The champion without a belt | Innovation Tech
THERE’S second chances in MMA, but not third chances.
Take somebody on, win or lose, and if the fight is good enough, crazy enough and lucrative enough, there will be a rematch.
But if the result of the first and second fights are the same, mountains need to be moved for a third bout, especially when belts are involved.
There’s exceptions in fighting history, but not many, and certainly not recently.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk knows this. She knows the punters won’t queue up to watch her fight Rose Namajunas a third time. She doesn’t care, but she knows it.
“I don’t care what people want and what they are saying. I know what I want and I know who I am,” Jedrzejczyk told The Daily Telegraph.
“I don’t want to wait and talk like other fighters (and say) ‘I want to be a challenger, I want to get a title shot’. Put on work! Fight more often! Work your ass hard and get to this spot.
“This is what I’m doing right now and believe me or not, the UFC, Dana White, the fans, the people, they want me to be back because I am the real queen, I am the real strawweight champion and I will be back.
“After this fight I will get the title shot. I don’t care if some people like the idea of a trilogy between me and Rose Namajunas.
“I know who I am and that I won my last fight. That’s it.”
The two losses to Namajunas — one by shock, first round knockout last November and the cerebral, thrilling rematch that went the distance earlier this — have dramatically redefined Jedrzejczyk’s career.
Namajunas was the last major challenge for her to conquer. A win would have equalled Ronda Rousey’s women’s title defence record.
A move to the newly established flyweight division and a chance at becoming a double champion was within touching distance. Jedrzejczyk had spoken often of retiring undefeated with two belts. That’s all gone now.
Instead, Jedrzejczyk must shake off history and find a way back, and that way begins this Sunday (AEST) against Teicia Torres in Calgary.
Perhaps Jedrzejczyk’s defining feature as a fighter and certainly a pillar of her title reign, where she dispatched all comers for almost three years, was her confidence.
It was boundless, endless, the shield upon which the likes of Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz all broke.
They say there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance but that’s not true when it comes to fighting, not really. Winners are confident, losers are arrogant.
Even now Jedrzejczyk’s confidence remains unbreakable. She maintains that losing the first fight was the result of a bad weight cut. And she will swear, up and down, that the judges ripped her off in the second.
“I felt, and I know, that I won that fight. I remember when Bruce Buffer was saying “and…”, for me, it was like slow motion,” Jedrzejczyk said.
“I turned my head and I smell the bullshit.
“Even she (Namajunas) couldn’t believe it.
“And shame on her for what she said after the fight. ‘She said it was a fluke after the first fight, but here we go, I beat her for the second time’.
“Come on! If you are a champion you cannot say bullshit like this. I know what happened in the first fight.
“I was going to win that fight and I still believe in this. I was going to tie Ronda Rousey’s record but I paid for someone else’s mistakes.
“I didn’t lose only the belt, I lost my fighting career, my life.”
Only Jedrzejczyk knows how much the weight cut impacted her in the first loss to Namajunas. All the rest of us can do is speculate.
The second fight, to this writer’s eye, was tremendously close. The three judges all scored it 49-46, but each gave Jedrzejczyk a different round.
Conventional wisdom says that Namajunas won the first two rounds, Jedrzejczyk the second two before Namajunas rallied in the final frame.
It was a top display from both women, one of the highest level exhibitions of striking the division had seen. There was no shame in losing.
Jedrzejczyk would be favoured against any other strawweight in the world — in fact, she was the favourite for the second bout with Namajunas. The American just seems to have her number. There is no shame in this either.
But Jedrzejczyk, it seems, can not and will not allow her shield to be pierced. She points out that she outstruck Namajunas over the five rounds and says she is still the champion, just without the belt. She has not watched a replay of the fight.
“No. I didn’t. I don’t know if I will.
“I don’t need to. I am focused on the future and the future is bright.
“I made the changes with my coaches for this camp. Believe me, you are going to see a better fighter.
“I don’t care what people want, I know that there are people who support me and there are people who still believe in me, that I’m still the greatest strawweight on the planet.
“But let’s not talk about the past anymore. The future is bright, and I focus on what I can do better, today and tomorrow. That’s the point.
“I turned the page after the first fight with Rose, and after the second fight.”
And so the journey begins again. Namajunas is expected to face Andrade, an earlier victim of Jedrzejczyk’s title reign, in her next defence.
As impressive as Namajunas has been in seizing the belt, Andrade may well start favourite and an Andrade victory may well open the door for Jedrzejczyk to get another shot. If Namajunas wins, the Pole will once again be on the outer.
It is outside of Jedrejczyk’s control. All she can do is what she always did before Namajunas turned her world upside down.
Jedrejczyk is proud of her work ethic, which she believes few fighters can match. She has thrown herself into like never before ahead of the bout with Torres.
It’s the anvil upon which her belt was forged and, according to her, will be again.
“I push my body, my brain, to the edge. I work my ass so hard, every day, every single day.
“That’s the point, I’m getting better with every single camp. I know I’m getting better.
“There are people who are dreaming and have goals but they are not willing to put in the work.
“It does not work like this. You must put on work and take life in your hands. And that is what I’m doing.”
Torres is a gritty, well-rounded staple of the division’s top five. Her only professional losses came against Namajunas and Andrade.
The American is strong on the ground but Jedrejczyk has a considerable advantage on the feet. She can win this, and win it well but is doubtful that even the most spectacular win will be enough to propel her back to an immediate clash with Namajunas.
But Jedrzejczyk will not be bowed. She is fuelled by singular, glorious purpose. There are no other goals, nothing else to consider. She has to make this so.
“If they will offer me a title fight after this I will take it, even with no break. I will go for it. It’s mine.
“I’m willing to do this again, even if they want me to take 10 fights before I get to the title. I will do that.
“I know that they want me to be a champion. After this fight, after I mark my position, I will get the title shot.
“I will outclass Teicia Torres on Saturday. Look at the other strawweight fights — you cannot compare these fights to my fights. I make them all (the whole division) look good.”