Rose Namajunas (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 237 Preview and Predictions

For the first time in UFC history, the women’s strawweight division headlines a pay-per-view. Champion Rose Namajunas takes center stage when she heads into hostile territory to battle Brazilian marauder Jessica Andrade at UFC 237.

This is the first time Namajunas is stepping into the cage since her second consecutive victory over former strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk over a year ago in Brooklyn. Her challenger, Andrade, is on a three-fight winning streak after most recently thumping Karolina Kowalkiewicz in September. The crowd in Rio De Janeiro’s Jeunesse Arena will no doubt be screaming their patented “Uh Vai Morrer” chant, an ominous phrase that translates into “You’re Gonna Die.”

The fight card also contains a pair of Brazilian legends. Former middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva takes on Jared Cannonier in the co-main event, while former longtime featherweight champ José Aldo squares off against Alexander Volkanovski. Silva is out to rebound after dropping a three-round contest to current interim champion Israel Adesanya in Australia. Aldo seeks a third straight victory after losing back-to-back fights to featherweight champion Max Holloway. Aldo has a tough task at hand in Volkanovski, who is undefeated in six UFC fights and sports a 19-1 overall record. Volkanovski made a huge statement in his last fight at UFC 232 when he knocked out the now-retired former perennial contender Chad Mendes in the second round of their “Fight of the Night” effort.


The prelims are also filled with legends. “Little Nog” Antonio Rogerio Nogueira takes on Ryan Spann in a light heavyweight affair. Meanwhile, B.J. Penn steps into the cage against Clay Guida. Of these four fighters, Spann, at age 27, is the only one on the right side of thirty. The next youngest is Guida, at age 37. Penn is 40 years old, and Nogueira is 42. Both Spann and Nogueira are coming off wins, whereas the pair of Penn and Guida faltered in their last appearances. Penn hasn’t had a victory in the UFC since he defeated Matt Hughes in 2010. Fans have been calling for the Hawaiian legend to call it quits for some time now, but Penn still has the desire to fight.

The early prelims kick off on UFC Fight Pass at 5:15 p.m. ET. The televised prelims follow on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. From there, it’s on to pay-per-view, available exclusively through ESPN+, at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Matt Petela break down the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Jessica Andrade marched to decisions over Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres before blasting Karolina Kowalkiewicz for a first-round finish. Now, the Brazilian is set to challenge Rose Namajunas for the UFC women’s strawweight title. Will Andrade find success in this, her second shot at the belt?

Huntemann: I do believe Andrade will finally get over the hump and win her first title in the UFC. However, it won’t be due to anything Namajunas does wrong, per se, even though I do wonder where she is mentally. This is Namajunas’ first fight since her successful title defense against Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 223, and it’s also her first outing since she was caught up in Conor McGregor’s rampage in Brooklyn, where she was among those on the bus that McGregor attacked.

Those events affected Namajunas mentally, which lends some credibility to any questions of whether she is in the right frame of mind to defend her title — and especially in hostile territory in Brazil, where the fans are, shall we say, just a wee bit passionate about their countrymen and women who fight in the UFC.

This isn’t meant to downplay any real mental trauma Namajunas may have suffered as a result of the events in Brooklyn. Mental health is a real and serious topic that still doesn’t receive the attention and understanding that it should. Although Namajunas still competed and won on that card, it’s possible she may have suffered some kind of delayed reaction to what happened that weekend. Or maybe she didn’t. The only person who knows for sure is Namajunas herself.

More to the point, Andrade has been dominant since she came up short in her first attempt at UFC gold. Her fight with Gadelha was shocking in the utter brutality Andrade displayed, and she continued with equally impressive performances against Torres and Kowalkiewicz. It was pretty mean of the UFC to make Kowalkiewicz, who just seems so darn nice, step into the Octagon with someone like Andrade.

Memorable moments tend to happen whenever the UFC ventures south of the Equator to Brazil, and this time will be no different.

Petela: I, too, see Andrade getting her hand raised and the title wrapped around her waist at the end of the night.

Namajunas’ decision to defend her title in Brazil is bold and admirable, but she will fall short against her Brazilian opponent. I still get goosebumps thinking of the right hand Andrade landed on Kowalkiewicz that left the Polish fighter looking up at the ceiling. Call it a hunch, but I think this fight will have a similar outcome.

