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Unapologetic: Jessica Andrade

A series documenting Latinx mixed martial artists’ contributions outside the cage.

From child farmer to newlywed to international main-eventer, few are as inspirational as the War Bonnet wearing indigenous people representing Strawweight Champion, Jessica Andrade.

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on May 9, 2019 at 5:06pm PDT

The War Bonnet. Similar styles of headdress have been used by many Native tribes of North and South America but only a handful of fighters have adopted them going into the cage for battle. The adornment and design of such head pieces is instantly recognizable and a personal part of Andrade’s own Latinidad which she doesn’t shy away from in an interview with MMA Fighting.

“When I put the war bonnet on I say ‘I’m going after my dream now, the dream of every Brazilian of being a warrior. [There is] nothing more beautiful than to represent your roots, your origin, where you came from, your strength.”

Having roots in the indigenous people of Brazil, she wears it not only as a symbol but as a source of inspiration and power. According to Lúcia Gaspar of the Joaquim Nabuco Foundation in Brazil, the headdress was often used in rituals and celebrations and Andrade is only a few generations removed from those who wore the item in its natural state.

“My great grandmother was caught in the woods, a pure native Brazilian.”

Ontem fui conhecer o Templo sagrado do Samba no Rio de Janeiro o @cacique_de_ramos lugar mágico, com uma energia incrível, hoje sou conhecida também como a Cacique do Octógono, por usar o Cocar de índio representando minhas origens, e lá no @cacique_de_ramos recebi uma linda homenagem e um presente que com certeza estarei usando em minha próxima luta, esse Cocar lindo e abençoado pelos Caciques, recebi a benção dos filhos da casa e toquei na tão famosa Tamarineira e fiz lá o meu pedido especial. OBRIGADO🙏🏻@cacique_de_ramos @lauroacoliveira @mrocha210 e todos que me receberam de braços e coração aberto! Sem duvidas voltarei para as rodas de samba! 💪🏻👊🏻👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 . . . #templodosamba #caciquederamos #prvt #prvtgirls #samba #cacique #caciquedooctogono #mma #luta #gril #wmma

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on Mar 19, 2018 at 4:42pm PDT

“I feel the strength, the energy from not only the Brazilians, but my ancestors, my religion. When I get in there, I’m hard as a rock and nothing hurts me.”

This energy has helped take her from young contender to Strawweight Champion in a relatively short time. At 27 years old, she is just now entering her prime with no intentions of slowing down. With her upcoming bout against Zhang “Magnum” Weili, Andrade knows what type of opponent to expect as she told Portal De Vale Tudo, translation from Bloody Elbow.

“Weili walks forward all the time, she throws good shots, she’s quick, she’s strong, so I have to be well prepared for this fight. We will surely end the card on a high note, it’ll be fireworks the whole time.”

But to understand how Andrade came to embrace her Latinidad and indigenous background, we need to look at what inspired her along her journey.

Brazil, source of the life-giving Amazon rain forest, home of the legendary martial art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and birthplace of the current pound for pound contender. From a young age, Andrade would work the fields helping to harvest alongside her older brother and parents. We learn more about this time from Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting.

A post shared by Cida sanches (@cida_sanchesgomes) on Nov 18, 2018 at 5:07am PST

”No kid really wants to do that. No one wants to actually work. But I was always very happy because I loved being with [my family].”

It’s here where we first see the importance of family in her life and the emphasis she places upon them. She continued honing her resilience and dexterity by starting new jobs of cleaning fish and then delivering for a local pharmacy.

“When I was delivering medicine or making money collection for the drug store, I’d grab a list of names and addresses and spend hours knocking on doors.”

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:25am PDT

It was that dedication and diligence at a young age which helped build her resolve to overcoming adversity in any situation, not the least of which would be unexpected attacks on her own sexuality. s a lesbian, she has come to represent the LGBTQIAP+ community unapologetically and with the utmost pride despite the backlash of those who disagree with her as she explained to MMA Junkie.

“If people want to mistreat me, that’s fine. I choose to continue being the same affectionate person I’ve always been, though it does seem like the world is changing in regards to how people view gays.” She continued, “when I was booked against Liz Carmouche, some people were saying that no one cares to see lesbian behavior in the cage, they were saying they’d rather see real fights. But I’ll never change my way of being to make some people happy. In the octagon, I’ll always be the same fighter.”

However, Andrade acknowledges that it may be harder for men to come out in the sport from the societal stigma placed upon them.

“When it comes to men, that fear of being out is still there. I hope when a guy comes out in the UFC, that he won’t be afraid. It’s difficult at first, but little by little people will understand. It gets better.”

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on Apr 30, 2019 at 8:50am PDT

And things have certainly improved for Andrade. She recently married her longtime girlfriend, Fernanda Gomes, in true UFC fashion at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in the heart of Las Vegas, NV. The two would marry just a couple of months before a bout with Champion Rose Namajunas in a contest that would see Andrade prevail as victor after a devastating slam to the former champ.

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on Feb 23, 2019 at 5:29pm PST

As newly minted Straweight Champion and with a marriage still fresh on her mind, it’s easy to see how Andrade went from humble beginnings to headlining UFC Fight Night on ESPN+ against Zhang Weili. With the energy of her ancestors, the love of her wife, and gold around her waist, Jessica Andrade brings a lifetime of strength and resolve that she carries with her to the cage.

“It’s great to know that you’re representing something you believe in in there.”■

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