Like it or not, Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s legacy is on the line against UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili at UFC 248 on March 7 in Las Vegas. That’s just the way these types of things seem to go, so Jedrzejczyk had better be prepared to give her best effort in what’s sure to be a fantastic battle between two of the top women’s strawweight fighters in the world.
Don’t misunderstand. It’s not that Jedrzejczyk isn’t already considered one of the best strawweight champions ever. Nothing could ever take away from how dominant the Polish powerhouse looked half a decade ago when she rose to the top of the UFC’s 125-pound weight class via a violent and hostile takeover.
In fact, it’s because of Jedrzejczyk’s firmly laid grip on the claim to being one of the most dominant forces in women’s strawweight history that her bout against China’s 30-year-old champ Weili at UFC 248 is so massively important.
Because in an age gone mad with deserved, but sometimes seemingly solely reserved, ardor for the likes of Amanda Nunes, Cris Cyborg and retired former champion Ronda Rousey, Jedrzejczyk is one of the baddest female UFC fighters the UFC has ever produced.
Beating Weili would remind more people of it.
UFC 248 takes place March 7 at 10 p.m. Eastern time. It will air as a pay-per-view on ESPN+.
Jedrzejczyk Has Already Accomplished Amazing Feats
Jedrzejczyk is the former UFC women’s strawweight champion. She defended her belt five times before stunningly losing to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 in 2017.
But up until that point? Jedrzejczyk was was undefeated woodchipper and the rest of the 125-pound division had been the wood.
Jedrzejczyk enters UFC 248 2-3 over her last five fights. In addition to the knockout loss to Namajunas at UFC 217, Jedrzejczyk lost the immediate rematch before defeating Tecia Torres to start 2018.
But Jedrzejczyk ended that year by losing her third title fight in a row, this time to Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant women’s flyweight title.
Still, Jedrzejczyk earned this title shot by beating back a hard challenge from Michelle Waterson in October 2019. That win displayed her championship mettle. While Waterson seemed to be rising over recent years toward accomplishing her own UFC title dreams, Jedrzejczyk beat back the brave but outgunned Karate stylist to once again lay claim to her own championship track.
The best part? Every single thing about the Waterson win showed Jedrzejczyk still had another run in her. She was longer, stronger, meaner and just plain better than Waterson.
In short, Waterson is a real battler. But Jedrzejczyk proved to be something even greater.
Jedrzejczyk Wants to Change Current Narrative
Jedrzejczyk enters UFC 248 knowing the stakes are high. While there was a time in her career that it was reasonable to ponder whether anyone in the sport could defeat her within the division, the narrative has slowly changed over time toward something the 32-year-old would like to correct.
“I don’t like the way people define me and my career after I lost the belt, and what happened,” Jedrzejczyk said recently on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “But I know who I am. I don’t have to prove [anything], but I want to make it clear that I am one of the best female fighters of all time.”
Still, Jedrzejczyk said she isn’t feeling any pressure to perform. In fact, in the former champion’s mind, it’s always the fighter who wears the belt into the cage that carries all the additional burdens of expectation that come along with such honors.
So Jedrzejczyk believes all the pressure will be on the champ.
“She’s the champ, so all eyes are on her,” said Jedrzejczyk. “Some fighters, they don’t like to deal with the audience. They don’t know how to deal with the fans, with big crowds.”
Jedrzejczyk Isn’t Wrong About Championship Pressure
Honestly, Weili does enter UFC 248 with a bit more pressure on her to succeed than Jedrzejczyk. She would have likely had to deal with that anyway after she became the first fighter from China to become a UFC champion.
It might even have made some sense to suggest Weili would need to turn in an impressive performance against Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 because it would be her first title defense. That’s especially the case since Weili’s shocking first-round defeat of Jessica Andrade over the summer had come to the surprise of so many fans and media on this side of the world.
But with the coronavirus outbreak? With the new champ maybe carrying the weight of an entire nation on her shoulder? With Weili entering the biggest fight of her UFC career probably hoping to give nearly 1.4 billion people in China something besides all that to think about it if only for a little while at least?
Maybe Jedrzejczyk is onto something.
Both Weili and Jedrzejczyk Are Sensational Fighters
Beyond the situational aspects of the upcoming battle between Jedrzejczyk and Weili at UFC 248, the plain truth of the matter is that both women are sensational fighters who are still in the process of shaping whatever their UFC legacies will ultimately turn out to be.
But here’s where Jedrzejczyk might actually have more to lose and why her performance is so important. Weili is two years younger. She’s looked as dominant as ever in recent fights, and there’s really no telling yet whether she’s even started to peak.
Time is on the current champion’s side.
But Jedrzejczyk is nearer the end of her career than the beginning, at least in terms of being able to convince herself and others that she remains in her physical prime. She’s already done so much in her career, but she probably wants to do more.
Huge Stakes for Jedrzejczyk’s Potential Historial Legacy at UFC 248
Some stalwart MMA journalists, such as Bleacher Report’s Scott Harris, already see Weili nipping at Jedrzejczyk’s heels from a historical perspective. In fact, Harris ranks the current champion the third-best women’s strawweight champion ever from any promotion in the world.
Jedrzejczyk is ranked second.
But if Jedrzejczyk can defeat Weili at UFC 248, she would surely seem to figure heavily into future big fights. Not only would one of Poland’s best fighters raise eyebrows about regaining her strawweight championship again when almost nobody believed she might, but she’d also have numerous more opportunities to prove she’s one of the best women’s champions ever in any weight class.
Nunes. Cyborg. Rousey.
Does Jedrzejczyk’s name belong among the names in that group? Maybe.
If Jedrzejczyk hopes to solidify her name among what would be the Mount Rushmore of women’s champions someday, or maybe even be at the top of that list, she absolutely will have beaten Weili at UFC 248 along the way.
Jedrzejczyk is already one of the best fighters in her weight class of all-time. No one would dispute that.
But beating Weili at UFC 248 could help her achieve something so much more.