Joanna Jedrzejczyk definitely had different expectations for the rematch between Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza ahead of UFC 274.
In a prediction made when speaking to MMA Fighting, the ex-UFC strawweight champion picked Namajunas to earn a “first-round finish” but there was no knockout, no submission and, truth be told, very little action over five rounds before Esparza eked out a split decision win to reclaim the 115-pound title.
While the fight didn’t play out the way she expected, Jedrzjeczyk, who returns for a rematch against Zhang Weili at UFC 275, still believes Namajunas did enough to secure the victory. However, she definitely wasn’t impressed by what she saw out of Esparza over five rounds.
“I was very surprised,” Jedrzejczyk told MMA Fighting at the UFC 275 pre-fight press conference. “Because sometimes you have to do more, you have to do much more to beat the champion but you know I can speak for myself. I can’t speak for Rose but I don’t know what happened. When you feel that the first round wasn’t good and the second [round], you have to do something. Sometimes you have to risk to get the victory even paying a big price. I don’t know what happened. Until the end of the fight, I thought that Rose got it but no and here we go.
“Like Carla, I really thought she was going to look better and I was like this girl deserved the title shot, she had so many [fights] on her win streak but for me, she looked the same as seven years ago when we fought for the belt in Dallas. History likes to make a circle and [I’m] soon to be champ.”
Jedrzejczyk was the person who dethroned Esparza with a brutal second-round knockout after Esparza became the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion following The Ultimate Fighter season 20.
She went onto defend the title five times, which remains the record for the division, and Jedrzejczyk has been anxious for an opportunity to reclaim the belt, a desire that only blossomed further after watching Esparza become champion again.
“I know how big my legacy is,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I have received so many messages from Polish people, from people all over the world after the fight [at UFC 274] and some of them are like ‘I’m so sorry, I was hating on you because you took a few losses but you’re the real GOAT. I didn’t know you were holding the belt for such a long time.’ That’s the thing, people are like, ‘You are not the queen anymore.’ Yes, I’m the queen of the strawweight division. I put on hell of a work and lots of effort building this division. It’s the lightest division in the UFC but people watching the strawweights and we always put on great fights. Me, Weili Zhang, Rose and other girls as well.
“After this weekend, I feel even more motivated. I’m tired because I have been training so hard for my fight with Weili Zhang since January. I got back to American Top Team in the middle of January and I’ve been training from 11 to 13 times a week in the last four months. Before the weekend, I was like I need to make some adjustments in my training schedule but after what I have seen at UFC 274, I’m more motivated and I just want to do more to win.”
Jedrzejczyk also sent some words of encouragement to Namajunas after a tough outing this past Saturday because she’s endured some devastating losses of her own over the years.
“This is a tough business and I feel so sorry for Rose,” Jedrzejczyk said. “She doesn’t have to be sorry. It’s a tough business. It looks easy and that’s the craziest [thing] about this sport. It’s the beauty of this sport that we perform, that we train. We do the weight cuts. We don’t see our family, friends for a long time and sometimes when you step into the octagon it’s not your night.
“I took big losses in my fighting career but it doesn’t define you. You have to keep your head up and change some things and get back right to the top. It’s taken a while but I’m super motivated, disciplined and ready for my upcoming fight with Weili Zhang.”
UFC President Dana White has already targeted the fight between Jedrzejczyk and Zhang as a potential No. 1 contender’s bout with the winner likely to draw the first shot at Esparza as the new champion.
That’s what Jedrzejczyk already expected heading into UFC 275, but now it’s upped the ante as she seeks revenge against Zhang with plans to then take the title away from Esparza for a second time.
“I know it’s the right time,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I’m in the right place to be back right to the top, to having this belt.”