When Amanda Nunes, on fight day, declared herself unable to defend her UFC women’s bantamweight title against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213, there was no time to ring around for a replacement opponent, much less book one.
Yet, apparently, where there’s Joanna Jędrzejczyk, there’s seemingly a way. The UFC women’s strawweight champion was in Las Vegas that weekend; she, like everyone else, was looking forward to seeing Nunes and Shevchenko do battle for a second time. She was also, upon hearing of Nunes’ predicament, quick to offer herself up as a potential opponent for Shevchenko.
Her belt was at home and training camp, ahead of her next fight, had yet to even begin. But still Jędrzejczyk was adamant: she wanted the fight.
Though she knew in hindsight it might be considered a move ill-advised, one that soiled her 14-fight unbeaten record, it was, for Jędrzejczyk, a risk worth taking. Indeed, the fight probably would have happened had it not been for the Nevada State Athletic Commission needing 72 hours to get the results of a mandatory pregnancy test.
“There is no bad feelings in my head or body that I want to pay back something to Valentina Shevchenko (because of losses to her in muay-thai),” Jędrzejczyk told Fighters Only editor Michael Owens this week. “If this fight can happen in the future, why not?
“I just wanted to rescue the show and help the UFC because I know how hard they worked. They loved that main event. It was not only for PR. I knew I was going to lose this fight because I know how strong Valentina is and she had an amazing camp. She could have become a UFC champion that day, so I believe she would have put on a great show. But I just wanted to go there and have fun.”
Fighters often turn down fights they feel will only end in defeat. These fighters might have eight or ten weeks to prepare – time to get better, improve their chances, grow in confidence – but still they look the other way when the fight is first mentioned to them. Jędrzejczyk, however, when admitting she would have accepted inevitable defeat without any time to even prepare for it, set herself apart from the rest. Hers is a different kind of mindset. She’s a different kind of champion. In an age of considered and calculated business moves, and style over substance, Jędrzejczyk boasts an old-school mentality that only endears her to fans.
It’s why so many are itching to see her back in the Octagon following a virtuoso performance (when scoring a lopsided decision over Jéssica Andrade) in May.
“I want to fight in New York because I fought there last year,” she said. “I was part of probably the most sick, insane card in UFC history. It was amazing, the first show in New York, and I feel like I will be 100% ready for this date. So that’s why I want to fight there.”
As for the opponent, it’s unlikely to be Shevchenko, despite Jędrzejczyk sudden willingness to fill the void and face the Russian on July 8. Instead, it’s more likely strawweight contender ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas will be next in line for a champion who has so far shown few signs of weakness, nor given much hope to the many women ranked beneath her at 115-pounds.
“I think it will be Rose – about 60% or even 80%,” said Joanna. “I think she deserves it. I said a few years ago that she is very talented. She’s still young but she’s very talented and one day she will become a UFC champion.
“Just not this year or next year. While I am champion, she will not become a UFC champion. But I think she is very talented.”
*** The October issue of Fighters Only will feature an extended interview with Joanna Jędrzejczyk – on sale August 29th in US/Can, August 31st in the UK ***