There has never been an MMA champion quite like Joanna Jędrzejczyk. There have been many capable of amazing things – Anderson Silva was the most creative finisher, Georges St-Pierre beat the toughest competition and Jon Jones made everything look easy – but none can claim to match her as a sheer offensive force.
She throws and lands more strikes than anyone has ever done in MMA. Machine-gun punch and kick combinations designed to short-circuit the FightMetric strike calculators destroy other women in the Octagon. There’s not a strawweight alive that can hang with her on the feet.
If that wasn’t bad enough for her rivals, ‘Joanna Champion’ is now more focused and motivated than ever after her full-time switch to the U.S. to train at American Top Team. Worse still, joining one of the world’s best teams is making her into an even greater force to be reckoned with than ever before.
“We must keep on proving to people that you’re simply the best and this is the goal – to get better every day,” she tells Fighters Only, with determination. “What’s difficult about being champion is that they are watching you every day. We must make them surprised. We must surprise them with every fight. That’s why I want to get even better.”
The 115lb champion began life with ATT ahead for her UFC 205 fight with Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Strangely, despite a dominant victory against the top contender in the UFC in which she won four rounds on every scorecard, some wondered whether a change of scenery as a good move. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
But Jędrzejczyk was convinced there had been something missing at her base at Arrachion MMA in Olsztyn, Poland, and was determined to stick to her guns. She wanted to push further. Ignoring the calls from her homeland to return to the team where she won her title and defended it three times.
“People see just the fight,” she explains. “There are so many things behind the curtain. No, if you can, change your life. People in Poland thought ATT was going to pay me big money because I’m training here. No! I’m must pay the same money as every single fighter. My expenses went 100% more than in Poland or even three times more. I’m fighting away from my fiancé and my family and my friends, but this is what makes me stronger and focused more on my work. Sometimes we feel everything is good and works so fine, but we need to change something to prove to people that you’re a better fighter.”
The proof came in her next title defense. After her first full camp, Jędrzejczyk lived up to her other moniker, ‘Joanna Violence’, in a career-best performance at UFC 211 against Jéssica Andrade. Despite relentless aggression from the challenger, the champion picked her apart in every round with her own unyielding striking assault and broke the record for the most strikes landed in a women’s fight – only Nate Diaz can beat the all-time record.
The 30-year-old began her MMA career as one of the most accomplished Muay Thai athletes in the world and smashed her way to the top title in combat sports by her ninth pro fight. The scary thing is, she’s getting even better at it thanks to her work with “amazing” ATT coaches, Mike Brown, Katel Kubis and until recently, Kami Barzini.
“In my last fight, I proved there is no limit,” says Jędrzejczyk. “Even though I’m a six-time Muay Thai world champion, it doesn’t mean anything. You can still evolve every day and learn things every day and I love to challenge myself every day. I’m very happy I work on my striking every day with Katel. I think he’s amazing. My footwork is better, my distance is better, my punches are more explosive.
“You know what? We had the first training session [after a vacation] and we were both super excited to put on such great work. We are looking forward to the next training, which is tomorrow, and to the next few weeks and months and we still want to change my game. Now we want to be more focused on my punches and the power of my punches. We want to put people to sleep. That’s the next goal we want to reach because my distance is good. I used to go forward and I didn’t keep my balance very well after the punches or some combos, so in the last fight it was very great, my distance was in and out… I keep on proving I’m the best striker but I still want to learn.”
But the best thing to come out of the move to Coconut Creek, Florida, is the effect it’s had on the 115lb queen’s long-term prospects. The last time FO spoke to her, she explained her future would probably lie at 125lb – or in retirement within a couple of years. However, now that she is reinvigorated by a new environment, as well as a new nutrition plan with Perfecting Athletes that makes her weight cut much easier, she’s planning a reign in her current division that could last into the next decade.
“A year ago, I’d say I probably will want to fight until the end of 2017, but right now I feel like I can fight for the next five years and build my legacy and keep on winning the fights,” she explains. “I feel like it was a great move and I made the right decision. It was probably the best decision in my fighting career so far and I feel like I will stay with them ’til the end of my fighting career.”
Something else that sets Joanna apart is a genuine willingness to fight anyone. For proof, just look back at UFC 213. It was the morning of the event in Las Vegas at the end of International Fight Week and the main event was in trouble. Amanda Nunes – Jędrzejczyk’s ATT teammate – had pulled out of her 135lb title fight with Valentina Shevchenko. Joanna was in town for press duties, and a wild idea crossed her mind.
“When I heard that in the morning, I thought, God, please, I hope that Amanda will fight,” she says. “Then I heard it was official so I thought, why not text Dana that I’m ready to fight? It was crazy, but I was totally serious. When I got to my room, my assistant Paulina asked me, ‘Joanna, are you serious? Because UFC PR are texting me. They’re ready to let you fight.’”
