, then you know they both like to keep the fight on their feet. But they have two very different styles.
Andrade is a power puncher—a rarity at 115-pounds. She is coming off a clean KO against Karolina Kowalkiewicz.
Namajunas employs a more diverse game based on variety and precision, but that precision can lead to devastating results—ask Jedrzejczyk.
The differences will be what makes this matchup so interesting. Who can institute their game inside the Octagon?
I lean toward Namajunas. She has proved her ability to stay disciplined. That will be a crucial factor as Andrade tries to draw her into heated exchanges where she can negate Namajunas' reach advantage.
Namajunas' kicks and jab will be able to win the majority of the stand-up battles because they will keep Andrade stuck on the outside.
The edge can truly be given to either woman depending on how you believe this fight will play out. If it's a slugfest, Andrade has the edge. But in a more tactical fight, which is likely the case here, Namajunas holds the advantage.
Wrestling has always been a hole in the game of Namajunas. It was the reason she failed in her first bid for the championship. Carla Esparza exploited the weakness and dominated. Andrade has that same ability, but it won't be as easy.
Namajunas has improved her takedown defense since her time on The Ultimate Fighter, and Andrade isn't a dynamic wrestler who will string together a run of takedown attempts. She uses her strength and power to complete most takedowns.
Defending takedowns by Andrade will be easier because of that. However, if Namajunas gets pinned against the fence, she could soon end up on her back.
Namajunas is not without takedown ability herself, but it is just not the primary weapon of choice.
Andrade has a slight advantage here, but there are distinct dangers of grappling with Namajunas that could end up with a tap and failed bid to rip the title from around her waist.
Namajunas is not just dynamic on the feet. She also has submission skills that surprise her opponents as well.
In just her second pro fight, Namajunas won via a flying armbar in just 12 seconds. That's all it took. Twelve seconds. Fans who went to get some popcorn wouldn't have even been able to place their order before the fight was over. And that is far from Namajunas' only submission capabilities.
The champion's long limbs allow her to be active off her back or slip in chokes at any time.
Andrade may want to use her grappling to try to dethrone the champion, but she'll have to be on point with her defense because Namajunas will remain a constant threat no matter the position.
Andrade's X-Factor: Diversity
Andrade poses significant threats to Namajunas, but with those threats being known, it means the champion will be prepared. Thus, Andrade must mix up her offense to keep Namajunas guessing.
If she becomes one-dimensional, Namajunas will run away with the fight.
Looking for the one-shot KO? Namajunas sticks her on the outside, and the stats will show a one-sided fight with landed jabs and kicks. Wanting to be a power wrestler with top control? Namajunas will circle and defend.
Andrade has to keep Namajunas guessing and frustrate her.
Namajunas' X-Factor: Sticking with the Game Plan
As Andrade's X-factor is being diverse, Namajunas' is to utilize her Fight IQ advantage in developing a game plan.
It is the biggest reason why she is champion. Namajunas and her camp are excellent at breaking down an opponent and finding the best ways to exploit weakness and use her strengths.
Without the ability to notice the tendencies and weaknesses, Namajunas would never have iced Jedrzejczyk. But what she sees and how she is able to capitalize is why she wears gold.
If she sticks to the game plan and in-fight adjustments, Namajunas should win this fight. If she deviates or gets frustrated, the fight will have a sudden end.
This will not be an easy title defense for Namajunas, but when the referee gets set to raise the hand of the victor, he will be doing so with the champion's arm.
The X-factor of game-planning is why I am sticking with Namajunas. Andrade offers up one of the most threatening games for Namajunas, but she won't be able to get enough moments to make it count.
The champion has matured so well in this sport, and her intelligence sets her apart from the field.
In the first round, Namajunas establishes the range. Andrade will struggle to get inside.
In the second frame, Andrade takes more chances as her game plan begins to fail. Namajunas will take advantage and continue to force her hand. By the third, Andrade's desperation begins to show. And with desperation comes the depletion of her gas tank.
As the fight gets into the championship rounds, Namajunas ups the tempo and breaks Andrade. A simple and easy rear-naked choke finds its way under the chin.
Prediction: Rose Namajunas def. Jessica Andrade via submission in the fourth round