It might be too early to say Joanna Jędrzejczyk is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, just as it’s perhaps premature to say she’s the greatest female mixed martial artist of all-time. But what we can say, without any fear of reprisal, is that the five rounds she rattled through tonight (May 13) against Jéssica Andrade at UFC 211, when successfully defending her women’s strawweight title, were as good a set of five rounds as any fighter has ever produced in MMA.
Perfection. A masterpiece. A clinic.
These are all terms that can be applied to what Jędrzejczyk did in Dallas, Texas, and, refreshingly, in a sport of unwarranted hyperbole and bluster, a sport that has seen its fair share of fifteen-minute superstars go awry, there is no need to tread carefully with Jędrzejczyk. She’s simply that good.
Meryl Streep earlier this year mocked mixed martial arts at the Golden Globes for not being one of the arts, the implication being it was a sport full of tattooed knuckleheads without a semblance of intelligence, much less talent. Yet the performance of Jędrzejczyk against Andrade was as artful as anything you’re ever likely to see in a sporting arena and unquestionably more artful than many of the films Meryl Streep has produced in recent times. It condensed a dangerous, unforgiving sport down to its most basic ideology, which is to hit and not get hit (something easier said than done), and then somehow made the whole thing look beautiful, almost balletic.
For twenty-five minutes, Jędrzejczyk hit and didn’t get hit. She played matador to Andrade’s increasingly frustrated bull and carried not a red piece of cloth but two leather-clad fists, both of which were used to penetrate her Brazilian opponent’s guard and stab her stomach from afar. There were many, many kicks, too, some thrown low, directed at Andrade’s swollen legs, others aimed high at the shaved sides of her head.
It was the movement, however, that truly set the tone. As good a mover as anyone in the game, Jędrzejczyk, 29, possesses an incredible knack of being able to skedaddle backwards and still be able to churn out not only the best jab in all of mixed martial arts, but also combinations off of it, utilising both hands and feet, an act which serves to automatically halt the progress of anyone looking to get aggressive on her. The whole thing is machine-like in its slickness. Andrade knows this now, just as Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Cláudia Gadelha, Valérie Létourneau, Jessica Penne, Carla Esparza also came to understand and appreciate this. Gadelha, in fact, took to Twitter, midway through the Jędrzejczyk-Andrade fight, to say, “Joanna is like water. Isn’t easy to fight her.”
That said, they all have a grand plan in round one. Andrade was no different. Her aim was to press, apply pressure, and use confidence gained from the successes of others, namely Gadelha and Kowalkiewicz, to spur her on, take the champion deep and then drown her in the second half of the fight. Like the others, she possessed tools. Heavy hands, for example, as well as a good engine and physical strength tested against women up at 135-pounds. But all that only conspired to shine a brighter light on the bull comparisons. It made her ideal fodder for Jędrzejczyk to dangle on the end of a string. She could be easily manoeuvred, easily manipulated, easily disciplined. She was, for five rounds, merely Joanna’s paint brush.
And what a picture the champion painted: jabs and right hands straight through the guard, high kicks landing clean, inside leg kicks deforming calves and shins and knees launched whenever Andrade dared get close. It was a complete read-through of the striking textbook.
Andrade, for her part, could only sit and soak it up. The punches, the kicks, the lesson. All she was able to offer by way of a riposte was her chin and her bravery, both of which commanded an altogether different kind of respect but respect nonetheless, as well as a series of stuffed takedowns and ineffective clinches. She was, in truth, controlled in every sense of the word.
Just as the world’s greatest matadors don’t run, they shift and pivot, the same can be said of Poland’s Jędrzejczyk, 14-0. There is a composure to her work, a complete understanding of what is taking place in moments of chaos, that isn’t necessarily normal in combat sports; she seems programmed to fight in a way others, even those who are good at it, aren’t; a hard sport, under her control, is made to look easy.
The scorecards tonight were as predictable as they were pointless. Two scores of 50-45 and one of 50-44 revealed to Andrade, 25, what she already knew. She, like the others, may well be in Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s weight division, but she is some way short of being in her league.