TORONTO — For Joanna Jedrzejczyk, becoming the first female fighter to win UFC titles in two divisions is all the validation she needs to establish where she stands in the annals of MMA history.
At a press conference Wednesday at the Winter Garden Theatre, Jedrzejczyk and UFC 231 opponent Valentina Shevchenko were on hand to talk about the circumstances surrounding Saturday’s fight and Jedrzejczyk was confident that adding the vacant women’s flyweight championship to the strawweight belt that she successfully defended five consecutive times from 2015-2017 will cement her as the greatest female fighter of all time.
“After my victory on Saturday, I will prove that I am the GOAT of women’s MMA,” Jedrzejczyk said.
Given their history, there’s reason to be skeptical that Jedrzejczyk will just walk over Shevchenko. In three previous Muay Thai bouts between the two women (the most recent taking place a decade ago), it was Shevchenko who saw her hand raised every time.
Though Shevchenko was hesitant to anoint herself the favorite based on past results, she still provided a prediction for Saturday.
“For me, the result, already I know the result,” Shevchenko said. “And there’s no way that I will leave this city without the belt.”
“Of course, experience that I had in my Muay Thai victories over Joanna, it will bring me a lot,” she later added. “It’s one thing when you’re facing someone who you don’t know, you don’t know the power, the speed, and the rest. I know what to expect from Joanna. I know her power, I know her speed, and it’s totally fine with me that she’s ready 100 percent because I never was looking for a fight with a fighter who’s not ready for the fight.”
Should Jedrzejczyk defeat Shevchenko and lay claim to the “GOAT of women’s MMA” status that she covets, it raises the question of where the 31-year-old will go next. The women’s flyweight division is in its nascent stages and either Jedrzejczyk or Shevchenko could be the name to build it just as Jedrzejczyk did with the strawweight division.
Jedrzejczyk sounded thrilled with how the move to 125 has gone after having experienced difficult cuts down to 115 in the past.
“First thing I feel so happy and this camp I realized how difficult it is and how the weight cut and being on a strict diet for so many weeks can impact your body, your brain, and your performance,” Jedrzejczyk said. “So this camp was different because I was able to do more.
“Before every camp, I’m like ‘quality over quantity.’ But actually it was ‘quality and quantity’ every single day. Because I was eating clean and healthy, but more, I was able to train even harder. So I’m well prepared for this fight.”
Jedrzejczyk feeling like she’s in great condition can only be good news for Shevchenko, who had to deal with a nightmarish scenario in September. Shevchenko was scheduled to challenge inaugural champion Nicco Montano at UFC 228, but Montano was ruled unfit to compete after weight cut complications forced her to take a trip to the hospital less than 48 hours from fight night. That left Shevchenko without an opponent and another crack at UFC gold.
Montano was subsequently stripped of the title, opening the door for Jedrzejczyk and Shevchenko to compete for it. Asked how it felt to be facing someone with the pre-fight pedigree of Jedrzejczyk, Shevchenko expressed relief. She also noted that a scheduled UFC 231 bout between Katlyn Chookagian and Jessica Eye could produce a replacement challenger.
“It’s so good when you don’t have to think ‘what if?’ What if my opponent can’t make the weight? It’s the best that I can wish,” Shevchenko said. “But also I have good backups that the UFC decided to have one more fight at 125, just in case something happens, but I don’t think it will happen.
“Yes, I’m not only excited to have such a professional opponent like Joanna, but I’m excited to fight. This is what I want: to fight and never stop.”
Jedrzejczyk did not make a commitment to staying at 125 pounds when asked what would be left for her to achieve should she finally topple Shevchenko. The Polish star’s strawweight championship run ended at UFC 217 last November when she was TKO’d by Rose Namajunas and the rematch at UFC 223 again went Namajunas’s way, this time by unanimous decision.
Jedrzejczyk rebounded with a unanimous decision win over Tecia Torres in July, but all signs seemed to point to her making a permanent move to flyweight at some point. She wants to assure everyone that isn’t the case just yet and that she still sees herself as the one to beat at strawweight.
“Strawweights, bow down, I’m coming back next year,” Jedrzejczyk said. “What I’m hearing, there is a rumor, I’m hearing more Jessica Andrade facing Rose. Rose has only four months left to defend her belt, I don’t see another way [around] fighting for this belt. That’s it.”
“Who else you see? Who else? Who is left?” she asked. “I beat all of them. All of them.”