UFC 190 vs. Jessica Aguilar

Because things didn’t work out very well for her inside the Octagon, a lot of people tend to forget or diminish just how good Jessica Aguilar was when she finally arrived in the UFC.

Over a five-year period from November 2009 to November 2014, “JAG” went 14-1 with victories over Esparza, Lisa Ellis, Emi Fujino, Kalindra Faria and a pair of wins over the legendary Megumi Fujii, while her lone setback was a questionable split decision loss to Zoila Frausto. She was undeniably one of the top strawweights at the time, and when the UFC announced it was introducing the 115-pound weight class, it was disappointing that Aguilar would not immediately be included as she had recently signed a multi-fight deal with World Series of Fighting.

She eventually found her way to the Octagon and made her debut against Gadelha in the main card opener of the August 2015 pay-per-view event headlined by Ronda Rousey’s title defense against Bethe Correia. Aguilar arrived on a 10-fight winning streak and Gadelha dominated the action from start to finish.

Looking at her resume now, knowing Aguilar ultimately went 1-4 in the Octagon, people tend to skip over this performance as some kind of “guaranteed victory” or easily dismissible triumph, but for Gadelha to go out and just steamroll her the way she did was a reminder that she was an elite talent. On top of that, it would set up one of the most anticipated rematches in the history of the UFC women’s ranks.

The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale vs. Joanna Jedrejczyk

Three months after beating Gadelha in their first meeting, Jedrzejczyk mauled Esparza to claim the strawweight title and begin her reign atop the division, following it up with an absolute mugging of Jessica Penne in Germany and a decisive decision win over Valerie Letourneau at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia. With Gadelha back in line to challenge for the title and the tensions between the two running high, the UFC opted to have the rivals serve as opposing coaches on Season 23 of The Ultimate Fighter.

While it’s not necessarily valid to say Gadelha was a better coach, her team certainly dominated the action in Las Vegas, as six of the eight semifinalists across the two competitions hailed from Team Gadelha, including three of the four finalists and both winners, Tatiana Suarez and Andrew Sanchez.

The adversaries squared off in the main event of the second of three consecutive events held during International Fight Week in 2016, following Eddie Alvarez’ lightweight title victory over Rafael Dos Anjos and setting the table for UFC 200 the following evening. Unlike their ultra-close first encounter that was tight all the way through, their second meeting played out as a tale of two halves.

Gadelha dominated out of the gate, using her grappling and showing continued improvement with her hands. She sprinted out to an early lead, winning both the first and second rounds on all three scorecards, putting Jedrzejczyk in a position where she would have to run the table or score a finish in order to retain her title. Even in the opening moments of the third, Gadelha continued to control the action, dragging Jedrzejczyk to the ground, nullifying her striking advantage by keeping things in close quarters.

But as they separated off the cage at the three-minute mark of the middle frame, Gadelha looked tired and Jedrzejczyk took note and turned up the pressure. The challenger drove through another takedown a minute later, but the champion scrambled to her feet, landed a clean shot from top position and then sauntered back into space, dismissively calling for Gadelha to get back to her feet.

That was the fight right there.

Despite there being a little over a minute left in the third round with Gadelha up 2-0 on the scorecards, the momentum had shifted and Jedrzejczyk would ride that wave to a unanimous decision victory.

UFC 212 vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Gadelha rebounded from her second loss to Jedrzejczyk with a unanimous decision victory over Cortney Casey later that year, then continued her push to earn another championship opportunity by squaring off with Kowalkiewicz in the co-main event of UFC 212. This was a clash between the No. 1 and No. 2-ranked contenders in the division and Kowalkiewicz was just over six months removed from her own unsuccessful bid to wrestle the title away from “Joanna Champion.”

With Kowalkiewicz coming off a solid showing in defeat at UFC 205 and Gadelha having looked good, but not great against Casey the following week, many anticipated this would be a hotly contested affair. Gadelha had other ideas.

After two minutes of trading in space where neither woman gained any real advantage, the Brazilian closed the distance, clinched her hands around Kowalkiewicz’ waist and twisted her down to the canvas, landing in side control. As Kowalkiewicz looked to roll to her knees in an attempt to stand, Gadelha climbed on her back, quickly sinking her first hook in before beginning to attack the neck.

Before Kowalkiewicz could start fighting the hands, Gadelha fished her arm under the chin and locked up a rear-naked choke, tightening her squeeze as she sunk in her second hook. A few seconds later, Kowalkiewicz tapped.

In a little more than three minutes, Gadelha had reminded everyone that she was still a force to be reckoned with in the strawweight ranks.