The Ultimate Fighting Championship will land in Berlin this Saturday to hold the first UFC title fight in Germany. Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the newly crowned women’s strawweight champion will face former Invicta atomweight champion, Jessica Penne. It’s not exactly a fight that MMA fans are clamoring for but given the division’s nascent state, it feels justifiably appropriate.
It’s no secret, the popularity of women’s mixed martial arts is not exactly up to snuff with that of the men. There’s a few outliers that defy the status quo; obviously Ronda Rousey, the crossover superstar. Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino to an extent, and to a lesser extent “12 Gauge” Paige Van Zant, the picture perfect girl next door who just so happens to fight in cages for a living. The title fight this weekend will forecast if there’s another potential star on the rise or if the division will be in turmoil with no dominant queen to have the spotlight shined on.
JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK – THE FIRST TRUE STRAWWEIGHT QUEEN
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a tour de force striker the likes of which women’s MMA has never seen. Sure, “Cyborg” may have some ungodly power, but she doesn’t possess the finesse and technical prowess of Jedrzejczyk. Kickboxing and Muay Thai is a common starting point for many female mixed martial artists, but very few have reached the elite striking levels that Jedrzejczyk has. Miriam Nakamoto and Joanne Calderwood might be the only other fighters with similar Muay Thai backgrounds, but neither have achieved anywhere near the success Jedrzejczyk has in MMA.
Only nine fights into her professional mixed martial arts career, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has defeated the previously unbeaten contender and renowned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Claudia Gadelha, and also stole the previous strawweight champion’s heart. Jedrzejczyk made former champion Carla Esparza look like an absolute amateur. Esparza is a very smart, tactical and well-conditioned fighter, yet had no answer for Jedrzejczyk’s striking and seemed to acquiesce defeat before the first round was even over.
Jessica Penne is a solid grappler and is almost seen like a female Fabricio Werdum, because women try to avoid the mat like the plague when fighting her. The former Invicta champion has some respectable boxing skills and very good clinch skills where she utilizes hip throws to bring opponents to her world. Penne’s flexibility and leg dexterity also adds a unique element of danger to her grappling game.
The classic striker vs grappler matchup will be on full display in Berlin, but the actual contest itself is not that cut and dry. While Penne has some decent hands, her grappling is where her strength lies. Jedrzejczyk’s proficient striking is made exponentially more potent with her outstanding takedown defense. Penne is an underdog for a reason – upwards of 4-1 by some bookmakers. The challenge of defeating the Polish champion will be an assured uphill battle, and this is why this fight is much more important than the strawweight belt.
DO WE NEED HER REIGN TO LAST
Ronda Rousey has quite frankly ruined it for all female fighters. It sounds odd, seeing as she opened the door for females to be brought into the UFC, but in terms of in-cage accomplishments she has. The probability of any other woman achieving her level of dominance is infinitesimally doubtful. This has been both a gift and a curse for the “Rowdy” one, but with the unprecedented, historic records she has set, the ridiculous dominance only further strengthens her aura, raises her popularity, and puts more cash in her pocket. Jedrzejczyk is nowhere near this level of stardom yet, but her title defenses can not only be the catapult to get her more attention, they can raise women’s mixed martial arts higher as a whole.
It’s tough to know how far the women’s strawweight division can go at this particular point in time. Even with Rousey’s undeniable star power, the UFC seemed hesitant to let her headline with three of her five title defenses being slotted in the co-main event spot — the fight with Cat Zingano was made the main event of UFC 184 by default, after Chris Weidman pulled out due to injury. Some are billing Jedrzejczyk as the Ronda Rousey of strawweight, mainly due to her exciting, predatory style and the legitimate possibility of prolonged dominance. Although Rousey has had some backlash because her fights at most times resemble a judo seminar on unknowing and unwilling participants, the support and intrigue to fork over sixty dollars to watch her slam and thrash girls in under sixty seconds is still very much present.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk has a chance to put in another dominant display of violence on another outmatched opponent on Saturday. Jessica Penne is a game competitor, without question, but it seems very tough to visualize how she can pull off any kind of effective game plan. If Jedrzejczyk comes out with a highlight-reel finish as is expected by some, she will secure her spot and come closer to being the B-side to Rousey’s A-side. Should Jedrzejczyk lose, the trajectory of women’s strawweight will likely see the chaotic madness that was the light heavyweight division post Chuck Liddell/pre Jon Jones.
As a fan of pure competition, I frankly don’t care who wins this matchup. I’m sure I’m in the minority, but I’m quite fond of divisions where fighters can’t hold on to the belt. If Jedrzejczyk wins and continues to win, she will be a surefire star. The ceiling for her star potential is blurry for the time being, but how people wouldn’t gravitate to a charming, charismatic, slightly psychotic, striking virtuoso, who loves to slam elbows in girls’ faces, is beyond me.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a born fighter, her mindset, poise, determination, and confidence are admirable and essential traits that help her be the sadistic treasure she is. If the women’s strawweight division doesn’t become the stacked, competitive weight class we once thought it might be, let it be because a fiery Polish girl with adorable yet frightening, broken English in retro Air Jordans laid waste to it. The charisma, fight spirit, and blood thirst is there, it’s only on Jedrzejczyk to lead the bodies to the sacrificial altar.