Every fight week starts with a simple question: who is the better fighter? It’s the basis of the sport, and it makes for the most impassioned and meaningful debate. Surrounding it like satellites are tertiary questions that range from meaningless to critical. Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s week at UFC Tampa started with the latter.
Days before the event, it was reported that Jedrzejczyk informed the UFC that her weight cut was hitting a danger zone, and that she may not make the contractually obligated maximum weight of 116 pounds. Furthermore, her opponent Michelle Waterson indicated that she was not willing to fight Jedrzejczyk at a rearranged catch weight. For a minute there, the existence of the main event hung in the balance.
Jedrzejczyk, though, has always had a little bit of troll in her. Remember when she gave Carla Esparza an expired cookie on the weigh-in stage prior to their March 2015 championship match? Or when, before fighting Jessica Penne in June of the same year, she posted a photo showing her gorging herself on penne pasta?
Come to think of it, a lot of Jedrzejczyk’s greatest hits revolve around food, eating and weight, don’t they? This week’s edition was a play on the same thing, and after comfortably making weight on Friday morning, she insisted the whole incident was a simple mind game.
Whether it truly played a factor in the fight or not, only Waterson knows for sure; the rest of us can only speculate about it. One thing not up for debate was Jedrzejczyk performance, and how it felt like a return to her days at the top of the pecking order. For 25 minutes, she served up a masterclass in distance management, strike selection and pacing, and by the end, it was a one-sided route that served as a reminder that Jedrzejczyk is still very much in the championship mix.
It was not too long ago that Jedrzejczyk seemed unbeatable. After routing the rugged Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 in May 2017 — her fifth UFC strawweight championship defense — she appeared to have a great shot of surpassing Ronda Rousey’s women’s record of six straight title defenses. Next time out though, she was stunned by Rose Namajunas, who knocked her out in less than one round, kicking off a span where Jedrzejczyk lost three out of four fights.
It was the kind of tailspin fight observers have watched from other longtime champions upon losing the belt, and to many, it signified the possibility that Jedrzejczyk’s days as an elite contender were over.
After watching her clinical and systematic dissection of Waterson, though, it appears such conclusions were premature. Jedrzejczyk has only ever lost to Namajunas and Valentina Shevchenko – two superb fighters – and has not slid back to the secondary pack just yet. Waterson came into the match riding the best stretch of her UFC career with a three-fight win streak. But Jedrzejczyk dismantled her from the opening moments to the closing horn.
Jedrzejczyk is a dynamic striker, but there are two things she does consistently well: She finds and exploits vulnerable areas, and she throws out copious volume.
Against Waterson, the kicks were the thing. Jedrzejczyk landed 78 leg kicks in the five-round match, this despite reportedly breaking her right foot in the second round. While that was a meaningful target, Jedrzejczyk did an excellent job in mixing up her offense, giving Waterson plenty to think about in obfuscating her intended target. During the course of the match, she nearly doubled up Waterson’s output, pumping out 347 strikes to Waterson’s 174. (By comparison, Jedrzejczyk actually tripled up Waterson in landed strikes, with 226 to Waterson’s 71.)
While this looked like the Jedrzejczyk of old, her performance also served as a declaration for the future. All week long, Jedrzejczyk reminded fans and media that she still considers herself to be the best fighter in the strawweight division. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to completely disregard such recent failures in such a public way, but Jedrzejczyk has always been a go big or go home type of woman. Nothing has changed there.
“Who’s the real queen?” she asked rhetorically after the fight. “Hell yeah, hell yeah. Bow down, I’m the real queen!”
Some things never change. But some things evolve, and this was the kind of complete performance that could certainly serve to convince the powers that be that Jedrzejczyk belongs back in the championship conversation. A matchup with new champion Zhang Weili would be a fresh pairing, and even if someone like Tatiana Suarez gets first dibs, Jedrzejczyk is solidly in line right behind her. Meaning that in just a day, the biggest question around her might have shifted from championship weight to championship wait.