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For Poland’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk, straws are for haymakers

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

No offense to Anthony Pettis, who during the Great Adjective Drought of 2015 still gets called "dynamic" a dozen times a day, but Poland’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk is the warm spring wind. She sort of stole not only this fight week in Dallas for UFC 185, but also the "Welcome to the Show" event a couple of weeks ago in Los Angeles, when the masterpiece of women’s MMA Ronda Rousey was getting set to fight Cat Zingano.

Who is Joanna Jędrzejczyk?

Apparently a very cordial headhunter with a name that’s cruel and hard to master. At the weigh-ins on Friday, Jędrzejczyk was so thoughtful in remembering that strawweight champion Carla Esparza had a sweet tooth -- and in particular, a specific fondness for baked treats -- that she brought her a cookie to the scale. Esparza, who is a smashmouth wrestler with the worst intentions, admitted that was a first. Jędrzejczyk was even so good as to point out that the cookies were not laced with cyanide or arsenic or really anything other than the most wholesome ingredients.

In the fight game, respect can show up in the margins.

But what’s fun about Jędrzejczyk as she heads into the co-main event of a major North American pay-per-view is that it’s almost like she’s just bumping along to the ride, like a European tourist taking in all the fresh sights and sounds. Even when she appeared on stage in overalls like the fourth (and forgotten) member of Bell Biv Devoe she came across as genuine. Everything with Jędrzejczyk is wide eyed and bushy tailed. We don’t even mind tripping over all the consonants in trying to pronounce her name (put simply, it’s yun-zhay-check, with indifference on the last vowel).

That’s where we stand in the novelty.

And really, Jędrzejczyk’s sort of enthusiasm can only come with strange circumstances. After all, she is in Dallas because of a verdict that went her way. Back in December, she fought the nearly 3-to-1 favorite Claudia Gadelha in Phoenix, and – in a very entertaining bout in which she showed off her range of striking skills and some key takedown defense -- scored a narrow decision (narrow enough that some called it a heist).

She was supposed to be Gadelha in Dallas.

And what’s fun about the fight in general is that Esparza, who won season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter to become the first strawweight champion in UFC history, was meant to be Rose Namajunas. It was the young "Thug Rose" Namajunas who was being whispered about as the "next Ronda Rousey" as the show caught up to real time.  

Esparza was supposed to be Namajunas.  

When your two principals are that defiant of narratives, you can’t help but think it will play out as a memorable encounter. You can go ahead and blink (let’s not be paranoid), but I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that Saturday night’s co-main event will not be boring. It’s a true collision of styles, with Esparza’s nullifying wrestling and Jędrzejczyk’s wallop.

Does the American wrestler take out the colorful striker, as we’ve seen so many times before? Maybe. But if Esparza doesn’t, just like that Poland has a UFC champion. Which would be historic, and sudden, and weird, and global…and ultimately a little untimely.

When Zingano fought Rousey at UFC 184 in Los Angeles, it was similar for the challenger. Two weeks earlier, on Valentine’s Day, the UFC visited Broomfield, Colorado, where Zingano is from. Less than a month after Jędrzejczyk fights Esparza, the UFC visits Poland for the first time (April 11). She won’t appear on that card. All these near misses.

But should she defeat Esparza in Dallas, she will appear in Poland with the strawweight belt, which is the next best thing. At that point we can call her Joanna "Champ," as she suggested we can, just to untie the American tongue. She’s thoughtful that way. Always looking out.

Whatever happens, Joanna Jędrzejczyk -- the surprise hit of UFC 184 and UFC 185, the one with the overalls, the baked goods and the Mutombo finger wag -- has endeared herself to the fight game, which always rolls out the welcome mat for such characters.

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