Just two years ago, Joanna Jędrzejczyk was queen of the strawweights, a dominant one to boot. Last night in Tampa, the Polish Muay Thai expert displayed all the characteristics of a champion in waiting. Over five rounds, the Olsztyn native outclassed Michelle Waterson, there’s simply no two ways about it. On the feet, in the clinch and even in some grappling exchanges, Jędrzejczyk held the trump card.
With under a minute remaining in the opening round, Joanna was approaching two-hundred successful strikes from three-hundred thrown, a frightening output. We were all given a quite stark reminder of Jędrzejczyk’s sheer quality upstairs, something which made her such a force to be reckoned with and the gulf in class she displayed, circa 2017. The 32-year-old awaits Weili Zhang as she attempts to reclaim the 115 pound throne, while Michelle Waterson must reset once more.
Weili Zhang vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk:
Unquestionably, both Zhang and Joanna are two of the most active strikers we’ve seen at strawweight, two pace-pushing forces, who over time force their respective opponents to wilt. Jędrzejczyk is tasked with handing China native Weili her premier Octagon loss, after she steamrolled an aggressive Jessica Andrade to take the title at the end of August.
The Hebei native presents quite an interesting opponent on paper for Joanna, a well rounded striker with knockout ability, and a wily grappler with an almost patented armbar prepared. Jędrzejczyk has faced accurate strikers like Zhang before in the form of Rose Namajunas, who just so happens to hold two victories over the Pole at strawweight. In the defending champion’s corner, Jędrzejczyk presents the stiffest, most technical and highest level striker to date, that Zhang has squared off with.
Michelle Waterson vs. Carla Esparza:
Michelle Waterson lodged a valiant effort against Jędrzejczyk last night, showing some real grit and determination to eat some of Joanna’s best shots and still fire back her own from the pocket. Yes, Waterson had her moments with two potential rear-naked choke setups, but overall, she was steadily dismantled by the Polish striker from the first round onward. A title tilt was within touching distance for the Albequerque native, but she must now rebuild a head of steam.
Who better to make inroads against other than inaugural champion Carla ‘Cookie Monster’ Esparza. The first gold holder at 115 pounds has landed two wins in a row, most recently edging out Alexa Grasso in Mexico City by majority decision. Waterson not only firmly remains in contention with a victory, but the Jackson-Wink MMA trainee secures a victory over a former division champion. On the otherhand, if Esparza gets her hand raised, it’s a gigantic statement on her level and stake as a still legitimate challenger at strawweight.