Everything you need to know about this weekend's big fight between Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Jessica Penne.
Last December, the UFC staged a high-profile bout in its strawweight division. The idea was to showcase the woman expected to be the first challenger for newly crowned champion Carla Esparza. Joanna Jędrzejczyk was one of the contestants. She was not the one being showcased.
Fight promotion president Dana White had all but promised the title shot to Jędrzejczyk’s opponent, CláudiaGadelha. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt was a three-time world champion in that discipline. She was undefeated in mixed martial arts. She was a product of Nova União, the Rio de Janeiro camp that is home to featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former men’s bantamweight king RenanBarão. You might say Gadelha had the pedigree of a champion.
It was Jędrzejczyk, however, who ended up having her hand raised. The close fight threw the UFC a curve, but within a couple of weeks the promotion announced that the 27-year-old Pole would get the shot at Esparza.
She made the most of it.
Showing off the striking game that had made her a five-time gold medalist in the Muay Thai world championships, Jędrzejczyk put on a virtuoso performance, blitzing Esparza from the start, fending off 16 of the former collegiate wrestler’s 17 takedown tries, and knocking her out in the second round to take away the crown.
Jędrzejczyk (9-0) defends her belt for the first time on Saturday in Berlin, facing Jessica Penne in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card at O2 World (3 p.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass). The new champ, who took up MMA as recently as 2012 after more than 60 fights in Muay Thai, is ranked No. 1 in the SI.com strawweight rankings.
Penne (12-2), a 32-year-old Californian who ranks No. 9 on the SI.com list, was a semifinalist on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, losing to eventual champ Esparza. On the December night when Esparza beat Rose Namajunas for the shiny new belt, Penne earned a split-decision win over RandaMarkos. That apparently was enough to earn her the next title shot.
Saturday’s 10-fight card will be shown on the UFC Fight Pass online streaming service. The show gets under way at noon ET, with the four-bout main card beginning at 3 p.m.
Last year, the UFC amassed 16 of the best 115-pound fighting women it could find to form the cast for a season of The Ultimate Fighter that would crown a champion in a new strawweight division. Joanna Jędrzejczyk was not among them.
The Pole had been offered a spot but, having competed to that point as a 125-pounder, she was concerned about having to make weight on short notice to fit within a reality show schedule. So there went the priceless TV exposure.
As a result, the promotion now has a champion lots of fans haven’t even seen. Many can’t even pronounce her last name.
Last five fights
3/14/15 Carla Esparza W TKO 2
12/13/14 CláudiaGaedelha W SD 3
7/26/14 Juliana Lima W UD 3
6/7/14 Rosi Sexton W KO 25/9/14 Karla Benitez W UD 3
12/12/14 Renda Markos W SD 3
7/12/13 NicdaliRivera-Calanoc W Sub 1
4/5/13 Michelle Waterson L Sub 4
10/6/12 Naho Sugiyama W Sub 2
4/28/12 Lisa Ellis W TKO 3
Tale of the tape
August 18, 1987
January 30, 1983
* Official weights announced at the weigh-in (Friday, 10 a.m. ET, UFC Fight Pass)
Other numbers to count on
16: Takedowns successfully defended by Joanna Jędrzejczyk in her title fight against decorated wrestler Carla Esparza. The defending champion landed but one takedown.
53-4: Significant striking differential in the Jędrzejczyk vs. Esparza bout, with Joanna exhibiting a huge advantage on her feet.
8: Guard passes by Penne in her three-round bout with RandaMarkos, a display of slick ground skills.
Jędrzejczyk becomes champion in her second UFC fight:
Jessica Penne wins the Invictaatomweight (105-pound) belt:
What won Joanna Jędrzejczyk a championship was her ability to fend off the takedown attempts of wrestler Carla Esparza. She’s going to have to do the same against Jessica Penne, who has earned seven of her 12 victories via submission.
Penne has insisted that Esparza, her friend, was defeated even before stepping inside the octagon, that the talkative Jędrzejczyk had gotten into the then-champ’s head. Jessica had better hope that was the deciding factor. If talk was just talk, however, and it was purely Jędrzejczyk’s striking acumen that was the difference, that doesn’t bode well for this challenger or anyone who needs to get Joanna to the ground.
A fighter couldn’t possible be more dogged than Esparza was against Jędrzejczyk. She tried 17 takedowns. But Jędrzejczyk was ready to defend herself every time. So Penne needs to mix things up enough to get the champ guessing. Then she has to hope the champ leaves an opening for her submission game by guessing wrong.
Jędrzejczyk is the heavy betting favorite, with a money line of -650 (bet $650 to win $100). The line on Penne is +475 (bet $100 to win $475).
The strawweight division is a bit of a free-for-all. Several among the reality show cast have what it takes to at least compete for the top spot. To do so successfully against Joanna Jędrzejczyk, however, you need to be able to do one of two things: get her to the ground or stand up to her in the stand up. Jessica Penne can do neither.
Jędrzejczyk by KO.
“You’re going to feel the Polish power. I am coming. I am the champion, and I am coming. I’m coming for you, Jessica.”
—Joanna Jędrzejczyk, appearing on The MMA Hour
“Get used to eating that penne pasta, because you’ll be eating this Penne’s punches this Saturday.”
—Jessica Penne on Instagram, after Jędrzejczyk had posted a picture of herself scarfing down penne pasta. (Penne’s response was accompanied by a photo of the Tolkein character Gollum, whom she compared to her opponent.)
The Rest of the Card
Dennis Siver vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri, featherweight; Peter Sobotta vs. Steve Kennedy, welterweight; Nick Hein vs. Lukasz Sajewski, lightweight; Urijah Hall vs. Krzysztof Jotko, middleweight; Mairbek Taisumov vs. Alan Patrick, lightweight; Alan Omer vs. Mike Wilkinson, featherweight; Niklas Backstrom vs. Noad Lahat, featherweight; Scott Askham vs. Antonio dos Santos, middleweight; Piotr Hallman vs. Magomed Mustafaev, lightweight; Taylor Lapilus vs. Ulka Sasaki, men’s bantamweight.
John Gooden will handle blow-by-blow and Dan Hardy analysis for the 10-fight telecast on the UFC Fight Pass.