Undefeated and dominant, Joanna Jedrzejczyk seeks Rousey’s record and UFC’s loftiest ranks

By Katie Barnes | Nov Three, 2017

Mike Stocker for ESPN

Joanna Jedrzejczyk will defend her strawweight belt for the sixth time in opposition to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 on Saturday.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk climbs off her bike and wheels it by the doorways of American Top Team (ATT), a blended martial arts fitness center in Coconut Creek, Florida. She rides the 4 miles between her home and the fitness center extra mornings than not.

With her darkish hair pulled up in a excessive ponytail that sits to the left aspect of her head, and fingernails blazed pink, she does not essentially appear to be the dominant fighter she’s identified to be. As a strawweight, her stature is not notably imposing, and he or she initiatives kindness. She wears a royal-blue tank high and sky-colored shorts. She nearly appears like she might be heading to the seashore.

Jedrzejczyk smiles and waves earlier than giving fist bumps to everybody within the foyer. She stops to signal a fan’s shirt and invitations her to look at the morning’s sparring session.

Two huge posters dangle on the wall, seen to all who enter the fitness center. One is from UFC 200, when ATT fighter and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes first gained her belt in opposition to Miesha Tate. The different is from UFC 205 — the primary UFC occasion at Madison Square Garden — which featured Jedrzejczyk together with ATT teammate and welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.

Jedrzejczyk, 30, now not goes by her full title on UFC combat posters; now she’s merely listed as “Joanna.” Since being topped the strawweight champion in 2015, Jedrzejczyk (14-Zero) has defended her belt 5 instances. If she does so for the sixth time in opposition to Rose Namajunas (6-Three) at UFC 217 on Saturday, the feat would tie Ronda Rousey’s report of consecutive title defenses. Simply by entering into the Octagon at Madison Square Garden this weekend, Jedrzejczyk will set the report for many title fights by a lady.

“Everyone knows who Joanna is,” UFC president Dana White says.

That sentiment, although, actually applies solely to MMA followers.

Yes, Jedrzejczyk has dominated her weight clbad since capturing the belt, vanquishing each high contender who crosses her path. But her ascendancy has been overshadowed, with a lot of her profession occurring amid Rousey mania. She has but to realize the sort of culturally penetrating movie star attained by Conor McGregor or Rousey, and her fights do not carry the identical frenzied sensation.

Tying Rousey’s title protection report and breaking her report of profitable title fights simply would possibly show that Jedrzejczyk is price all hype Rousey obtained — after which some.

“Skillwise, she’s light-years ahead,” says Mike Brown, certainly one of Jedrzejczyk’s main coaches. “I think Joanna should be just as big, if not bigger, than Ronda.”

Mike Stocker for ESPN

Gezary Matuda, left, is likely one of the world’s greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters and poses a problem for Joanna Jedrzejczyk in coaching.

After a fast become coaching garments, Jedrzejczyk begins her morning session by grappling with Gezary Matuda, one of many world’s greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters. She has gained three world championships in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and her shirt reads “Greatest of All Time.”

“Every camp, I prefer to get beat up,” Jedrzejczyk says. “[Matuda] has submitted me so many times, she and other fighters. They give me a lesson to be a better fighter.”

Jedrzejczyk and Matuda grapple from completely different positions, attentively noticed by Brown’s fellow ATT coach Vitelmo “Katel” Kubis. Jedrzejczyk on high. Matuda on high. They push and pull in opposition to one another. It does not appear to be a lot is occurring, however the pressure of trying to find leverage is evident. Their ponytails are falling out, and grimaces pull at their lips. At one level Matuda climbs up Jedrzejczyk’s again, pulling her in opposition to the wall. Matuda’s forearm presses in opposition to Jedrzejczyk’s neck. One of Namajunas’ most harmful instruments is a rear bare choke submission. If Jedrzejczyk finds herself in a susceptible second within the Octagon on Saturday, Namajunas may finish it together with her elbow squeezing in opposition to Jedrzejczyk’s throat.

“If you give her your back for just a second, [Namajunas is] very good at jumping on and landing that choke,” Brown says. “Even if she doesn’t get under your chin, she has such a tight squeeze, it feels like it will dislocate or you can’t get any air in.”

After every spherical, Jedrzejczyk sits and recovers as Brown and Kubis give extra suggestions and steering. Brown demonstrates how he needs Jedrzejczyk to flee Matuda’s maintain, and the alternative ways she will rise up from the ground. Though Brown says that Jedrzejczyk is a proficient grappler, it is no secret she’s most deadly on her ft.

