Despite recent form, the fact is simple. Polish striker Joanna Jędrzejczyk remains one of the most dominant champions in the history of the UFC. Before losing her strawweight championship to ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 two years ago, Muay Thai ace Jędrzejczyk had successfully lodged five title defenses in just three years. A slump as of late has seen the Olszytn native drop three of her last four fights, and this weekend in Tampa, she returns to 115 pounds to clash with Michelle Waterson, with certain title implications on the line.
It’s been a faltering career as of late for Jędrzejczyk, with a move to flyweight to reinvigorate her run proving unsuccessful. Meeting the dominant Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant title, Jędrzejczyk was taken down on cue, five times in fact, as she lost a rather one-sided unanimous decision. We’ve not only witnessed a drop off in terms of form for the Pole, but also the apparent aura of invincibility has been cracked.
Before her first meeting with the aforementioned Namajunas, Jędrzejczyk had undeniably laid waste to each and every title hopeful at 115 pounds, Jessica Andrade was dealt with, Claudia Gadelha was much more comfortably handled, before Jędrzejczyk handed compatriot Karolina Kowalkiewicz her first loss, leading many, myself included, to pick the 32-year-old to similarly outpoint Namajunas. Within the opening three minutes, Jędrzejczyk had twice found herself on her back with Namajunas shockingly stopping a five year undefeated streak.
In a much more competitive rematch the following April, The American Top Team mover was visibly shocked by the judge’s decision to hand ‘Thug’ Rose a unanimous decision and her first, and final title defense. Over the five-round co-headliner, Joanna did outland Namajunas, but a takedown for the Trevor Wittman trainee seems to have swayed the magistrate. Returning to winning ways against the then surging Tecia ‘Tiny Tornado’ Torres, Jędrzejczyk exacted a rather comfortable three-round showing as she turned up the pace.
When we study the offensive output from Joanna Jędrzejczyk, It’s obvious her Muay Thai and boxing proficiency is on a much higher level than her peers at strawweight. The Poland native has only managed two stoppages in the UFC, the first against inaugural champion Carla Esparza to claim the throne, and then Jessica Penne in her first title defense. Despite failing to score the finish since then, Jędrzejczyk has masterfully outpointed almost every challenger. With the utilisation of lengthy combinations, and front kicks, whether that be upstairs or down a flight, Joanna has set a pace which is rarely matched in her division.
A real benchmark of Jędrzejczyk’s striking acumen can be found in her victory over former champion Jessica Andrade. The Brazilian entered the contest surging with a three fight win streak, and in terms of striking and stopping power, fell heavily on the advantage side of the equation. Despite landing two takedowns over twenty-five minutes, Andrade was out-struck by an incredible one-hundred and forty-two strikes. Jędrzejczyk also has some of the best defensive sprawling and wrestling we’ve seen in recent years at strawweight, with an uncanny ability to defend a shot and immediately start trading.
Against Michelle Waterson, Jędrzejczyk tests her elite level Muay Thai base against a much more dynamic karate base and a striker who also possesses a dangerous submission game. Waterson has stopped the likes of Angela Magana and Paige van Zant via rear-naked choke during her Octagon stint, but faces a stern challenge forcing Jędrzejczyk to the mat, who on paper, holds the key in the footwork and lateral locomotion it seems.