Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been both a champion and a challenger during her UFC career but she definitely knows which one she prefers.
After ruling over the strawweight division with an iron fist for over two years and five straight defenses of her title, Jedrzejczyk was proud to be considered one of the most dominant champions on the UFC roster.
Her reign came to an end in 2017 when she suffered a shocking upset loss to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 and that was the last time she tasted gold. In the two-plus years since losing her title, Jedrzejczyk has fought for both the strawweight and flyweight belts but came up short in each attempt.
At UFC 248, the 32-year-old Polish fighter will take another stab at winning back the 115-pound belt when she faces current champion Zhang Weili. While some ex-champions might try to put on a brave face when addressing the vacuum left in the wake of losing a title, Jedrzejczyk isn’t one of them.
In fact, she confesses that her desire to win back the belt on March 7 is even stronger than how much she wanted to hold onto the title during her previous reign as champion.
“Since I lost the belt, I became even more obsessed than when I was champion,” Jedrzejczyk told MMA Fighting. “With the belt, physically having the belt or not, you can act like the champ. You can be the champ. I made it to the elite. Not once but six times. I miss it.”
Now just because she’s missed being champion, Jedrzejczyk doesn’t discount the kind of career she’s already put together since joining the UFC roster in 2014.
She’s tied for the second most title defenses in the history of the women’s divisions alongside Amanda Nunes with both of them sitting just behind Ronda Rousey. Jedrzejczyk holds the most wins in the UFC strawweight division with 10 and obtaining records for the first, second, third and fourth most lopsided strike differentials in championship fights.
None of that is lost on Jedrzejczyk but as much as she appreciates what she’s done in the past, the future is what matters the most to her now.
“I’m looking forward,” Jedrzejcyzk said. “It’s going to be my 14th UFC fight and 10th UFC fight for the belt . It means a lot. It’s big. There’s not so many people with a legacy like this, with so many experiences. I keep it fresh because I want to fight for my dreams.”
In her attempt to win back the title at UFC 248, Jedrzejczyk will be facing arguably the most unknown opponent she’s faced since reaching the top of the strawweight division.
Zhang is still an anomaly in many regards despite winning the title last year in a stunning performance against Jessica Andrade. Prior to that performance, Zhang had only faced one other top 10 ranked opponent in Tecia Torres.
Jedrzejczyk concedes that Zhang has a very impressive record overall and she got the job done against Andrade when the opportunity presented itself to fight for the title in only her fourth UFC fight.
Then again, Jedrzejczyk faced Andrade for five rounds back in 2017 and she’s not certain that’s the same opponent Zhang blitzed with punches to earn a TKO win in just 42 seconds last August.
“Her ranking, her record is so good, 20-1, but records and rankings don’t fight,” Jedrzejczyk said. “She’s the champion. She’s right at the top and she’s the best strawweight in the world right now. She’s my next big challenge and I’m very happy to face the best. She’s very dangerous. She surprised the world. She did well in the fight with Jessica Andrade.
“I think that Jessica Andrade was not in her best shape when she faced Weili Zhang. What I heard from her camp, that they had so many problems in China with the weight cut. She couldn’t be focused on the proper weight cut and rehydration and then fight. It was a totally different Jessica Andrade in the fight with Weili Zhang. Like I said, she’s the champ. She’s training really, really hard. But she hasn’t faced someone like me yet.”
Whatever unknowns still surround Zhang heading into the fight, Jedrzejczyk is excited to test her strengths and do everything possible to expose her weaknesses.
“I will have to be smart in this fight and I will show my heart and we’re going to play my game but she hasn’t faced someone like me,” Jedrzejcyzk said. “My cardio is always good and I always improve from camp to camp.
“We’re going to check Weili Zhang in this fight. How is her condition and how she does in the real championship bout.”
If she’s successful at UFC 248, Jedrzejczyk will reclaim the title she’s coveted so much since losing it. A victory will also afford Jedrzejczyk one more luxury that she’s surely missed in the past few years.
“I just want to make some people’s lives easier because they are still struggling with my family name,” Jedrzejczyk said when referring to her previous nickname as “Joanna Champion.” “That should make it easier.
“I’m going to say it again, I’ve been in this business 17 years. Multiple time Muay Thai and European champion, six time UFC world champion and this one victory on March 7 is going to be bigger than my whole fighting career, all the titles, everything, all the accomplishments. It’s going to be bigger. I’m looking forward to stepping into the Octagon in the best shape ever and taking it.”