Mike Stocker for ESPN

Joanna Jedrzejczyk leads your entire UFC in strike differential at four.44. For each strike her opponent lands, Jedrzejczyk lands four.44 strikes.

Working with athletes like Matuda is likely one of the causes Jedrzejczyk got here to ATT from Poland. This is her third camp with the fitness center, and Brown says that her takedown protection and wrestling have already improved considerably. What makes Jedrzejczyk so robust is that she’s at all times bettering. She actively seeks suggestions and listens to her coaches. “I know fighters with 10 losses who are more closed-minded than her,” Brown says.

After ending with Matuda, Jedrzejczyk spars with Chris Navarro, a bantamweight fighter who trains at ATT. The distinction between the 2 clbades is obvious. Against Matuda, Jedrzejczyk labored to higher herself in opposition to a formidable opponent. Standing up with Navarro, Jedrzejczyk is clearly the superior fighter. She pummels him with a flurry of punches, ducking out of the way in which as he tries to return the favor.

Jedrzejczyk does not land the sort of hits that create a thunderclap of her fist connecting together with his physique. That’s probably not her fashion. Jedrzejczyk does not overcome fighters rapidly. Though she’s completely able to successful by knockout or submission, her final 4 wins have all come by resolution. She takes challengers the space, sporting them down the old style means — by repeatedly beating the snot out of them. Jedrzejczyk leads your entire UFC, no matter gender, in strike differential at four.44. For each strike her opponent lands per minute, Jedrzejczyk lands four.44 strikes. 

Navarro catches his breath in opposition to the fence lining the sparring space. His chest heaves. Jedrzejczyk calmly permits Kubis to provide her some water and accepts recommendation from her coaches.

“She’s so fast,” Navarro says. “She’s like a bad.”

Mike Stocker for ESPN

More usually than not, Joanna Jedrzejczyk makes the four-mile journey between the fitness center and her house on her bicycle.

Jedrzejczyk lives with Paulina Discepolo Indara and Michelle Ingels, her nutritionists from Perfecting Athletes, in an unbaduming, single-story house. Artwork collected from around the globe decorates the partitions, and the pots and pans Indara makes use of to arrange Jedrzejczyk’s meals dangle from the cabinets within the kitchen. Coconut and Jasmine, two Maltese canine who additionally stay in the home, rush Jedrzejczyk as she exits her room.

Freshly showered after her morning coaching and subsequent bike journey house, Jedrzejczyk sits on the desk together with her recent cup of espresso — a favourite indulgence. Coconut spreads out on the floor of the desk. In view is the Polish Women’s Health journal, which options Jedrzejczyk on the duvet, in addition to her guide, “Wojowniczka.” The title interprets to “warrior.”

Poland continues to be Jedrzejczyk’s house. Her household, most of her buddies and her fiancé are there. And when she’s house, there is a inflexible media schedule that limits her leisure time. When she retires, Jedrzejczyk needs to open a espresso store and get a charitable basis off the bottom.

Just a couple of months in the past, retirement felt nearer. The put on and tear of the combat sport is actual, however she feels the employees at ATT are the proper folks to badist her continue to grow. She nonetheless thinks about retirement generally. She really thinks about it each camp as she places her physique by the wringer. During the toughest weeks, she thinks that this combat, whichever one she is prepping for, would be the final. It hasn’t caught but, although. The excessive of victory is difficult to shake.

There are UFC alternatives actively pushing Jedrzejczyk ahead. Earlier this 12 months, the UFC introduced plans to open a ladies’s flyweight division (125 kilos), and Jedrzejczyk hasn’t been shy about eager to compete at that weight. To be clear, she has no want to depart strawweight, however she needs each belts, one thing that has tempted a number of elite feminine fighters because the UFC continues to open new lessons.

Holding belts in two divisions is one thing no lady within the UFC has performed. But the concept of that and breaking data have pushed retirement — as soon as seemingly on the horizon — additional away. As lengthy as her physique holds up and he or she continues to have extra good days than dangerous, there is not any purpose to badume that “Joanna Champion” goes to hold it up anytime quickly. “Today is a good day,” she says, petting Coconut.

Mike Stocker for ESPN

Joanna Jedrzejczyk lives in Florida together with her two nutritionists. But her native Poland continues to be house — her household, buddies and fiance are all nonetheless there.

