Joanna Jedrzejczyk isn’t much for predictions, but she has a strong feeling how the UFC 274 co-main event will play out.
The fight for the strawweight title will be a rematch between reigning champion Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza, who first met back in 2014 after season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter. On that night, Esparza wrapped up a third-round submission win to become the first UFC champion at 115 pounds but her reign ended just three months later when she fell to Jedrzejczyk by knockout.
Jedrzejczyk also has plenty of experience with Namajunas through two past fights together, which perhaps plays some part in her strong feeling towards the outcome she expects on Saturday night.
“I don’t like predictions but I think Rose Namajunas first-round finish,” Jedrzejczyk told MMA Fighting. “You know I see Carla Esparza shooting and Rose defending the takedown and submitting her. But her footwork and her strikes are so crispy and juicy and [Rose] can knock her out [as well].
“I feel like Carla Esparza can’t handle it but she’s the next challenger, the contender for the strawweight belt and she deserves the shot. She’s right there at the top and let’s see what’s going to happen.”
Based on the current betting lines, Namajunas is a solid favorite to beat Esparza, who comes into the fight off five straight wins including a dominant finish over Yan Xiaonan in her last outing.
Despite that streak, Jedrzejczyk just believes Namajunas is on another level as she currently defends the title in her second reign as champion and she’s a much better fighter than the one Esparza faced nearly eight years ago.
“She’s a different fighter right now,” Jedrzejczyk said about Namajunas. “She has an amazing coach and amazing people around her and she’s training really hard and she’s right there. She’s the champ. She’s the greatest right now. She’s in her prime and that’s nice. That’s good to see.”
With her own fight scheduled against Zhang Weili at UFC 275 in June, Jedrzejczyk is hopeful that a win will put her back in line for another title shot as she also seeks to become a two-time UFC champion.
While she has suffered two losses to Namajunas in the past, Jedrzejczyk is confident that if she’s declared as the No. 1 contender that a third fight between them will happen.
As much as she considers Namajunas a rival inside the cage, Jedrzjeczyk has nothing but the utmost respect for her as a champion and as a competitor, which is why she knows “Thug Rose” would never back down from a challenge.
“I believe yes [she would face me again],” Jedrzejczyk said. “Cause Rose, she doesn’t run away from fights. She knows what it means to be the champ.
“Perfect plan to fight in Madison Square Garden in November for the belt with Rose Namajunas would be nice. To get revenge there.”
New York City was the site where Jedrzejczyk fell to Namajunas in their first encounter back in 2017 so it would mean a lot to her for the trilogy to take place in the same building.
Of course, Jedrzjeczyk fully understands there are plenty of contenders vying for that same opportunity but she believes her resume combined with a win over Zhang in June should trump any argument against her receiving another title shot.
“There are so many up and coming prospects and I hear this all the time ‘she don’t deserve this, she doesn’t deserve this or that or she doesn’t deserve the rematch!’” Jedrzejczyk said. “But there are so many up and coming prospects but when they hit the top three, top five, top two [in the rankings], they go down. There is the elite.
“Of course, it gets changed every once in a while but there’s these gatekeepers to the championship fights. I feel like I’m there and that’s why there are so many rematches because some of the gatekeepers, they fight the lower ranked fighters and somehow they test them to see if they deserve to be top three or not. This is how it is. When you look at the history, you’re going to agree with me.”
Whether it’s Namajunas or Esparza holding onto the strawweight title after May 7, Jedrzjeczyk isn’t lost on the task at hand when it comes to her own career but she expects good things to come her way with a win in her next fight.
“I know after I beat Weili Zhang, I will get the title shot,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I didn’t want to push to fight Rose Namajunas cause I knew that Carla Esparza was going to be next and I had to wait a long time. I just want to fight.
“Like I said so many months ago, I just want to fight and fight the best and it’s happening. Weili Zhang is right there.”