It seems odd that we’re already in position to discuss women’s mixed martial arts and history.
After all, while women have competed in the sport since its earliest days, and had a national platform dating back to Gina Carano’s stardom a decade ago, they’ve only been front and center in the sport’s biggest promotion, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, for just over four years.
So discussing the greatest women’s fighter in history at this point might seem a bit like going back to the late 1990s and debating whether or not founding father Royce Gracie had been surpassed in the cage.
But after UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk put on yet another well-rounded display of dominance on Saturday night at UFC 211 against Jessica Andrade, it’s fair to put this topic on the table.
The 29-year-old native of Olsztyn, Poland, patiently parried her aggressive foe’s initial outburst, then pitched a shutout, earning scores of 50-45, 50-44 and 50-44.
That kept the fighter dubbed “Joanna Champion” undefeated at 14-0, and it was also her fifth successful UFC strawweight title defense, putting her one shy of the UFC women’s record held by former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey.
“I’m not happy even after a good training session because I know I can do better,” Jedrzejczyk said at the UFC 211 post-fight news conference in Dallas. “There’s always something to change and do better. So that’s why I’m going to keep on defending this belt. I feel like I stepped on a different level.”
If that’s not bad enough news for the rest of the division, then consider these stats, complied by MMAJunkie.com: Jedrzejczyk has outlanded her opponents 971-328 in significant strikes in her past six appearances. She landed 225 significant strikes against Andrade, breaking her own mark of 220 set against Valerie Letorneau at UFC 193. And the champ landed 75 leg kicks, beating her own mark of 70, also against Letourneau.
And while she has one more title defense to catch Rousey’s record, her eight UFC victories are already the most for any woman in UFC history, regardless of weight class.
Jedrzejczyk will never match Rousey’s level of stardom, but it’s clear she has blown past the former champ in terms of skills. Rousey was, essentially, a one-trick pony who did her trick very well, but was exposed as soon as fighters saw through her aura of intimidation and discovered she didn’t like to be hit.
Jedrzejczyk has no such glaring flaws. Her performance against Andrade was a symphony of movement, leaving Andrade flustered at every turn. The damage from her ruthless leg kicks added up as the fight went on. One of the sport’s best jabs kept Andrade from breaking through. And on the rare occasion Andrade found herself in close, she was pelted with a barrage of strikes.
We’ve moved on to the next generation in women’s fighting, and with it, the next level of skills. It may take a few more fights to bestow upon the strawweight champ the “greatest of all-time” title, but there’s little denying she’s well on her way.
(Cris “Cyborg” Justino – 17-1, 1 NC – the other name often cited in these discussions, was suspended for a year following a positive steroid test after a 2011 bout, an asterisk on an undeniably splendid in-the-ring record. She was also granted a retroactive exemption for a prohibited substance following an initial USADA suspension late last year).
“It was like surgery in there,” UFC president Dana White told Fox Sports 1. “I mean, she was, her standup is unbelievable. She completely picked her apart. Leg kicks, head kicks, the jab, the hands, unbelievable movement. She fought a perfect fight.”
White isn’t ready to declare the strawweight division cleaned out, but he also can’t deny what he sees.
“We’ve had these conversations in the past, there’s always someone coming up,” White said. “She’s coming up on her sixth title defense to tie Ronda Rousey.”
Unlike several UFC champions over the years from outside North America who have made minimal effort to learn English and raise their profile here – then turned around and wonder why they’re not bigger stars than they are – Jedrzejczyk is going out of her way to build her profile in the United States. That included moving her camp full-time to the elite American Top Team camp and stepping up her media appearances.
“That’s why I moved to the U.S., that’s why I moved to ATT – because I want to build my brand in the U.S.,” Jedrzejczyk said. “MMA in Poland is very big, but there are other organizations. The UFC is going to be for the second time in Poland this year. People know a lot about my MMA, but I feel like I’m an international champion. The UFC is simply the best organization in the world, and most of the shows are here in the United States.
“I feel like I need to be here [to] build my brand,” she continued. “I just signed with new management, I met a few agents and I want to put on more outside the gym, outside the Octagon. But the most important thing is to work hard and to keep defending the belt.”
As long as she maintains that mindset, when all’s said and done, the title of women’s GOAT could just be hers.
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