When Cláudia Gadelha faced Joanna Jędrzejczyk in December 2014, both fighters were up-and-coming contenders in a newly created strawweight division that had just crowned a new champion in Carla Esparza.

Gadelha and Jędrzejczyk put on a fantastic fight for the fans at UFC on Fox 13 in Phoenix. They went back and forth for three exciting rounds. Ultimately, the fight ended up going to the judges. Jędrzejczyk narrow defeated the Nova União product by split decision, an outcome many observers disputed. It was a fight that could have gone either way.

Over a year and a half later, Gadelha and Jędrzejczyk faced each other again. It was a highly anticipated rematch that took place on July 8 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas during the UFC’s International Fight Week. There were a couple of differences this time around. For one, there was a belt on the line. It was also a fight that came after the two rivals were pitted against each other as coaches on The Ultimate Fighter reality show, where they were forced to see a lot of each other without being able to actually fight.

This only added fuel to the fire. Gadelha, a native of Brazil, and Jędrzejczyk, the first-ever Polish-born champion, had a countless number of run-ins at the TUF gym, only making one hate the other more.

Finally, after weeks spent in front of cameras while training their teams, the rivalry culminated in a second fight between Jędrzejczyk and Gadelha.

First, let’s have a little history lesson.

Gadelha was born in Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil, later living in different parts of the country, because of family and personal issues. Eventually, Gadelha discovered martial arts at Kimura Nova União, a gym in the city of Natal where she trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and became a multiple-time world champion under renowned MMA coach André Pederneiras.

Gadelha debuted at the ripe age of 18. She won her first seven fights in Brazil, finishing six of them via submission. Five of those wins came via armbar. Then, Gadelha ventured abroad and continued to win. Her streak extended through three more fights before she debuted on the big stage under the Invicta FC banner. The wins kept coming — she beat Ayaka Hamasaki by TKO late in the third round. Then she moved another step up, debuting in the UFC with a win over Tina Lähdemäki via unanimous decision.

That brings us to Gadelha’s first fight with Jędrzejczyk in the largest promotion in the world.

The first round of their fight started off well for Gadelha. She was able to use her grappling well enough to get a couple of nice takedowns, but she didn’t create a lot of damage. As the round was coming to a close, however, Jędrzejczyk landed a beautiful right uppercut that stunned and dropped Gadelha.

The second stanza was much more closely contested. The takedowns weren’t there as much for Gadelha. She still executed a few, but just not enough to really garner attention. Jędrzejczyk was able to work hard and get up to her feet. The Polish fighter also managed to land a lot more effective strikes in their exchanges, which seemed to overshadow Gadelha’s clinch work. The round ended with Gadelha in control up against the cage, but again, not maximizing her grappling abilities enough.

The third round went much more in Gadelha’s favor. The Brazilian was able to neutralize Jędrzejczyk’s striking and control her in the clinch, taking her down several times and landing very effective ground-and-pound in close quarters.

Ultimately, the only really close round was the second, which could have gone either way depending on how the judges saw Jędrzejczyk’s strikes compared to Gadelha’s takedowns. The judges ended up seeing it Jędrzejczyk’s way. She came out on top with the victory over a very confused and dismayed Gadelha.

Of course, these two women met again more than 18 months later. This time it was a five-round title fight with bragging rights on the line.

The second fight ended up going almost the same way as the first one did. The same strategies and game plans were employed by both fighters, but they were done much more transparently. Gadelha focused on grappling and getting Jędrzejczyk to the ground. Meanwhile, the champion stayed at distance, utilizing her jabs and kicks while defending takedowns.

Gadelha took the first two rounds, using a grapple-heavy game. The middle round was the closest round — just like the middle round in the first fight — and the last two rounds went to Jędrzejczyk. She exploited the Brazilian’s lack of cardio, landed great strikes and won in dominating fashion.

Jędrzejczyk ended up taking a fairly lopsided decision on all three judges’ scorecards. It wasn’t seen as a controversial verdict, either. On a positive note, it was a very entertaining bout that won “Fight of the Night” honors.

Unfortunately, it was the lack of cardio that led to Gadelha’s loss.

While Jędrzejczyk obviously won the fight, she didn’t overwhelmingly dominate the challenger. Instead, she took advantage of a fighter who frankly couldn’t conserve her energy the way she should have.

Ideally, if Gadelha was smart, she wouldn’t have spent two rounds constantly going for takedowns, because (even as she admitted at the post-fight press conference) her arms were completely shot and the lactic acid building up in her muscles was preventing her from continuing to utilize her grappling techniques. This is not to say that Jędrzejczyk was handed the fight, because she absolutely did a great job to pull out the win, but it was a fight Gadelha lost more than a fight Jędrzejczyk won.

Cardio has always been an issue with the Nova União camp. In addition to Gadelha, the camp houses José Aldo, Renan Barão, Thales Leites, Junior dos Santos and many more. These are supremely talented fighters, but they don’t really focus on being economical with their energy as they go into later rounds. The great former longtime champion Aldo is a prime example.

