Jedrzejczyk solidifies her place as the pound-for-pound number one

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (yen-jay-check) vanquished her only potential rival in the 115lb women’s division last night. Claudia Gadelha was game, but ultimately not up to the task of besting the Polish powerhouse. Jedrzejczyk must now be looking upward in weight to find a challenge, as her current division holds no further challenge for ‘JJ’.

Friday night’s championship bout was the first interesting fight Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been involved in since our champion, ‘JJ’, and the Brazilian challenger Claudia Gadelha, last fought, back in December 2014. This isn’t to criticise the champion – quite the opposite. She’s just too good. Once she got her title shot, she absolutely steamrolled the simplistic, wrestle-heavy game of Carla Esparza, and then she subsequently embarrassed the well rounded games of Jessica Penne and Valérie Létourneau. It was all looking a little too easy for JJ.

And then up stepped Claudia ‘Claudinha’ Gadelha. When the two fought back in 2014, it was razor thin. Unfortunately for the fans, it was only a regular 3-rounder back then, with no title involved. Carla Esparza was still the champ, having won ‘The Ultimate Fighter 20‘, which she was able to secure against lesser opponents with her All-American calibre wrestling approach- frankly, a fairly boring style that won her few fans.

JJ and Claudinha fought hard and mostly on the feet, and JJ won a split decision, namely due to a well-landed straight left that flash-dropped Gadelha. I’m sure there were people who thought that the judges nod should have gone to Gadelha. Personally, I actually think the fight should have been a draw. It really was that close. But I had no qualms with JJ winning a split decision- I figured both would end up fighting for the title, which was an accurate prediction.

Claudinha had to wait a little longer, of course, and she has been vocal these two years toward the media that when she got her claws into JJ a second time, things would be different. And during the first and second rounds on Friday night, Gadelha was right. With a stockier build and a stronger base than JJ, Claudinha was able to secure takedown after takedown- something that fighters have been almost unanimously been unable to achieve against JJ. I had it scored 2 rounds to Gadelha, and I was in a little bit of shock. Were we really going to see another championship upset? “It’s starting to get a little ridiculous” I thought, the fact that no-one currently seems able to hang on to a UFC belt for longer than 5 minutes.

But I should have had more faith in Jedrzejczyk. She may have been outwrestled for 10 minutes, but she wasn’t fighting Gadelha in a three-rounder this time. She knew there was still three long rounds to go. As they came out in the third, Gadelha looked visibly tired. We’ve seen guys with wrestle-heavy games push through the fatigue to secure decisions before, of course (Daniel Cormier being the best example), but trying to get JJ down when the lactic acid is searing through your muscles is no easy feat. JJ sensed weakness. Once she had started stuffing takedown attempt after attempt, she knew it was now her time to shine. The punches came hard and fast and with serious volume. Gadelha is no slouch on the feet of course, but Jedrzejczyk, a 6-time Muay Thai World Champion, started to tee off and take over.

Gadelha is as tough as nails, and there was no finish. But it was obvious that the judges would see things correctly this time- 3 rounds for JJ, and 2 for Gadelha. The MMA Gods were kind for a change, and the judges indeed got it right. Such was JJ’s late outpouring of vicious striking, they even awarded her a couple of 10-8 rounds.

Having defeated the only relevant contender in the division twice now, one has to acknowledge that someone in JJ’s position should probably be looking at attempting to becoming a multi-divisional champion. However, the 125lb women’s division does not yet exist in the UFC, and JJ is far too small to jump up 20lbs into the 135lb category. Up there, Miesha Tate currently reigns, and I imagine Jedrzejczyk would be rag-dolled by the much larger champion’s grappling brilliance. Instead, JJ may have to be a little patient. She herself has spoken in interviews about her desire for their to be a UFC 125lb division, as that is her more natural weight. Just 3 weeks ago at Fight Night 89, Joanne Calderwood won the first 125lb fight against the aforementioned Létourneau, even though the division doesn’t actually exist yet. But if it’s a sign of things to come, Joanna may well get her wish- to skip the painful weight cut and beat up on ladies who’re a little larger.

Laurie Williams