Polish Muay Thai and kickboxing sensation Joanna Jedrzejczyk announced her retirement from an incredible career in the aftermath of her second-round knockout loss at UFC 275 in a rematch with Zhang Weili. The former UFC strawweight champion is among the most decorated and accomplished fighters on the planet. She will undoubtedly go down as one of the most successful and popular fighters in the history of the company. A first-ballot Hall of Famer, her career has given fans plenty of memorable moments over the course of her career in the octagon which included one of the most dominant title runs in the history of women’s MMA. As the curtain closes on a fairytale career, it’s only fitting that we look back on some of her best moments throughout her extraordinary UFC run.
Making an instant impact
Before joining the UFC in 2014, Jedrzejczyk had an impressive 6-0 record to boast of and was full of confidence heading into the promotion. The Pole faced Juliana Lima in her debut bout in the octagon, and the two fought on the preliminary card of a Fight Night event in San Jose, California. Fans would be treated to one of Jdrzejczyk’s now-infamous furious faceoffs for the first time, as she got in Lima’s face and had some choice words for her fellow octagon newbie. The speed advantage of Jdrzejczyk was obvious from the start. Lima struggled to keep up during their three-round bout and was hit with multiple strikes throughout that landed on the button. Lima struggled with the range and mobility, and she appeared to be out of her depth going into the third round. In the closing stages, Jdrzejczyk refused to let up as she continued to press attacking her Brazilian opponent and in many ways marking out her intent to the rest of the onlooking division. She ran out the convincing winner claiming a unanimous victory that epitomized her relentless nature inside the cage, something that would in the end define her combat sports career.
Her crowning glory
Just nine months on from her UFC debut came a championship opportunity against the then-Queen of the 115-pounders Carla Esperza at UFC 185. Her record stood at 8-0 as a professional Mixed Martial Artist as she was bidding to become the first European woman and the first-ever fighter from Poland to claim UFC gold. According to most US betting sites, she came into the contest as the underdog; it was clear that it was not going to be easy. The inaugural champion of the strawweight division stood in her way and was without doubt Jedrzejczyk’s toughest test to date. Esparza was thought to be a nightmare matchup for Jdrzejczyk due to her significant wrestling background. The Polish superstar had never before fought a wrestler with the credentials of the ‘Cookie Monster’ but Jedrzejczyk looked at ease. She thwarted every attempt by Esparza to take the battle to the ground and as the challenger’s confidence grew she began taking control. With a minute remaining in the second frame, Jędrzejczyk unleashed a barrage on Esparza, who eventually folded against the cage, prompting the referee to call a halt to the action and sealing an emphatic victory for the Pole. Her sensational TKO win marked the beginning of one of the greatest title runs not only in the history of the division but in the history of the company. Without question one of her greatest nights in an octagon.
Co-main eventing with Jessica Andrade
After consecutive title defences against Jessica Penne, top contender Valérie Létourneau, TUF rival Cláudia Gadelha and fellow Polish strawweight Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Joanna would square off against up-and-coming powerhouse Jessica Andrade in the co-main event of UFC 211. Andrade entered her championship fight with Jedrzejczyk on a three-fight winning streak. With five TKOs and seven submission victories under her belt at the time, the Brazilian had a reputation for being a devastating finisher. Jedrzejczyk completely neutralized all of Andrade’s weapons and dominated the challenger in one of the most impressive performances of her career. Jedrzejczyk’s world-class striking was a sight to behold, as she took apart the hard-hitting Andrade with ease, thwarting every takedown attempt en route to a dominant unanimous decision victory. She ran the show, clinching all five rounds from all the judges and earning the recognition as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in all of UFC.
The greatest women’s bout in history
Weili vs Joanna 1 is easily one of the greatest 5 round wars in the history of MMA and without a shadow of a doubt the best women’s bout in company history. Zhang Weili was the strawweight champion while Jedrzejczyk had just won a unanimous decision against top 115-pound competitor Michelle Waterson. The former champion was attempting to recapture the title she had lost three years previously to Rose Namajunas. An intriguing contest was on the cards but few could predict what would unfold. Jędrzejczyk’s superior speed came to the forefront early on while Weili landed some damaging combinations to keep honours even in the opening rounds. The Pole decided to let loose after the opening exchanges and went toe-to-toe with her Chinese counterpart providing us with some of the best striking in MMA history. An utterly enthralling slugfest from start to finish fittingly reached its climax as the audience in attendance rose to their feet to give a standing ovation for the spectacle. The fond memory of this bout and the warriors who made it happen will live with UFC fans for a lifetime and as a result, earned the contest the UFC Fight of the Year award, the first women’s bout in history to do so. Five rounds of elite striking would end with Weili having her hand raised via split decision, and Joanna leaving the octagon with the now-iconic image of her head and face looking absolutely nothing like they did before she entered. The fight eclipsed anything that had gone before for pure grit and determination; the standard had been set and very few have come close ever since.
The 34-year-old walks away from the sport with a record of 16-5 and will go down as one of the most influential figures in the growth of women’s MMA as well as the strawweight division. Her unwavering approach, indisputable ruthlessness, ability to play the antagonist, and unrivalled fortitude will ensure that she is remembered as one of the greatest female fighters to ever compete in the cage.