Joanna Jedrzejczyk just celebrated five years as a member of the UFC roster.
If it seems like it’s been much longer than that, that’s not surprising, considering that in that relatively short amount of time, the Poland native put the strawweight division on the map, ruled it for over two and a half years and cemented her legacy as one of the most dominant champions in the sport.
And she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I remember the moment when I signed with the UFC and I remember the moment I only had a few fights,” said Jedrzejczyk, who debuted in the promotion in July 2014 with a decision win over Juliana Lima that lifted her pro record to 7-0. “I’m very happy I’m here, with the ups and downs. I would not change anything – the wins, the losses, I wouldn’t change them. This is what made me who I am today as an athlete and person.”
Today, Jedrzejczyk is a day away from her 13th UFC bout, a main event against Michelle Waterson that marks her first trip to the Octagon since a December 2018 loss to Valentina Shevchenko in a vacant flyweight title fight.
There are no titles attached to Saturday’s fight, and Jedrzejczyk will be looking to right the ship after going 1-3 in her last four. But there is no doom and gloom around the 32-year-old, no persistent comments about this being a must win. In fact, Jedrzejczyk may be in the best place she’s been in for a long time thanks to her break from competition after the Shevchenko bout.
“I needed it,” she said. “I did three fights last year, and even before the fight, I spoke to my team and told everyone that I was going to take a break. It wouldn’t matter if I won or lost, I was going to take a break because jumping from camp to camp, cutting weight…”
She pauses before continuing.
“I know how to sacrifice. I know how to be disciplined, I know how to work hard, but sometimes it’s just too much.”
It had to be. Not just a champion, Jedrzejczyk became a star when she beat Carla Esparza for the 115-pound crown in March 2015, and from Germany to Australia to Las Vegas and New York, everyone wanted a piece of Joanna Champion. That meant tons of travel and media and obligations, not to mention a gang of strawweight killers who wanted to take the crown from her head by force. She never lost her love for the sport, but eventually everything caught up to her and the solution was to take the foot off the gas, even if only for a few months.
“I wanted to reset my body and my mind,” she said. “I used to jump from camp to camp from fight to fight and I brought something to my life. I made this way from nothing to something, but I couldn’t really enjoy my life because I had been working so hard for so many years.”
“I took a break for a few months and I’m very happy and I feel that fire again,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I turned 32 and I see that sometimes my body is giving some information or signals that, ‘Hey girl, you’re 32, you’re not 16 anymore.’ (Laughs) But actually the quality of the training this camp was very good and I feel the fire and I’m motivated. I trained really hard and I just want to go there and prove something to myself. I don’t have to prove anything to anybody else. I want to have fun and make this one step closer to becoming strawweight champion because after the victory over Michelle Waterson, I will become a challenger for the strawweight belt.”
Jedrzejczyk doesn’t need another belt. Her legacy is secure. But fighters are never satisfied, and with everything feeling fresh again, it’s like Jedrzejczyk’s journey is starting all over again.
“I love this sport,” she said. “People think that fighters are always on fire, that we always want to fight, that we’re looking for a reason to fight in the gym and out of the gym. I don’t do that. It’s my hobby, my passion, my job. But when I fell in love with this from day number one, it was like putting myself against the wall and it was all up to me if I was going to break the wall or not. I was walking on the edge and it was all up to me if I was going to make it or not. Every single training session for the last 16 years was about that; pushing myself to the limit, to the sky, and making it happen. And this is what makes me keep on going and I want to try even more. It’s such a beautiful sport and such an individual sport. There are many people working and helping me to step that night into the Octagon, but at the end it’s only me and my opponent dealing with each other, with the emotions, everything.”