The Ultimate Fighter
The spotlight gets brighter with every fight for UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but as she approaches her sixth title defense against Rose Namajunas this Saturday in Madison Square Garden, she refuses to lose sight of why she’s here in the first place.
“I feel like I’m living my dream,” she said. “I know what sport I’m in and, of course, the last two years were pretty crazy for me. There’s a lot of attention on me and so many other different obligations, but I prefer to be focused on my fighting career than on doing other stuff like promotions, photo shoots and media. I really enjoy it when I have time for this, but at the end, people respect me and I earned that respect because of who I am as an athlete, and I’m focused on that.”
So if prospective opponents think that media tours, meet and greets and the other trappings of being a world champion will keep those sharp elbows at bay, not a chance. A recent Instagram video of her working those elbows in the gym is proof, but that doesn’t mean Joanna Champion is Joanna No Fun.
“I like to stay active,” said the 30-year-old. “I really fell in love with paddle boarding in the last camp and this is what I do. Or I go outside and play basketball or volleyball, or I go on the water. I do activities to keep my body fresh all the time.”
Well, she will soon be on the hardwood that the Knicks call home. And they could use a point guard…
She laughs, noting that she does not translate her aggressive style to hoops, especially with a fight coming up.
“I still have some skills, but of course I’m really careful,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I used to do climbing before I started Muay Thai. I can’t do this anymore, but eventually I’ll get back to climbing after my fighting career, but I’m taking my career very serious, so I had to push some things away.”
It was a good call, as Jedrzejczyk is back in NYC, back in the Garden, and ready to take over the town again.
“I’m very excited to be back in New York, and it was my plan to be back in Madison Square Garden and in the city,” she said. “I want to make history again. Last year it was an amazing show, UFC 205, and this year, Georges St-Pierre is going to fight Michael Bisping, two living legends, and I’m very excited to be on this card. And it’s a Polish city as well. There’s a very big Polish community in New York and I’m very excited and very happy to be there and put on such a great fight and show again.”
I mention a recent boxing event in Newark that brought in a host of Polish fans to cheer on their fighters, and Jedrzejczyk expects more of the same this weekend.
“The Polish people always support their athletes and they’re always cheering very loud,” she said. “It’s good to hear this and I get so many messages from Polish people who live in the States and they’re coming to New York City or watching the fight at home.”
Polish or not, it seems that fans are showing up for Jedrzejczyk wherever she goes, and with good reason. Perhaps the most dominant female fighter in the game today, she may also be second only to Demetrious Johnson as the most dominant champion, regardless of gender. On Saturday, she can tie Ronda Rousey’s record for most successful UFC title defenses for a woman, and break her tie with the former bantamweight champ for most UFC title fight wins for a woman. That can begin to put her in the same category as the fighters she calls living legends, and knowing that is a special thing for the native of Olsztyn, even though she still sees every UFC fight as her first.
“I take every fight as my debut in the UFC,” she said. “I remember when I got signed by the UFC, I was like, ‘Wow, now I’m fighting on the really big stage.’ It would be a shame for me if I was not preparing the way I do.”
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With comments like that, it’s clear that while some lose their edge when they reach the top, Jedrzejczyk’s blade is not dulled. It’s as sharp as ever because she remembers where she came from, and when a fighter does that, they’re always hungry.
“The UFC brought me to a different level,” she said. “I’m making money right now and I’m honored to do that because it became my job. I can save money, I can have something good in my life, and I can share this. But I remember when I used to do this for no money, and that’s why I’m hungry because I’m still doing this, and it’s not for the money, it’s for myself. It’s to break the limits, my own limits, every day.
“This was not given to me,” Jedrzejczyk continues. “The thing is, right now I’m smiling and I’m excited that I’ve done so much for myself and for this sport and for the UFC. I remember when I got into the UFC and now I’m about to have my ninth fight in the UFC, sixth title defense, seventh title fight, I’m 14-0 and I’m like, ‘Wow, where did the time go?’ It makes me smile and I’m happy.”
At least until fight night. Then it’s time for Joanna Champion to defend all she’s worked for, and while she respects those above her on the card, that’s not going to stop her from trying to be the one the Garden crowd will be talking at the end of the night.
“I have new goals with every fight and I want to prove some things to myself, so that’s why I stay humble and I work harder with
Joanna from Poland is going to take over that night
every camp,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I said in the last camp that I was working hard, but believe me that this camp was an amazing camp, one of the best in my fighting career, and I know and I believe that I will show up in good shape and I will take over Madison Square Garden. I know that people are focused on Georges St-Pierre and Bisping, two legends fighting each other, but Joanna from Poland is going to take over that night.”