The first of three title fights slated for mega-card UFC 217 will go down in the strawweight division. Joanna Jedrzejczyk will look to tie Ronda Rousey’s UFC title defense record for women’s MMA at six. In order to do so, she’ll have to defeat “Thug” Rose Namajunas.
How They Got Here
Jedrzejczyk has rattled off five title defenses since a dominant TKO of inaugural strawweight queen Carla Esparza in March 2015. Since then, she has won in dominant fashion against Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau, Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Jessica Andrade in that order. She’ll look to add Namajunas to that list on Saturday.
It’s easy to forget that Namajunas fought for a UFC title before Jedrzejczyk, albeit she came up short. Namajunas has gone 4-1 since losing to Esparza in the first strawweight championship bout. She put together submission wins over Angela Hill, Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson, as well as a unanimous decision over Tecia Torres. Her lone loss in that span was a split decision to Kowalkiewicz.
It’s no secret to anyone that has ever seen Jedrzejczyk fight that the champion’s bread and butter is her striking game. She has some of the best pure striking in the entire sport of MMA, men or women. She seamlessly blends all eight limbs into a relentless Muay Thai attack that leaves women’s faces busted up by the end of any fight. Jedrzejczyk lives on volume rather than pure knockout power, and has reached at least 126 significant strikes in each of her defenses. She’s reached 220 twice.
On the ground, Jedrzejczyk’s best offense is her defense. The champ utilizes a brilliant sprawl to keep her upright, which has led to a 81.61 percent takedown defense rate.
Namajunas’ greatest strength is the opposite. She has a fantastic and opportunistic submission game, which has led to her owning the most subs in the division’s short history (3). The strength of her striking is that she’s unorthodox, and has been improving it each fight. A nasty head kick set up the rear naked choke against Waterson. Jedrzejczyk will have to be mindful of her arms and neck at all times against Namajunas, who has managed standing rear naked chokes and flying armbars.
Jedrzejczyk doesn’t have many at all. The one that comes to mind is that she can be taken down by sheer force, most notably by Gadelha. Keeping her down is another thing. Gadelha was able to control Jedrzejczyk for over 18 of 40 minutes in their combined two fights. In the second bout, that didn’t come without the cost of Gadelha gassing herself. But does Namajunas have the pure strength to get Jedrzejczyk down and keep her there? Probably not, which means she likely won’t be able to exploit the champ’s main weakness.
Namajunas has faltered in the spotlight before. She seemed to have been overcome by the moment against Esparza in her first title fight, and did not play to her strengths against Kowalkiewicz. Still, Namajunas is insanely talented and shows flashes of having put it all together in the past against the likes of Waterson and VanZant. She has exhibited signs of mental growth each fight, and seemed unfazed by Jedrzejczyk’s mind games in the buildup to the fight. It’s only a matter of time until Namajunas shirks her Achilles’ heel. Technically, Namajunas has shown she could get beat up in the clinch, something Kowalkiewicz exploited to victory. Namajunas will want to avoid the clinch against a Muay Thai savant like Jedrzejczyk.
The champ will retain her belt and tie Rousey’s record. Namajunas’s dangerous jiu-jitsu can and should be a concern for Jedrzejczyk, who should be mindful of her neck and arms at all times. But barring some wizardry from Namajunas, Jedrzejczyk should be able to employ her striking at distance and in the clinch. Not to mention, Jedrzejczyk has edges in experience, competition and likely confidence. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, 4th Round.