Despite the prospect of competing two weight classes above her own, Joanna got to work with Mike Brown. That was cut short, however, when the commission intervened. It needed 72 hours to do a pregnancy test. If she was a man, the fight would have been on.
Joanna insists she didn’t step up for the publicity or an urge to avenge losses to Shevchenko in Muay Thai from a decade ago – they have a friendly relationship. She says she knew she would lose to the bigger, better-prepared fighter. So why, then?
“I just wanted to rescue the show and help the UFC because I know how hard they worked… I just wanted to go there and have fun – for the adventure. It was that thing. I’m a great fighter. It doesn’t matter if you win or lose. It was a different division, I didn’t have a camp. I cannot say for fun, but take it to the limit! The limit is only in your head.
“Why are there so many fighters in the UFC – more than 500 – but only 11 champions? Because we are different. There’s something about the champions. We are different and we are ready to put on a show, put our lives on the line to become champions and show it to the people and motivate other people.”
This was a step up, but not out of character from the Polish icon. She has signed up for title defenses when she was far less than 100%. That’s presumably why, when she met UFC officials to make a deal about her next Octagon outing, Sean Shelby asked her to step up for the UFC’s journey north to Edmonton for UFC 215.
This time, however, the answer was no. Fresh from a five-week vacation, Jędrzejczyk admits she was not in ideal condition to compete. Rose Namajunas was being touted as her next opponent and she’d need more than six weeks to prepare for such a dangerous challenge.
“Man, I could say yes, because I’m a real fighter, but I don’t want to lose my belt,” she explains. “I work hard and I keep defending my title because I work hard every day… It was all about the show that time, but now it’s all about me and my goals and my brand. I worked too hard to get this belt and defend it. It’s getting harder with every fight.”
But that’s not the only reason why Alberta, Canada wasn’t the right destination for the best fighter in women’s MMA. She’s got far bigger plans…
As their first and only home-grown UFC champion, Joanna Jędrzejczyk is in demand by the Polish people, but fights in Gdańsk, Warsaw or Kraków aren’t on the agenda right now.
“Polish fans want to see me,” she says. “I understand it and I said to my dad I want to fight in Poland, but a year ago I got to the point where I got pay-per-view points. I was working so hard to get pay-per-view, and when people want me to fight on smaller cards and make no money, they don’t understand that maybe next year I will finish my fighting career. I will not make money anymore. There will be no sponsorship anymore. I must save up much money and I worked so hard to get to this spot and I’m very thankful and grateful for this.”
So, no Poland, and that pretty much eliminates most of the rest of the world, too. For that reason, number one on the list of Joanna Champion’s fight-night wish list is a return to the venue of one of her greatest triumphs, the scene of “probably the most sick, insane card in UFC history”. She wants to fight at Madison Square Garden again.
“I want to fight in New York because I want to build my legacy at the biggest shows because I feel like I’m worth it and can help the UFC spread it. But I cannot be shy and say, [adopts submissive voice] ‘Oh, wherever you put me I will fight.’ No! There was a time for this but there was a time I had a broken hand and Sean Shelby called me up and asked if I could fight in Australia. I was like, ‘Man, yes, let me talk to my coaches but I’ve already said yes to you. You are amazing and I should take 10 weeks off for my hand.’ I took only five or six weeks off after the surgery to train again and fight for the UFC. I’ve said it so many times: I’m the UFC soldier.
“That’s why I like to make business with Dana [White]. When he sees you put in great work and dedicate yourself to the UFC, they like it. After that, they understand you. Sometimes they need you and you need them, so let’s make this work easy.”
Poland can wait. It will surely get to see its first daughter of fighting on the biggest stage at some point. They want it. She wants it. Just not this year.
Above all else, Jędrzejczyk is a fighter, one who competed for years for tiny compared to what she earns now. She didn’t fight for the money then, it was about winning titles. Her bank balance is only a factor now so she can take care of those closest to her. The driving force behind the most lethal striker in MMA is still the same as it always was.
“When you reach some status, I make money, but I don’t care about this money,” she says, with conviction. “I don’t want to buy a Rolex, I don’t want to buy a f**king Maserati, or buy Louis Vuitton shoes because I have money for it. I’m happy people see me wearing kicks, tees – I don’t have to be bling-bling to show people who I am. I want people to remember me as one of the greatest athletes. I want to build my legacy. I want to be a legend.”
Another win on another historic fight card – which, for the record, she is convinced will happen – and Jędrzejczyk will add another huge entry in the epic story of her historic triumphs. Joanna Champion, Joanna Violence, how about Joanna Legend? It’s a fitting name for the best there’s ever been.
*** This feature first appeared in the October 2017 issue of Fighters Only magazine ***