Farewell, Joanna Jędrzejczyk
A Disappointing Swan's Song
MMA retirements are rarely fun. In fact, I would say that the sport is set up in a way that really doesn’t help its legends bow out gracefully.
The old are generally fed to the young - and the general expectation is that the star-power of the ageing soldier is used for the rising prospect to build off of.
And though the MMA retirement of Joanna Jedrzejcyzyk wasn’t quite that simple - to say that her final moments in the cage were upsetting in their violence would be putting it lightly.
For as long as it lasted, Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk II was actually a lot of fun - building off the insanity of their first bout with a thrilling opening round that - while really a showcase for Weili Zhang’s immense physicality - still contained within it some strong moments for Joanna.
But in that second round - things took a turn for the ugly - as Zhang, using the side kick she had been repeatedly going to as a set-up - fired off a picture-perfect spinning back fist - one that connected on its target - putting Joanna out there and then.
And it was a nasty loss. After such a long layoff - coming off a frankly ridiculous five-round war with that very same fighter in Weili who beat her again in the rematch.
Yea, it was always going to be an uphill climb - and I do wonder whether some more lenient matchmaking would have served Joanna better.
Because even if she has those losses to Rose Namajunas on her record - Weili Zhang is a truly remarkable fighter for the 115lb weight class - a supremely talented athlete whose physicality is unmatched in that division.
But either way, that was the fight Joanna got - and with this loss, she surprised the world by calling it a day on her MMA career.
And with that, the longest serving strawweight champion leaves the sport.
And while there are a lot of discussions to be had over where Zhang’s victory leaves her in relation to a title-shot - for today’s video I’d rather look over Joanna’s legacy - or to be more specific - to ask ourselves exactly where it is she fits within the women’s MMA G.O.A.T conversation.
I think people tend to forget just how impressive Joanna was during his five-fight streak of defenses at the top of the strawweight division.
And I also get the sense that some of her best wins have been swept aside to some extent, because of them either hitting a wall or dropping out of the sport entirely.
But when you look at the names she picked up over the years - it’s pretty damn impressive.
Two wins over Claudia Gadelha, who, lest we forget, was an excellent contender in her day. A TKO of Carla Esparza - a masterfully brutal barrage from Jedrzejczyk that won her the belt from the fighter who would go onto reclaim it seven years later.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz certainly dropped off in form in a pretty huge way - going 0 and 5 on a run that began with a one-punch KO loss to Jessica Andrade, but she was also pretty damn decent in her day.
A win over Jessica Andrade was one of the most surgical victories on her resumé - against a fighter who would be crowned champ just a few fights later.
Joanna's Signature Victory
But I suppose the question here, is what is the signature victory.
Is it that title-clinching beatdown of Esparza - or do we think that this earlier version of Carla wasn’t yet at that level?
The Gadelha victories were quite nice too - ending a pretty heated rivalry and overcoming a sharp stylistic contrast in the meantime.
Jessica Andrade over those five rounds might be my pick - but I’m not 100% set.
But when you look at how often the title at 115lbs has changed hands - it makes it clear that consistency is one of Joanna’s strongest traits here.
Five defenses in any division is a milestone that is incredibly difficult to come by - and I think that, coupled with the gauntlet she threw down as a technical striker - these really are the main strengths that make Joanna’s resumé what it is.
The drawbacks? Well, going 0 and 2 against both Weili Zhang and Rose Namajunas does say a lot about where Joanna stands in relation to the next generation.
Indeed, her heyday had already been had - but I do think that her five losses - those two and the one to Valentina, albeit at 125lbs - do take away from her resumé in relation to the others who would occupy a spot in the women’s MMA top-5.
Would I say that Joanna has a win as good as Weili’s wins over her? Or Rose’s victory over her or the two she herself has over Weili?
Joanna and Her Peers
Valentina Shevchenko is the obvious next entry - and I’ll point out that these are not in any particular order.
The hardest part here, for Joanna, is the question of whether she should get in ahead of Rose Namajunas?
I know her last fight well and truly sucked, but when you remove that strange defeat and the even stranger slam KO at the hands of Jessica Andrade - Thug Rose has doubled up on both Zhang and Joanna - and if those three fighters are in contention for the honour of strawweight G.O.A.T - her head-to-head results against both speak volume.
Now, I don’t know if I can put Rose ahead of Joanna - it just doesn’t feel right for some reason.
Perhaps the longevity of her run as champion compared with Namajunas - plus the fact that we’re all a bit confused by Rose after her last outing.
But then again we just watched Jedrzejczyk get sparked.
So on paper, Rose should be the pick. She’s the only champion in UFC history to recapture a title within the women’s divisions - and her highest highs, I would say, eclipse those that Joanna reached.
But title defense are pretty damn important, and as we’ve already established, I think quite highly of Joanna and her title-reign - the opponents she has beaten.
I do think there’s a lot to be said for one strong, bar-setting run.
Look at Ronda Rousey. Sure, her run was longer and more decisive - but her decline hasn’t come into my assessment of her peak.
And I think with Joanna - while her decline has not been so pronounced, if anything she’s been pretty damn effective in there for the most part - I think that looking at her career as a whole is making it easier to criticise from her G.O.A.T pick because of her losses.
We don’t have that with Rose just yet.
By the time she retires, though she will be at least a two-time champ - maybe she’ll take some vicious L’s - hitting a low point before hanging up her gloves for good.
And that’s kind of what happened with Joanna.
And for that reason, I’m going to give Joann Jedrzejczyk the fifth spot. Her career is over, and it can be seen and appreciated for all of its ups and downs.
I’m not totally confident in saying I’ll feel the same six months from now - but Joanna was a trailblazing force within the 115lb division - and she looked totally unstoppable - up until she didn’t.