Joanna Jedrzejczyk went into her rematch against Zhang Weili at UFC 275 with every intention of winning and moving onto challenge for the strawweight title but there was a moment during her training camp where retirement crept across her mind.
The actual decision to call it a career didn’t come until after she suffered a knockout loss, but in her first interview since the fight, the former UFC champion admits the possibility existed as she set foot in the cage that night.
“I’m not going to lie — I was going to win,” Jedrzejczyk told MMA Fighting on Wednesday. “I was in my best shape ever but like I said so many weeks before the fight and even a few days before the fight during media that anything can happen and it happened. It happened to me that I went down.
“But before the fight, like during the camp, I had this moment that I was thinking about it. I was thinking about if something happened, I would retire and it happened. But of course, I was ready and motivated to win the fight and continue doing this. I just signed a new deal with the UFC, good money, good exposure and everything but it happened. It just happened. It was momentum because of what happened in the fight. If I lost on points, I could sit and think about it but I don’t want to waste my health. That’s the thing. That was the main thing. I don’t want to keep on losing myself because of what I am doing.”
During a two-year stretch where she was out of the sport following a five-round war with Zhang that earned them unanimous Fight of the Year awards in 2020, Jedrzejczyk acknowledged that her return to action had to be weighed against the long-term consequences that come along with fighting.
While she’s dealt with no serious health issues during her career, the 34-year-old veteran knows that damage from combat sports accumulates over time and the last thing she ever wanted to do was risk permanent harm to her brain or body.
As difficult as it was to announce her retirement, Jedrzejczyk is resolved in her decision.
“I always wanted to retire on my rules and I don’t want to be this gatekeeper,” Jedrzejczyk explained. “I don’t want to be this legend who is going to fight forever and forever and get beat up. That’s the thing. I accept where I am at, what my age is. The craziest thing about it is it was the best camp of my life. I was in the best shape ever. Stronger physically, mentally than before. That’s the craziest thing because I’m still having so much love for this sport and I don’t want to leave but somehow I have to take care of myself.
“We pick this sport, I chose to be a fighter and we have to pay the price. Sometimes you have to be smart enough to say enough to protect yourself for the future. That’s the thing. It’s hard. I’m still digesting my decision, and it isn’t easy, but somehow I’m happy.”
Since the fight ended, Jedrzejczyk hasn’t gone back to watch the knockout again, although she’s completely cognizant about what actually happened.
Technically speaking, Jedrzejczyk did everything correct in the sequence leading up to the spinning backfist that ended her night, which strangely enough allowed her to accept the defeat.
“This is what makes me think about fighting more because I got caught and this sport is brutal and beautiful at the same time,” Jedrzejczyk said. “But I didn’t see it. You know what’s funny? This knockout felt like one of the cartoon knockouts when you are out but still processing. That was the funny thing, when I was going down, down, down, I was kind of sober but when I saw the highlight, I was not sober. I was out but the funny thing is ‘you were knocked out, you fall, you go down.’ I had this [in my head], what happened? How? I got caught.
“This is what I mean. I got caught. I didn’t see this punch. I couldn’t see because I cut the angle, I switched the position and she came with the backfist or the spinning elbow or whatever.”
Ahead of UFC 275, Jedrzejczyk had actually inked a new multi-fight deal with the UFC that she absolutely planned to fulfill with expectations that she would be competing at least twice per year moving forward.
The knockout served as a sobering reminder just how quickly things can change in this sport and Jedrzejczyk realized that there’s no amount of money or championship belts that are worth exchanging for her longterm health.
“It was surprising what happened,” Jedrzejczyk said. “To me and to all of us, but like I said, there is the other side of this sport who fighters know only about. It’s the health side. That’s the thing. I don’t want to cross this line in my life and have these concussions or these health issues.
“I can make more money. I can get more exposure, but I can’t buy health. I will not be able to buy extra health in the game, extra life. That’s the thing. I can’t go easy. If I go, I go 100 percent. It’s just scary as hell. We can get all this damage.”
Because retirement and a subsequent return to action are so commonplace in MMA, Jedrzejczyk understands there will be a lot of questions about the chances that she’ll eventually comeback to fight again.
In her heart, Jedrzjeczyk would love nothing more than to put the gloves back on, climb into the cage and do battle with another foe, but as appealing as that might be, she always swore to herself that there would be no second chances once she called it a career.
With several businesses outside the cage as well as a desire to move into management, Jedrzejczyk has plenty to keep her busy even if she’ll always miss fighting.
“It is [done], for now it is,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I always promised myself if I leave this sport, I will leave it forever. It’s hard but sometimes I wake up and in the morning I’m like I would love to be back. Why am I doing this? That’s the hard part. For now, I’m done. I’m very happy.
“I’m flying to Vegas tomorrow, I hope I will sit and talk to Dana [White] and [American Top Team owner] Dan Lambert as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing all of them and talk to all of them and talk about the future a little bit. I need to stick to my decision because there is so many things which are making me go more into this sport and even keep on fighting but like I said, health is most important. I’m not having any issues like I’m hiding something. I’m not having any issues.”
As difficult as it’s been to realize that her fighting days are behind her, Jedrzejczyk says there’s at least one person in her life who was very happy to hear the news that she was done being punched for a living.
“My mom, she’s super happy,” Jedrzejczyk said with a smile. “She’s the happiest person in the world right now that her lovely daughter retired from this brutal sport. I’m always going to be a child for mom.”