Right in the thick of his impressive title run, Aldo had fights with guys like Mark Hominick, Frankie Edgar and Ricardo Lamas. He was the Aldo everyone expected in these fights — good foot work, great speed, crisp striking and deadly leg kicks. As the fourth and fifth rounds came about, however, he would begin to coast and take it easy. In fact, he would even get taken down and endure some ground-and-pound. It was surprising and disappointing to see after his great starts.

The issue Aldo has experienced is the same one that Gadelha went through against Jędrzejczyk. It’s a recurring theme with Nova União. The camp’s fighters go too hard too early.

Instead of realizing that they’re in a three- or five-round fight, where they should be using the first round or two to feel out their opponent, these fighters are kicking like they’re chopping down a tree and going for hard double-leg takedowns like a bull charging at a matador. It’s not a smart strategy when the goal is to become a champion.

Of course, what do I know? I haven’t fought professionally, let alone on any organized level, but I do know the human body can’t go 90 or 100 percent with kicks and punches for a 25-minute fight. Our bodies are just not made for it. If that was the case, everybody would do it and be successful.

It’s not like Aldo is experiencing an adrenaline dump, either. He’s fought on the big stage for years, so he knows where he is and what’s at stake. That excuse just won’t fly. What these Brazilian fighters, along with their trainers, need to do is implement a strength-and-conditioning program, similar to what football players do in the United States. There are specific trainers that monitor these situations, and while they may not be fighting experts, they know how to distribute the body’s energy consistently, while leaving more than enough for when it’s needed.

Going all-out is great when you want a quick knockout, but that knockout is not going to happen every time, especially against top-flight competition in the world’s best promotion.

With two losses to the champion, Gadelha might have had her last chance at Jędrzejczyk. She either has to make a great case to get a third fight with the champion, or hope the belt changes hands. Either way, that’s assuming she comes up with a better plan against a fighter that clearly has her number.

Gadelha did great in her fight… in the first two rounds. If she had a better plan for the five-round war she endured, then maybe she would have came out on top. This was a loss she shouldn’t have allowed. After most likely being ahead on the judges’ scorecards to start the fight, it was Gadelha’s fight to lose, and that’s exactly what she did. It wasn’t from a knockout or a submission, but from lack of energy.

About The Author

Kevin Ehsani
Staff Writer

Kevin Ehsani is a native of the Bay Area, originally born in Los Angeles, where he currently resides. He has been an MMA fan since 2007, previously training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and boxing, but never fighting on a competitive level. Kevin has a Bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism from San Francisco State University. His passion has always been writing and journalism, previously covering MMA for Politicus Sports, while currently hosting and producing his own podcast called Hammer Fist Radio.

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  • Kullervo

    So did you miss the Aldo/Edgar II fight? He did an excellent job of conserving his energy throughout the entire five rounds, barely throwing any volume at all in the early stages and focusing on derailing the hyper-energetic approach of Frankie and landing more impactful strikes.

    IMO Claudia lost because of a skill deficiency, not Cardio. Because she lacked the striking ability to stay on her feet long enough to eventually go for takedowns (think RDA/Pettis), her only path to victory was to smother Joanna with aggressive chain wrestling, most of which was strength -not technically – based, and therefore not conducive to conserving energy.

    • Yes Indeed

      you are only the second person I’ve seen anywhere to share the correct assessment of the fight. well done. good example with Aldo from the same camp that has overweight fighters that all usually gas out in 2.5 rounds (Aldo is famously called the best fighter in the world for the first 3 rounds lol) but he used a smart game plan to beat a good opponent. Claudia has no respect for Joanna and has yet to accept some facts. she beat her twice, she’s the smarter fighter who is still growing and she needs to adjust her game plan and skill set because lay and grind does nothing to a woman who doesn’t break and will throw 200+ punches to your face. her power based attack with wrestling is useless against Joanna and her unwillingness to commit to striking and mixing it up to press advantages she had with a few good shots was her downfall.

  • silus

    “Cláudia Gadelha Didn’t Lose to Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Her Cardio Did”

    When did cardio become seperate from everything else a fighter trains and is responsible for?

    • Dan85207

      Right? It would be like a fighter getting knocked out and saying “So and so fighter didn’t lose, their consciousness did.”

      • Alane Carry

        so funny :)

      • Trey Walker

        +1000

  • Jeremy Given

    Kevin Ehsani, your article is pretty dumb. The last time I checked cardio was just as important and as big of a factor (in any sport) as striking or wrestling in MMA.. Also, judging by the domination in the last 3 rounds by JJ, judging by Gadelha’s beat up face, by her exhaustion, and by the fact that Jedrzejczyk wasn’t even scratched.. I’d say that JJ Champ more than deserved to win. You’re only kidding yourself if you think that Gadelha is even 1/5 the fighter Joanna is. Joanna is not only the best athlete in MMA but also the best striker (see photo of Gadelha’s grill piece). Joanna Jedrzejczyk will go down as one of the best female fighters ever in the UFC when all is said and done, so stop making lame ass excuses for a fighter that doesn’t even deserve to have excuses made for her, cause she ain’t $HIT.

