Jessica Eye (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Women’s MMA Weekend Preview: UFC 257

UFC 257 is coming to us this weekend. While the main event features some guys named Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier — if you have ever heard of them — we have a three-pack of women’s bouts that I am really looking forward to. Each one has potential to be really fun to watch, each for its own reasons. So without further ado, let’s take a look at them.

Jessica Eye vs. Joanne Calderwood

Let’s start with Eye. She comes in off of a loss in June, dropping a decision to Cynthia Calvillo. Outside of her knockout loss to Valentina Shevchenko (no shame there), she has not had a fight end by stoppage since her 2014 win over Leslie Smith when Smith almost lost her ear. We saw her go on a little streak where she really seemed to want to implement her wrestling and focus less on her stand-up, although she does have some very good boxing. Against Calderwood, she is fighting someone who has some very good, very unique striking and will be willing to come forward and chase her. So we are going to get a good stand-up battle right? Not so fast.

While Eye might not be a finisher, Calderwood has been submitted four times. On top of that, while not always super active on top, Eye has good top pressure and let’s not forget Eye has fought as high as bantamweight, whereas Calderwood has fought as low as strawweight. Eye should be the bigger, stronger fighter in the cage. I think her strategy might be to lull Calderwood into a ground battle. What do I mean by lull? If she goes for a takedown right out of the gate, Calderwood is going to be aware of it and more prepared to defend it going forward. So going for it right away serves her no purpose, especially if she doesn’t get that first one. What she can do is use her striking to help set up the later takedown. To me, her best bet at doing that is stay on the outside, come in and land a combo and get back out, make Calderwood chase her a bit, maybe get her to overextend. She could even do this for the whole first round, and I am going to assume that she does do that for the whole first round.


We now enter round two, Calderwood is feeling she’s going to have to chase and maybe if she can’t get much going she will even have a little frustration. Now Eye has two options for looking at takedowns. Option one: she can come in like she was when she’d come in and throw those combos before backing out, but this time, change levels and turn it into a takedown with Calderwood being more focused on throwing a counter and not expecting it. Option two is to start moving back or circling and when Calderwood comes forward, again, quickly drop down and turn it into a takedown. If Eye does that and gets on top, I believe she can stay there and keep the position. What activity level she might have there is to be seen, but she will definitely be active enough to not let the ref stand it. This then allows her to potentially do the same in round three. Who is the easiest fighter to takedown? A frustrated fighter who is desperate to land something. If Eye is successful in round two with that takedown and staying on top, Calderwood may become that frustrated fighter in round three and get more aggressive and desperate to land something. This goes to what I said with Eye having every fight go the distance since 2014 except the Shevchenko fight. Eye will be content to grind out a decision; she has the cardio for it, she’s used to it and she will be more than happy to just keep that top position, do enough to take the rounds safely and not take any big risks.

Calderwood comes in 2-2 in her last four, the last of which was a submission loss to Jennifer Maia in August, a loss which cost her a title shot with Shevchenko. I think her path to victory is quite simple and a lot less detailed than Eye’s. Be cautiously aggressive. By cautiously aggressive I mean, come forward, look to land, look to make it more of a brawl than a technical battle, but not so aggressive that it causes her to over-extend, be ready to sprawl. Basically, don’t have a one-track mind. Another important thing is don’t chase Eye, instead try and cut her off. I’ve talked about this before, the difference between chasing and cutting off. Chasing means walking a direct line almost straight after an opponent and allows them to continue moving wherever they want, while cutting off means using your own lateral movement to almost box them in. While Calderwood will want to keep her own back off the cage, getting it to the cage isn’t bad if she can put Eye’s back there. If she does that with a little space, she will have a more stationary target and that is where the often unique striking of hers can really be a benefit.

Another good weapon for Calderwood is kicks, she has great kicks and can get a lot of power behind them. Landing those and damaging Eye’s legs keeps Eye from moving as much, or at least as fast and maybe hamper the explosion of potential takedown attempts. I’d just like to see them more for the end of combos as opposed to a lot of naked kicks because she won’t want Eye catching any of them and using them for a takedown.

If Calderwood does get taken down, we know Eye isn’t super aggressive down there, more content on position. So what does Calderwood want to do? Maybe she is very confident off her back, maybe she’ll see if she can catch a submission or create a sweep or scramble. But I think her best bet might be simply wrap Eye up, hold her close, not let Eye advance or land anything and force the referee to stand them up. Sure, it might sound boring but it’s what could and would lead to her getting the fight back where she wants it.

Sara McMann vs. Julianna Pena

Raise your hand if you think this fight is going to stay on the feet for a length of time. Now, put your hand down and go to your bedroom, you are grounded. Listen, this fight is simple to breakdown. We know exactly what to expect from each and in many ways, it’s the same thing. Some people are going to think this is going to be boring. Not everyone appreciates a good technical ground battle where there might not be a lot going on and it’s more a battle for position. And that is okay, we like what we like. Me personally, I am looking as forward to this fight as any fight on the card. There’s really not a ton I can do here as far as talking about strategy and what not because it’s pretty simple. This fight is going to the ground, this is going to be McMann’s wrestling base against Pena’s jiu-jitsu.

This will be McCann’s first fight in exactly one year when she took a decision from Lina Lansberg. For her, it’s going to be about getting on top and being smart. McMann does have submissions including a very impressive one over Alexis Davis. But going for them here is going to be super risky. In Pena she is facing someone who has lost by submission in two of her last three but I don’t think she wants to play that game here. Those submission losses for Pena were more mistake-based and underestimating her opponents submission skills than anything else. Playing that game with Pena also opens up things for Pena or could cost her the top position. The one that might be available is an arm-triangle. If that presents itself then it is one she can safely go for and if it’s not there, quickly abort it. So for her it’s about being very heavy on top, at times posture up and land ground and pound, re-establish the heavy top game and stick with that. One little caveat to this is McMann will have a power advantage and Pena showed in her last fight she can be hit, so you might see McMann a little more willing to stand.

Pena, due to circumstances in her life, has been inactive the last couple years but just fought in November, so it seems she’s back on track and ready to go. In that November fight, she was put to sleep by Germaine de Randamie and really I think part of that was not respecting the choke from de Randamie. Pena will also want to be on top, but of the two, she will be more comfortable on her back. I think going for too many submissions can also be risky for her on top. McMann is very dangerous on the ground and going too hard for a submission is risky. If she doesn’t get it, she can end up on bottom. If something opens up, she will go for it, but use her BJJ to try and keep position and like McMann, land punches, and maybe those punches open up an opportunity for a submission.

Before we finish with this fight, lets talk about the takedowns themselves. McMann I think will be more of the shooting in variety. She can get them from the clinch as well, but her best bet to land on top might be shooting in. Pena on the other hand, will probably want to get them more from the clinch if possible. For her, shooting in means McMann can sprawl, and McMann from her sprawl can quickly turn that into something positive for herself. Listen, I know this sounds basic and wasn’t too in-depth, but I don’t think in-depth is needed here, that would be overanalyzing something that doesn’t need overanalyzing.

Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Ribas

Rodriguez is coming in off the first loss of her career, a close split-decision loss to Carla Esparza in July. Rodriguez’s game plan will in many ways be very similar to what she wanted to do against Esparza. She’s a very good striker, has a great Thai clinch and, while more than capable on the ground, the ground isn’t where she wants to be here. She will have a nice two-inch reach advantage here which will help her try and keep Ribas at the end of her punches and prevent her from coming in or at least really have to earn getting in for the takedowns. I think her best bet here is be aggressive, don’t be afraid to rush in. I think keeping Ribas backing up will be a beneficial thing for her.

So if we know Rodriguez will want to keep it up, what is her best striking plan? Well Rodriguez having a three-inch height advantage is a good and a bad thing in here. I’ll explain the bad when I discuss Ribas, but let’s talk about the good. Rodriguez having that good Thai clinch, if she can force some clinches and wrap her hands around Ribas’s head, she’s going to have some extra leverage to force Ribas’s head down and deliver hard knees to the head and also her knees won’t have as high to climb to work them to the body. I really like the idea of her getting the Thai clinch often and trying to work Ribas to the body. Now, when the clinch isn’t there, I expect Rodriguez to have a low stance like she did with Esparza to avoid the takedowns, although Ribas won’t shoot so much like Esparza did. When they are in close this can work for her because it might make landing hard body shots, kidney shots etc. a little easier for her. I think she will do that more early and not as much later in the fight. Rodriguez will have the power advantage as well, so if she can somehow lure Ribas into a brawl, that is going to benefit her as well. I don’t know that Ribas would engage in that, but Rodriguez will surely be happy if she does.

If Ribas can get the takedowns, Rodriguez has a pretty active guard and is good on defense. Here she might want to be a little more careful on her back. Obviously if she sees an opportunity she will want to throw her legs up, but she will want to make sure not to get too risky and give Ribas opportunities to pass or grab an arm. So play it by feel, opportunity presents itself, throw the legs up, see if it’s there and if not, get back to a full guard. But be active, throw elbows from her back, anything to keep Ribas occupied. If strikes are coming up at her, she has to deal with those while trying for her own submissions.

Ribas comes in on a five-fight winning streak, four of them in the UFC, most recently a first-round submission of Paige VanZant in July. Ribas is perfectly fine on her feet, but her best bet is get it down. She has great judo and throws, we saw that in the VanZant win. As good as Rodriguez is in that Thai clinch, Ribas can perhaps work that into her favor and use that for a throw. Or just push it to the cage and work it down from there. Remember I said there was a disadvantage to Rodriguez’s height advantage? Let me use myself as an example. I usually enjoy being the shorter fighter because my fight is going to spend a lot of time clinched on the cage. Being shorter, it is easier for me to put my head in there, use head position and control my opponent’s and that helps me to control the clinch. So if Ribas can get the clinch against the cage and have Rodriguez’s back on the cage, she can dig her head in there and make things uncomfortable for Rodriguez. It’s going to make it easier for her to not only get the takedown but maybe do some damage with knees and things herself. On the ground, assuming she gets a takedown, she has to be mindful of what Rodriguez might do off her back, but she is good at moving to better positions and looking for potential submissions off strikes. If she can’t get out of Rodriguez’s guard, that is okay, lay on the ground and pound, keep throwing and maybe that will open up something.

If Ribas can’t get the takedowns, she’s a confident fighter, I don’t think she will get worried or panic if things aren’t going her way. So try and be first, don’t let Rodriguez land big combos. If she can make Rodriguez be reactionary, it can slow down some of her offense. Also, avoid getting caught up in brawls, that will not likely end well for her.

That is it for this week; enjoy the fights, everyone!