The Bottom Line: Give Joanna a Chance

By Todd Martin May 9, 2017

Joanna Jedrzejczyk will compete for the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight title for the sixth time at UFC 211 on Saturday in Dallas (online betting). Regardless of whether she continues her championship reign, she’ll leave the event still seeking her first pay-per-view main event. Her UFC 211 bout will be her third title co-headliner, along with a title bout that was third from the top, a title bout that main evented on UFC Fight Pass and a title bout that main evented on Fox Sports 1. Paul Buentello, Thales Leites and Joe Soto still lead Jedrzejczyk when it comes to pay-per-view main events. It’s well past time that changes.

The UFC is not a charity, and it selects its pay-per-views based on what it thinks will draw. The argument for giving Jedrzejczyk a chance in that position is not that she deserves it, although she does; the argument is that she’s worth investing in and has a good shot at rewarding the UFC for making that effort. It’s not always predictable which fighters will connect with the general public but Jedrzejczyk has so many of the things you look for, and the UFC isn’t exactly so teeming with big names that there are no spots available.

MMA as an individual sport is personality driven. Luckily for Jedrzejczyk, she’s overflowing with personality. She’s quirky, outgoing and supremely confident. She carries herself like a star, which goes a long way. She hasn’t been marketed as a sex symbol like Paige VanZant or Gina Carano, but she has the same sort of athletic confidence that drove Ronda Rousey’s appeal. Jedrzejczyk also has a tendency to get into personal conflict with her opponents, a feature that is valuable in MMA. The dislike between Jedrzejczyk and many of her foes has been clear, and the war of words surrounding many of her fights has added to the interest.

Inside the Octagon, Jedrzejczyk backs up her words with action. Her kickboxing is entertaining to watch, fast-paced and violent. She not only can appeal to fans of women’s MMA but has the sort of style that can win over those who aren’t fully sold on it. She demands respect in the way she fights with top-notch technique.

Another significant asset for Jedrzejczyk is that she is in a clearly defined division where each of her fights determines the best fighter in the weight class. That ought to be pretty standard, but one of the big reasons the UFC has struggled to create stars recently is the chaos that has engulfed so many divisions. Jon Jones hangs over the light heavyweight division as others fight for the title. Michael Bisping hasn’t taken on the top middleweight contenders since winning his title. Conor McGregor is off trying to make a fight with Floyd Mayweather Jr. rather than defending the lightweight crown. He already vacated the featherweight title, and others now fight for it. It’s unclear what exactly the women’s featherweight division is at the moment. There’s no doubt who is best at 115 pounds, and that’s a very good thing.

While Jedrzejczyk is undoubtedly No. 1, she also doesn’t confront the Demetrious Johnson problem where she’s so far above the competition that there’s little drama in her fights. She was the underdog against Carla Esparza and a narrow favorite in her title fight against Claudia Gadelha. In spite of Jedrzejczyk’s recent dominance, the oddsmakers are giving Jessica Andrade a very real chance to pull the upset in Dallas. That doubt is a definite positive.

Part of the mentality behind what they’ve done with Jedrzejczyk is likely to build her name over time so she’ll be ready by the time she starts headlining pay-per-views. However, historically that hasn’t been the way most superstars have been built up. The UFC saw something in Ronda Rousey and put her in a pay-per-view main event against a relatively unknown opponent in her first Octagon appearance. The bout surpassed expectations, and it was off to the races from there. Rousey, Chuck Liddell, Georges St. Pierre and Brock Lesnar are a few of the top UFC superstars who have never fought on a free UFC card.

“Stacking” cards hasn’t been terribly effective in building up the fighters in the bouts that are second and third from the top. It may actually be counterproductive, teaching fans not that the card is so special but rather that the complementary stars aren’t that big of a deal. In that respect, it’s concerning that Jedrzejczyk has gone so long without getting a pay-per-view main event because fans may be educated to the idea she isn’t a pay-per-view main event fighter. That’s all the more reason to pull the trigger sooner rather than later.

Obviously, Jedrzejczyk isn’t a sure thing. She’s got a name that few can spell and fewer still can properly pronounce. The track record of 115-pound divisions drawing in combat sports isn’t stellar. Her Polish nationality doesn’t work in her favor, as it’s a relatively small ethnic fan base that doesn’t mean a lot one way or another in North America. However, it’s a gamble worth taking. “Joanna Champion” has proven plenty of times already she’s a fighter to bet on.


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