Given the sudden turnaround it represented as well as its shockingly concussive effectiveness, it would be easy to look at Jessica Andrade’s strawweight title-winning slam of Rose Namajunas at UFC 237 and miss the small, technical details that made it so effective. Namajunas’ several masterful and dominant minutes of varied attacks on the feet and on the ground before she was knocked out by a high-crotch takedown slam by Andrade in Rio, could easily overshadow the Brazilian’s adjustments that allowed her third slam of “Thug Rose” to be a game-changer, unlike her previous two attempts.
We’re here to make sure that doesn’t happen. Andrade’s success in the fight was far rarer than Namajunas’, but it came at the right moment, and it was the result of subtle but astute and devastating adjustments made by the soon-to-be champion.
Andrade twice lifted Namajunas up into the air and slammed her down in the first round, only to have the slams’ force softened by her own head position, and then to be immediately put on the defensive on the mat by the defending strawweight champion’s double wristlock/Kimura grips. Let’s take a deep dive into Andrade’s takedown and slam technique that forced Namajunas to consider retirement:
3:18: Andrade presses Namajunas against the cage and clasps her hands together in a single-leg grip on Rose’s left leg. Namajunas leans over and wraps Andrade’s left arm in a double wristlock/Kimura.
3:17: Andrade lifts up, carrying Rose on her right shoulder as Rose holds onto the grip, her own torso and back on top of Andrade’s shoulders behind Andrade’s head.
3:16: Andrade steps back with her right leg, throws Namajunas down, feet-first, with Rose still attached to her left arm. They hit the ground, Namajunas takes most of the landing force on her backside, maintains her grip and uses its leverage to stand back up.
3:14: Andrade presses Namajunas against the cage once more, looking for another high single-leg.
Former bantamweight champion and cageside broadcast analyst Dominick Cruz chimes in at that point saying, “[Namajunas is] on the Kimura and you can’t slam if you stick to the Kimura.”
3:11: Andrade lifts Rose up again, walks away from the cage, turns left instead of right as she did in her first attempt, then attempts to roll her opponent off her shoulders so that Namajunas doesn’t fall onto Andrade’s own head as she lands.
That has the added benefit for Andrade of rotating Namajunas’ body so that she lands more on her own back this time, instead of her feet and backside. Andrade successfully rotates Namajunas and herself enough to get free of the Kimura hold, but Namajunas transitions to a straight armlock attack off of her back.
At the start of the second round, heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, the fellow broadcast analyst alongside Cruz and play-by-play anchor Jon Anik, claims that Andrade’s coaches were happy with Andrade’s lifts and dumps of Namajunas, even though they seemed to have much of their in-the-moment effect blunted.
“They liked that she lifted her, even though she almost got caught with a submission, they liked the lift. They want her to keep fighting like this,” Cormier explains.
Andrade closes the distance on Namajunas with punches, presses her against the cage with a Muay Thai plum that she quickly abandons to work on Namajunas’ left leg and waist with another high single-leg grip.
Namajunas immediately reaches over Andrade’s head once more and grabs a Kimura double wrist-lock grip. At this point, supported by the two previous attempts at a damaging slam by Andrade that were at least in part stymied by Namajunas’ Kimura lock grip on Andrade’s left arm, Cruz promises that Andrade’s next attempt will once again be effectively countered.
“This is the counter they have to the lift … If you stay a hold of that, Andrade cannot lift. She cannot do it,” Cruz says.
2:08: Andrade lifts Namajunas. “Nope, can’t lift there,” Cruz insists.
Right before Andrade lifts Namajunas for this final time, however, she makes a crucial adjustment. Whereas she previously adjusted her footwork and body orientation once she had her opponent in the air, this time Andrade completely changes the dynamics of the takedown attempt by changing her head position, opening up possibilities for herself and — in conjunction with Namajunas’ continued commitment to her Kimura hold — forever alters the complexion of the battle.
In the microsecond before lifting Namajunas up again, Andrade decides to take her head out from underneath Namajunas. That not only allows her to straighten her posture and get her hips under the lift more, but it also gives her the opportunity to slam Namajunas to the ground without her own head getting in the way again, as it did in some form or fashion the first two times, in the first round.
Andrade takes her head out from underneath Namajunas, moves it to the outside, so that this time she won’t have her fall blunted by Andrade’s own shoulders or head. Next, Andrade does not turn to her right or to her left this time as she did, previously. There is no pivot step from Andrade as she slams. Instead, Andrade twists Namajunas straight backward, lifting her legs over her head.
2:06: Namajunas’ grip no longer provides leverage or relief or blunting of the slam’s effects from this angle, and when she holds onto the grip in midair and once she begins to be thrown backward, without Andrade’s head in between her and the ground, she lands on the side of her head and neck this time, flush, knocking her out, cold.
As God as my witness, Rose is broken in half! 😱 pic.twitter.com/YTuN43lgPF
— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) May 12, 2019
“They had an answer for the lift, and she came up with an answer to the answer,” Cruz said, later.
While watching the slow-motion replay, the two-time Olympic wrestler Cormier provides additional detail. “[Andrade] attacked the hand and moved her head outside to a high-crotch. Now, she’s not on the single. The head on the outside is a much different position … when Jessica Andrade moved her head to the outside, she was able to lift, put her down with the big slam and get the finish.
“Guys, when I do this, they rotate all the way through. But Rose, trying to hold onto the arm, did not allow her to flip. If Rose would’ve let go of the arm, she would’ve flipped and landed on her back. But by holding onto the Kimura, she landed right on top of her head.”
As Cormier explains, because of 1.) Andrade’s decision to move her head to the outside of Namajunas’ body, and 2.) Namajunas’ insistence on holding onto the lock once she was lifted in the air, Namajunas was not able to rotate all the way through with the intended trajectory and force of Andrade’s takedown, because her double wristlock/Kimura grip held her in place, positioning her to land on her head and neck this time around, instead of her feet/backside, or back, as was the case in the first two slams.
There were no accidents involved in the finish of UFC 237’s championship main event. Afterward, Andrade spoke about knowing that and how she needed to adjust in the second round, after a tough first period. “I was certain in what I had to do in the second round,” she said.
Still later, she’d recount the end perceptively to ESPN, showing an awareness of how her opponent did not adapt the way she did. “The move was performed correctly, the only thing was that she kept holding onto my arm, thinking about submitting me,” she reasoned.
“When she hit the floor, she was holding my arm. If she had let go of my arm, maybe the Bate-Estaca [pile driver] would not have been completed at all. It is very simple to avoid.”
More from Yahoo Sports: