UFC 190 kicked off with an important contender bout in the other women’s division, as Jessica Aguilar and Claudia Gadelha met to determine who would likely be next for a strawweight title shot. While the world was waiting to see Ronda Rousey ply her trade in the main event, Aguilar and Gadelha took advantage of the spotlight with a spirited affair of their own.
Over 15 minutes, Gadelha repeatedly scored with punching combinations and knees, punctuated by occasional takedowns, on her way to a unanimous decision win. Aguilar came on late, perhaps overcoming some Octagon jitters to steal the third round, but it was too little, too late.
Here’s what we learned.
What We’ll Remember
This fight showed how Gadelha had tightened up her game in an effort to get back to a rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The first time they met, Jedrzejczyk narrowly came out on top in the decision. Over the course of Gadelha‘s bout with Aguilar, it became evident that she had worked hard to close the holes in her game that cost her the first meeting.
For the Brazilian, this might be remembered as the one before the one where she earned a title.
What We Learned About Aguilar
Aguilar is tough, durable and focused, and her lifetime of experience outside the UFC will serve her well now that she’s arrived in the big show. Once she loosened up later in the fight, she began tagging Gadelha with some consistency and showed that she can hang with the best in the division.
Considering that the division is still fairly new, there’s no reason to think that a loss against the top contender will set her back too much. It’s likely that she’ll hang around the top five in spite of her UFC 190 outcome, and from there she can get to work pushing her way into title contention.
People have debuted with worse in the UFC.
What We Learned About Gadelha
Gadelha’s ready, both mentally and physically, for her second try at Jedrzejczyk—this time for a world title. Their first meeting was a stepping stone for Joanna Champion to earn that namesake, and this time around Gadelha would enter as challenger.
Her relative domination of Aguilar, her poise in tough spots throughout the fight and her capacity to limit those tough spots through skill and force are all good signs for her going forward. That she took to English, a second language, in front of a partisan Brazilian crowd to specifically get Dana White’s attention and call for a title shot also shows some major growth in the mental side of the game.
UFC 190 was a major indicator that she’s ready for the biggest challenge in the game with the biggest prize out there on the line.
What’s Next for Aguilar
Carla Esparza is presently not booked and would be a perfect test for Aguilar. She’s also coming off a loss and was the first strawweight champion in the history of the promotion. It would make for an interesting bout, given the championship pedigree of Aguilar and the fact she did little to devalue her stock in the Gadelha loss.
If not Esparza, former Invicta atomweight champion Jessica Penne, also coming off a loss, could fit a similar bill.
What’s Next for Gadelha
As noted, it has to be Jedrzejczyk. The first fight was a razor thin decision, and Gadelha is undeniably the second-best strawweight on Earth. No one else makes sense competitively, a fact only punctuated by Gadelha’s callout after her UFC 190 win.
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