An extended profession means extra alternatives for losses, however Jedrzejczyk does not appear involved. After all, she put her personal undefeated report on the road when she stepped up at UFC 213 and supplied to combat Valentina Shevchenko for the ladies’s flyweight title after Nunes pulled out the day of the combat as a consequence of sickness.

It may have come throughout as a publicity stunt, as the potential for getting all the clearances to make such a combat occur was slim, however Jedrzejczyk was completely critical.

“I only had one thing on my mind — rescue the show,” Jedrzejczyk says. “Go there and give people what they want. I knew that I was not in shape, but it wasn’t important. I wanted to show to the UFC that I’m there for them, even if I was going to lose.”

“Fans love real fighters,” White says. “People who will fight anyone, anytime. Joanna has that about her and people know it.”

Jedrzejczyk established her dedication to the UFC in her first title protection by stepping as much as Jessica Penne on brief discover after one of many headline fighters, Alexander Gustafsson, was injured. She gained handily.

To present his appreciation, White introduced Jedrzejczyk into his workplace, the place he had laid out 30 pairs of sneakers only for her. Jedrzejczyk couldn’t imagine the sneakers had been for her; she was taken fully abruptly. She advised him to “never makes jokes about sneakers.” To her, it confirmed simply how a lot White cared. He may have gotten her any variety of issues, however he bought her one thing he knew she’d love.

“He showed to me that he knows me, that he knows his athletes,” Jedrzejczyk says.

The provide to combat Shevchenko echoed Rousey’s resolution to combat Holm in Australia at UFC 193. She was requested to rescue the cardboard after Robbie Lawler injured his thumb, and he or she stated sure. The chief distinction, nevertheless, is that Jedrzejczyk was not requested; she volunteered to place herself and her report in that place.

That is, maybe, the first distinction between Rousey and Jedrzejczyk. Rousey’s undefeated report and presumed indestructability had been integral to her stardom, however she in the end could not go untouched. McGregor has misplaced fights; so have Demetrious Johnson and Georges St-Pierre. Sports occur. People lose. One day, even Jedrzejczyk would possibly lose. Though she thinks that’s unlikely.

“It didn’t happen for Ronda, but I believe I will retire undefeated,” Jedrzejczyk says. “I want this. It is my dream and my goal, and I follow my dreams. I make it happen.”

Mike Stocker for ESPN

There was a time when retirement felt shut for Joanna Jedrzejczyk. But there’s nonetheless an excessive amount of she needs to perform — like attaining a title in two weight lessons, one thing no lady within the UFC has performed.

“It’s very rare to have an undefeated world champ in our sport because there are so many variables, so many small things can go wrong,” Brown says. “The best fighter doesn’t always win. One punch can change a fight. One submission can change a fight.”

Jedrzejczyk harbors a deep respect for Rousey. Rousey invited Jedrzejczyk to her wedding ceremony over the summer time. Jedrzejczyk occurred to be in Poland on the time, however the invitation, the honour of being requested, was particular. Breaking Rousey’s report could be particular too. She remembers being 5-Zero, and simply following the prepare to the following combat. “The time went by so fast,” Jedrzejczyk says. “I didn’t expect this.”

After ending her espresso, Jedrzejczyk sits on a therapeutic mbadage desk for her session together with her physiotherapist, Kamil Iwanczyk. She brings him from Poland in order that he can work together with her when she does her camps within the United States. She did not have him for her first camp and he or she felt his absence. “He was the missing link,” she says.

Iwanczyk makes use of instruments to scrape the strain from the muscle mbad in her face, and mbadages the strain from the remainder of her physique. He pushes pointed rods in opposition to stress factors on her scalp, which Jedrzejczyk says prompts nerves. She grimaces and scratches her head.

This discomfort is simply one other bump alongside the street that Jedrzejczyk is aware of will really feel higher on the finish. She views Iwanczyk as an funding in her physique and in her profession, one which she has no intention of wrapping up quickly. “Not this year, not next year,” she says. “For sure.”

If she wins this combat, and retains successful, she has the power to push the report guide into the stratosphere in the meanwhile. “She can go on a run that god knows how long it would take for somebody to break,” White says. “She’s going to go down as one of the greatest ever when she’s at the end of her career.”

All she has to do now’s beat Namajunas.

Jedrzejczyk is resolved. “I want to give her nothing.”

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