Andrade is so powerful for a strawweight. Even with genius striking coach Trevor Wittman in her corner, Namajunas won’t be able to avoid the Brazilian’s power for the full 25 minutes. In terms of grappling, where most people predicted Namajunas would have the advantage over Jędrzejczyk, Namajunas will be negated by a fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt. That means this will turn into a kickboxing match.

Of course, I thought “Thug Rose” would lose badly to Jędrzejczyk the first time around and then attributed that win as a fluke before she repeated her success. So, my pick against Namajunas should instill confidence in the 303 Training Center product’s entire fight camp.

Anderson Silva, once considered an easy pick as the greatest of all-time, now has just one win over his last seven fights. Will his opponent, Jared Cannonier, add another black mark to the middleweight’s legacy at UFC 237?

Petela: It’s clear that Silva is not the same fighter he once was. He is 44, after all. However, his losses have all come against former or current champions. Cannonier is no slouch, but he can’t be put in the same lofty atmosphere as Chris Weidman, Michael Bisping, Daniel Cormier and Israel Adesanya.

Cannonier looked good in his middleweight debut when he scored a TKO of David Branch, but it is hard to put that win into context since Cannonier was a last-minute replacement and Branch, a Renzo Gracie black belt, has had an underwhelming return to the UFC. So, this fight will be a good litmus test to see how much Silva has in the tank. Regardless of the outcome, though, there will still be questions surrounding Cannonier’s potential status as a contender.

Cannonier will come out on top via decision, clearly demonstrating that the time has come for “The Spider” to hang up the gloves. With a win, Cannonier should get an opponent that is a true test of where he stands among the middleweights. Perhaps it will be a showdown with the first man to hand SIlva a loss in the UFC, the aforementioned Weidman.

Huntemann: Spoiler alert: Cannonier does add another black mark to Silva’s legacy, which I will expound upon further below. However, for the purposes of this question, I can appreciate my comrade’s note that Silva’s recent stretch of losses have all been to current or former champs. Yet, with the exception of his close loss to Bisping, Silva has looked wholly uncompetitive in all of those defeats.

Gone was the amazing Matrix-style movement and athleticism that defined Silva’s career, once upon a time. Gone was the out-of-nowhere striking that left us wondering just how the hell he did the things he did. All I see is now is a fighter who aged very quickly in a fairly short amount of time. Ever since Silva’s leg shattered in the title rematch with Weidman, we have seen a whole new Silva. And not in a good way.

Cannonier has hovered right around the .500 mark through his last several fights and doesn’t appear to be on the verge of challenging for a title anytime soon. However, he is coming off an impressive knockout win over another former champ in Branch, and he has enough power to control the fight against Silva to put a quality name on his resume — even if that name isn’t what it once was.

Luana Carolina, Carlos Huachin Quiroz and Melissa Gatto — do we need to know these names?

Huntemann: Gatto’s last four victories have come via submission. Were it not for a bizarre two draws on her resume — that’s MMA judging for you, folks! — she would have a completely unblemished record. This, paired with the UFC women’s bantamweight division’s desperate need for new blood, makes Gatto’s fight with Talita Bernardo one to keep an eye on. The line of contenders at bantamweight is woefully short, so maybe an impressive win by Gatto accelerates her ascent up the ladder.

Petela: Carolina dropped her first professional fight, but she hasn’t lost since. She earned her shot at the big time by winning a unanimous decision over Mabelly Lima on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series. Carolina faces fellow Brazilian Priscilla Cachoeira, who is 0-2 in the UFC. If Carolina is going to make a name for herself, then she has a good opportunity to do so in her home country against a beatable opponent. At age 25, she is entering the UFC at the right time to hit her stride as she enters her athletic prime.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 237?

Petela: Alexander Volkanovski. I expect him to beat José Aldo and in doing so surpass Frankie Edgar as the consensus next challenger for Max Holloway’s featherweight title. Aldo’s been vocal about only having a few fights left. Going into a fight with that mentality against someone as dangerous as Volkanovski could turn out to be a disaster for the former long-reigning king of the featherweights.