  • Yes Indeed

    always the excuses from and for the “humble” Brazilian bully wrestler who’s met her better and can’t accept it with grace or dignity. too funny. she acted like a wild child in their first fight (which Claudia would have won if she didn’t let Joanna steal the first round) head butting and hitting well after the bell. then she claims Joanna isn’t an MMA fighter and all this nonsense. then loses clear as day after winning two rounds and still comes up short with excuses. she is a jealous school girl and there is no point feeding into the nonsense. she lost, period. how can you want to be the champ without the cardio to go 5 rounds or the brains to adjust your game plan so you don’t tire yourself out doing nothing to the opponent and end up becoming her punching bag? Claudia’s real failure in this fight was her strategy. it didn’t impress enough the first time and you didn’t come close to a sub in either fight (Claudia isn’t a finisher anyway, last sub was over 6 years ago) so she’s gotta change something. Joanna has gotten better since the first meeting and it was obvious. if they ever fight again it will be a 2 round squash match with Joanna beating her mercilessly until the ref jumps in.

    • Alane Carry

      Claudia seemed to make weight a lot easier this time at least according to her, if she is smart she will stay at strawweight if Joanna moves up to flyweight and hopefully she can get her belt like she wants to so badly, I would like to see her win a belt because she is a great fighter, but her PED use is hard to respect…and I couldn’t figure out why she tried to beat Joanna with a losing strategy and knowing full well she was going to have to have the cardio, she still did not train hard enough to beat Joanna’s cardio…it just doesn’t make sense.

      • Yes Indeed

        yea she has gotten her weight down a bit. she needs to stay no more than 135 pounds or so. why she was getting up to 150 I have no idea. she hasn’t been tested positive for anything, but she did dodge a few tests pre and early USADA days

        • Alane Carry

          she has all the hallmarks of a female PED user. So she dodged the tests, it is still completely obvious she juiced in the past.

          • Yes Indeed

            it’s true, she fails all the eye tests with the telltale signs of steroid use.

  • Dan85207

    “but I do know the human body can’t go 90 or 100 percent with kicks and punches for a 25-minute fight.”
    Unless you’re Joanna. Also, the ability to do that is a skill in and of itself that she has worked harder than everyone else to achieve, not some intangible. If Claudia had worked to have her cardio at that level instead of lifting weights, then she likely wouldn’t have the same strength to get those takedowns against Joanna. It’s a silly assessment of the fight.

    • Yes Indeed

      exactly!! only way to improve her cardio is to shed the muscle bulk off her little frame. then she will sacrifice the ability to bully other fighters into the cage. Joanna would destroy her easily without her edge in brute strength. it’s a trade off. the only thing that will get a better result is better, smarter work on skills and game plan.

      • Alane Carry

        one thing I can’t figure out with this fight and with Jessica Penne’s fight vs. Andrade, that how is it these fighters go into these fights doing the same thing that lost them the last fight…don’t they pay their coaches to tell them the truth? Penne shouldn’t have ever walked into the ring with Andrade after having that expensive surgery on her nose, that could have killed her investment within minutes…look what just happened to Tate…

        • Yes Indeed

          Penne shouldn’t have been matched with Andrade in the first place. just more proof they don’t have enough divisions for women when the so called strawweight division is just atomweights like esparza, torres and penne fighting flyweights like bec rawling and JoJo. Andrade is a freaking bantamweight that dropped down because she is too short to fight everyone at 135. penne should have done like her friend esparza and turned that fight down lol.

          • Alane Carry

            wow I can’t imagine what Andrade looks like at 135, she is already so bulky at 115

          • Yes Indeed

            she just looked like a little tank it was funny. but she did kind of good at 135. I think she won like 13 fights.

  • Alane Carry

    Her cardio lost? What? Why didn’t she change her strategy from last time, when she was clearly on PED’s? Why did she try to submit Joanna when she couldn’t last time, on PED’s? Why try to submit Joanna when she hasn’t won a fight by submission in six years? I would say that it is more accurate that her strategy lost her the fight.

  • Trey Walker

    Total B.S. excuse! She lost because her boxing is shit… get over it!

  • Joey

    First fight she lost to the judges. The second she lost to cardio. Maybe if she earns another shot she’ll lose to consciousness.

  • Daniel Elton

    On no, not this lame excuse.. cardio is part and parcel of MMA. It’s as critical as speed, strength, ring IQ etc. Gheez get over it.Joanna made Gadelha’s face look like a dishrag and outpunched her like 5to1, if it helps you think it was due to the cardio so be it. Bottom line: Gadelha lost to Joanna yet again.