The UFC’s strawweight division was long dominated by one fighter in particular, with challengers coming and going, often jockeying for position and vying for a potential rematch at the top of the mountain. Cláudia Gadelha (16-4) earned her stripes early on, with a pairing against pre-champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk (15-3) at UFC on FOX 13 in December 2014 that resulted in a highly controversial split decision win for Jędrzejczyk, who would then go on to face inaugural champ Carla Esparza (14-6) for the belt months later.
An eight month layoff spawned a convincing win over former WSOF champ Jessica Aguilar (20-8) at UFC 190 and secured a move to stardom with the announcement that the Brazilian would go on to coach season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Jędrzejczyk with the coaches squaring off in the main event of the season finale in June of 2016.
Gadelha would go on to drop a less than controversial decision this time, and since has maintained a record of 3-2 with losses coming to the division’s current champion Jessica Andrade (20-6) and most recently Nina Ansaroff (10-6) at UFC 231 in December.
A fifth place ranking in the division can be found next to “Claudinha”’s name when she enters the Octagon to face Canadian wrestler Randa “Quiet Storm” Markos (9-6-1) but the question on the minds of fight fans has to be whether or not the former title challenger can get back to the top of the division and overcome her recent struggles.
In Gadelha’s previous three fights (loss to Andrade, split decision win over Carla Esparza and loss to Ansaroff), the Brazilian was out struck by a total of 570-210 according to UFCStats. Her total UFC career striking metrics have slid as a result, with a negative differential appearing in significant strikes landed per minute compared to significant strikes absorbed per minute at a negative 31%.
A wrestling base afforded Gadelha the chance to squeak out a razor thin split decision win, her last, against Carla Esparza at UFC 225 in June of 2018. Gadelha landed four of five takedowns compared to two of four for Esparza but as mentioned, Esparza was able to outland on the feet and total 205-78 strikes at a slightly higher percentage.
With three previous opponents causing fits in the stand-up category, a favourable match-up awaits on Saturday’s prelim portion of the UFC 239 card as Gadelha pairs with #14 Randa Markos. “Quiet Storm” has gone 5-5-1 since joining the promotion on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter. Her previous two bouts have gone the way of a draw against Marina Rodriguez (29-28, 28-28, 28-28) and most recently a first round armbar finish over Angela Hill in March. In nearly every single statistical category Gadelha holds an advantage, but in a very similar match-up against Esparza the results were mixed.
With Gadelha maintaining a -223 average as a Vegas favourite heading into Saturday, oddsmakers and gamblers alike have pegged the Brazilian as most likely to earn the win and with only Jędrzejczyk, Ansaroff, Suarez, Namajunas and Andrade ahead it seems the road will once again get tougher for the former top prospect. With a change in camp to New Jersey, training with coach Mark Henry, can Gadelha recapture the wave that brought her to the top?