For Joanna Jedrzejczyk, UFC 217 was a night to forget. After five successful title defenses, ‘Joanna Champion’ rolled into MSG for what initially looked like just another outing. Rose Namajunas’ immense talent was well-established, but Jedrzejczyk had proven herself to be a dominant titleholder and frankly, looked unlikely to be dethroned anytime soon. On fight night though, that mystique vanished in an instant. Within two minutes, Joanna had been floored and whilst this wasn't a brand new occurrence, a dramatic recovery suddenly seemed rather distant opposite Namajunas.
A minute later and it was all over. In stunning fashion, Joanna had suffered her first loss and in ‘Thug Rose,’ we had a new UFC Strawweight champion. The response was an unsurprising whirlwind of questions. Had we just seen a changing of the guard or was this simply an off-night for the previously consistent Jedrzejczyk? Well, those questions wouldn't have to last long as just five months after their first encounter, Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk would meet again. It was a chance for Joanna to reclaim her throne, giving fans some clarity as Rose looked to solidify her champion status.
In the end, the results would be…well, interesting. Joanna certainly fared better on this occasion, going the distance and having some genuine highlights along the way. Jedrzejczyk’s skill-set remained elite, clearly taking rounds from Rose but in the judges’ eyes, not enough of them. She came out the unanimous decision loser, and that was probably in line with the public consensus too. Joanna had fought well, but not quite well enough to take the belt back on her first try.
With the belt now out of reach, even if only briefly, it’s time for Joanna to approach the next chapter of her career. Though Jedrzejczyk found herself in the challenger’s corner last time out, this now really feels like the start of her return to the contender ranks. With two losses opposite the current champ, Joanna is back in the hunt for a title shot after years of residing at the top. Jedrzejczyk’s opponent this Saturday is Tecia Torres, a fellow contender with title ambitions of her own.
For Jedrzejczyk though, this is about laying the foundations for what comes next. For all of her established brilliance, Joanna’s future is currently unclear. The reality of a sport as volatile as this one is that things can change quickly, and top fighters can quickly hit a rough patch that isn’t always easily recovered from. However, if Jedrzejczyk’s showing in that aforementioned Namajunas rematch showed anything, it’s that Joanna likely has a whole lot left to offer at the absolute top of the sport.
A genuine talent, Torres is fresh off a loss herself but the focus here is inevitably on Joanna. Already one of MMA’s greatest ever female fighters, this an athlete with a championship run that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Jedrzejczyk’s career has already produced some incredible encounters inside the octagon and from a technical level, her legacy as one of the sport’s pivotal female strikers feels established. The real question now becomes about her ability to add to that already strong reputation.
This is an incredible fighter that’ll undeniably be remembered fondly down the line but the truth is, she may only just be getting started. Joanna’s future is in the balance, but her impact is solidified either way. Now at the start of another quest for title contention though, Jedrzejczyk has the chance to restate her elite talent, potentially catapulting herself to a whole new level in the process. No longer at the top of the Strawweight mountain, Joanna now looks to make the climb again, this time in the quest to eventually conquer Rose Namajunas, the only challenge she’s failed against, not once, but twice.
Whether she can achieve that feat is yet to be seen but one thing is for sure, Joanna’s next chapter simply has to begin with a win this Saturday night. If not, the climb will only be longer.