Tip to tail, UFC 237 was a bummer. Saturday’s event felt sour from the start of the prelims—when former UFC champ B.J. Penn led off the undercard one month after MMA Junkie reported on allegations against Penn of years of physical and sexual abuse—and the evening culminated with Jessica Andrade dethroning Rose Namajunas with one of the scariest looking knockouts of the past few years.
The strawweight title fight main event was preceded by a handful of Brazilian legends fighting in front of a passionate Rio de Janeiro crowd, and everyone’s night ended in misery. Minotouro Nogueira looked like a 42-year-old as he was knocked out by Ryan Spann within two minutes in the featured prelim; Alexander Volkanovski bullied José Aldo to the point that the G.O.A.T featherweight almost didn’t punch back at all; and Anderson Silva was viciously leg-kicked by Jared Cannonier until his right knee dissolved. It drove home once again that there are no happy endings in MMA.
As for Namajunas, she spent the better part of the fight picking Andrade apart with superior boxing. The defending champ is a much quicker, more technically sound fighter, and though Andrade is one of the best pure athletes in her division, Namajunas dictated terms. The challenger found some success nailing Namajunas’s lead leg when she threw the right hook counter, and she started the second round by simply charging forward at Namajunas and denying her the time to throw real counters. Eventually, one of those charges resulted in a grappling exchange on the fence. Namajunas made moves towards a kimura lock; Andrade simply picked her up and slammed her to the canvas, neck-first, bending the champion over like a cheap lawn chair and knocking her out. It was an absolutely brutal way for Namajunas’s brief reign to end.
Immediately, people questioned the legality of the move. Despite commentator Dominick Cruz’s repeated insistence that Andrade couldn’t lift Namajunas while she was playing around with the kimura, the throw was legal under the new unified rules of MMA. There are two criteria that must be met: The throw must have an “arc to its motion” so as to prevent fighters from going straight up and down in a true piledriver and compressing their opponent’s spine, and if the fighter getting slammed is attempting a submission, the slammer is allowed to “bring that opponent down in any fashion they desire because they are not in control of their opponent’s body.”
ESPN spoke to several people involved in regulating MMA, and while there’s some momentum to at least examine the language around the slam rule, that kind of knockout is still rare in MMA. Several types of slams and tosses are important parts of a variety of wrestling styles, namely judo. Namajunas’s knockout loss might have been particularly jarring because it was legal. MMA is a spectacle of violence, and it grinds down fighters’ bodies to nubs faster and more brutally than any other sport. It’s easier to ignore that truth or make your peace with it during certain fights, but sometimes a finish is so violent that you can’t ignore the human cost inherent to the sport.
Namajunas was able to leave the cage under her own power, and she was not hospitalized, though when speaking to reporters after the fight, she openly contemplated leaving combat sports. “I just want to do something else with my life right now,” she said.
When asked about a possible rematch or another title run, Namajunas said, “Maybe I’ll get it again, maybe I won’t. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never do this again. We’ll see.”