Huntemann: Jessica Andrade. Since I’m picking Andrade to win her first UFC title, it stands to reason to also pick her as the big winner for the evening. She has a chance to claim the title in her home country, too. How much bigger of a winner can she be, right?

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 237?

Huntemann: Anderson Silva. Do you remember the days when he was a must-see pay-per-view attraction and arguably the UFC’s biggest draw? Those days seem like ancient history now. I’m usually loathe to say a fighter is “tarnishing” his/her legacy, but that is exactly what Silva is doing with each fight he takes and loses. The Silva we see now is a complete stranger from the Silva we used to watch in awe. Is it simply a matter of age catching up to him, or does it have anything to do with his dalliances with performance-enhancing drugs? Whatever the reason, I have zero desire to see Silva continue to compete in the UFC. As long as he does and keeps losing to fighters that the 2010 Silva would have wiped the floor with — including Jared Cannonier — he will be the biggest loser.

Petela: Rose Namajunas. I expect her to drop her title to Jessica Andrade, and the road back to the title at strawweight is going to be a long one. With undefeated Tatiana Suarez lurking and Nina Ansaroff and Michelle Waterson both campaigning for title shots in the cage and on the microphone, it will take Namajunas stringing together a few victories before she is able to get another crack at the belt. While she is wholly capable of beating anyone in the world at 115 pounds on any given night, Namajunas is in a strawweight division that is better than it’s ever been. One slip-up on her way back to the top of the mountain is not out of the question.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Clay Guida and B.J. Penn. As much as I don’t want to see Penn fight anymore, I’m intrigued to see how he performs against the wildman Guida. As a perpetual pessimist, it’s odd that I think Penn will be able to overcome Guida even in the midst of the headline-making personal issues he has been dealing with recently.

Huntemann: Well, that makes one of us. Just as with Silva, I have little desire to see Penn continue to fight in the UFC. He is tarnishing his legacy even worse than Silva is degrading his own. I’m also not sure Guida even qualifies as a gatekeeper at this stage in his career. This fight is probably as close as the UFC will get to a “Legends” bout the likes of which Bellator MMA puts on.

Meanwhile, my sleeper pick goes to Ryan Spann and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Spann has a great opportunity to make a true name for himself by taking out a legend, and he will do just that. While you can never underestimate a Nogueira brother, “Lil Nog” is 43 years old and 2-3 in his last five fights. He was finished twice in this span, too. Even if the fight itself may not be a barnburner, the way Spann finishes Nogueira could be entertaining.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: The streaming service DAZN. It may not be proper etiquette to hype another organization’s fight card in these UFC previews, but UFC 237 takes place on the same night as Bellator 221. That event will air exclusively on DAZN and, frankly, has a better main card, top to bottom. If you still insist on going through the double paywall to watch the UFC’s latest offering, at least set aside a few bucks to subscribe to DAZN (if you haven’t already) so you can watch some better fights later on.

Petela: Flowers for your Mom. With all the MMA action this weekend, it’d be easy to forget that this Sunday is Mother’s Day. Frankly, if it weren’t for Rose Namajunas headlining this card, I would have forgotten. Be sure to get your flowers this week so that you aren’t stuck picking through the gas-station remnants on Sunday morning. Love you, Mom!

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view via ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW Championship: Rose Namajunas vs. Jessica Andrade Andrade Andrade
MW: Jared Cannonier vs. Anderson Silva Cannonier Cannonier
FW: José Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski Aldo Volkanovski
WW: Thiago Alves vs. Laureano Staropoli Alves Alves
LW: Francisco Trinaldo vs. Carlos Diego Ferreira Ferreira Trinaldo
Preliminary Card (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Ryan Spann Spann Nogueira
LW: Thiago Moises vs. Kurt Holobaugh Holobaugh Moises
Women’s BW: Irene Aldana vs. Bethe Correia Aldana Correia
LW: Clay Guida vs. B.J. Penn Guida Penn
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 5:15 p.m. ET)
Women’s FlyW: Priscila Cachoeira vs. Luana Carolina Carolina Carolina
WW: Warlley Alves vs. Sergio Moraes Alves Moraes
BW: Raoni Barcelos vs. Carlos Huachin Quiroz Barcelos Quiroz
Women’s BW: Talita Bernardo vs. Melissa Gatto Gatto Gatto