Poland’s UFC strawweight belt-holder is one of the most dominant champions in the UFC, and she’s all set to tie UFC legend Ronda Rousey’s title defense record on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden
Joanna Jedrzejczyk stands 25 minutes (or less) from greatness. Many believe she’s already there.
The Polish strawweight star says she’s planning to smash Rousey’s record, then look to win a second belt in the UFC’s newly-launched flyweight division.
But first she has to deal with American Rose Namajunas, who has developed remarkably since she unsuccessfully challenged for the vacant title in the UFC’s inaugural strawweight title fight.
Don’t sleep on Namajunas’ striking
Namajunas will pose Jedrzejczyk a set of problems she’s rarely seen in her career. Namajunas has finished three of her last four wins by submission, and her attacking grappling has been arguably the best in the division over the last 18 months.
But to get the fight to the mat Namajunas needs serviceable striking, and it’s in that field that she’s made huge improvements.
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The Denver-based challenger has been working her game under the tutelage of veteran striking coach Trevor Wittman and now has the sort of surprising striking game that can catch an opponent unaware.
In her most recent fight against Michelle Waterson, Namajunas was expected to go to her impressive submission game to find victory, and indeed the fight did end via rear-naked choke. But the moment that turned the fight came with the pair engaged in a striking exchange.
A huge head kick from Namajunas dropped Waterson, spelling the beginning of the end for "The Karate Hottie" as "Thug Rose" asserted herself as the undisputed top contender for the title. Waterson was expected to have the edge on the feet during that contest, but it was Namajunas’ striking that proved the fight winner.
All about levels
Jedrzejczyk’s striking game is vastly different to that of Waterson, however. While Waterson’s karate-based style is very selective, Jedrzejczyk comes at her opponents like an out-of-control buzzsaw. But with "Joanna Champion," everything is under complete control.
The defending champion throws big volume with stinging power. She may not be a one-punch knockout artist (few are in the UFC’s 115lb division), but every shot is designed to hurt her opponent and gradually break them down.
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She’s broken down each of her opponents in the UFC so far, some more destructively than others. She destroyed Carla Esparza on the feet as the inaugural champion was lit up like a Christmas tree before the referee ended the fight. And against Jessica Penne in Germany, Jedrzejczyk dished out one of the most one-sided sustained beatings we’ve seen in a UFC title fight.
Jedrzejczyk’s game has evolved, too. Her takedown defense is top-notch and her movement and shot selection – already impressive in her early UFC appearances – is even sharper than before. Her decision to switch to American Top Team in Florida seems to have taken Jedrzejczyk’s game to a new level, and that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the division.
Built to last
When it comes to the fighters’ respective gas tanks, the champion has no issues, while the challenger still remains largely untested in the championship rounds.
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Namajunas has been past the third round just once in her career – against Paige VanZant in their main event clash in December 2015 – while Jedrzejczyk’s title reign has seen her go the full 25-minute duration in each of her last four title fights.
And with Namajunas as tough as they come, it’s likely this fight could make it all the way to the judges on Saturday night.
There’s no stopping ‘Joanna Champion’
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Namajunas has made great strides to improve her game, and it’s taken her to the top of the division, bar one.
Jedrzejczyk is in a class of her own at the top of the UFC’s strawweight division, and I’m expecting the Polish star to show exactly why on Saturday night, with another performance of blistering striking, sharp takedown defense and a relentless five-round pace driving her all the way to a decision victory.
PICK: Jedrzejczyk via decision
[Main photo credit: © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports ]
Go Embedded at UFC 217
Follow the build-up to UFC 217 right here on Sports Action as we lead in to the fights with daily previews and behind-the-scenes footage from the UFC.
On day four of the UFC’s "Embedded" video blog, the fighters face the media in a punishing schedule of appearances, interviews and obligations ahead of their respective title fights.