Is Joanna Jedrzejczyk The Next Ronda Rousey?

Joanna Jedrzejczyk (10-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) defends her strawweight title Saturday night at UFC 193 when she goes up against Valerie Letourneau (8-3 MMA, 3-0 UFC).  The bout in Australia prefaces the much anticipated Ronda Rousey vs. Holly Holm fight. But what what you probably don’t know is just how impressive Jedrzejczyk has been.

Just because she’s a lighter fighter and may be currently over-shadowed by Rousey, doesn’t mean she’s not a badass.

In fact, Rousey has taken serious notice of the Polish fighter. And that was one of my first questions when I got to talk to Jedrzejczyk Monday.

Josh: Ronda Rousey hasn’t necessarily been paving the way but certainly gaining more exposure for the sport [MMA]. What’s it like to be part of a sport that’s growing like crazy, especially in the female spectrum?

Joanna: We’ve got lots of exposure ’cause of her ya know? I’m enjoying this life and enjoying being a fighter. I don’t know what to say. It’s my life, you know? At the beginning of my career I didn’t know that I was going to be a professional athlete. I took muay thai classes because I wanted to be in shape, lose a few kilograms, and that’s all. But I became a fighter. 

Josh: So you started out doing muay thai, so at what point did you really think this was going to turn into such a successful career for you?

Joanna: I didn’t really expect it. I was a world champion and European champion and in the beginning I didn’t like MMA. I liked [it], but I didn’t want to compete in the MMA because it’s a crazy sport. But I’m really enjoying it right now … I’m learning every day. 

Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland punches Jessica Penne of the United States in their women's strawweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the O2 World on June 20, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland punches Jessica Penne of the United States in their women’s strawweight championship bout during the UFC Fight Night event at the O2 World on June 20, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Josh: Ronda Rousey said that she was “nervous” to meet you because she believes you’re the next dominant champion. Why do you think she really believes in you?

Joanna: I couldn’t believe that! But I was happy, and I met her, and I was stressed out as well. But she’s simply the best. She’s not just the best of the female fighters, but the best of all the MMA fighters, ya know? I’m very happy for her. She’s very smart and clever. She’s doing all kinds of different things outside the UFC. I’m happy that I got to talk with her.

Josh: And you’ve been, so far, just as dominant, having not lost a bout yet. But Ronda, she talked about how she can see herself retiring in the next couple of years. Do you feel the same way? You guys are almost the exact same age.

Joanna: Nah.  UFC 193 Previews

Josh: [Laughs]

Joanna: Nah. If you do more and get more you’re more hungry, know what I mean? So I don’t know what to say.

Of course I’m thinking of my private life in the future because I do not have time to hang out with my friends and my family. But I choose my life as a fighter. I train every day twice, eleven times in a week. Then there’s physical therapy and diet all the time. But I want to fight. I am 28 but feel like I’m 18 … I’m really enjoying my life and enjoying fighting.

Maybe I’ll fight for two or three years longer. I don’t know how my body is gonna feel. I would like to be undefeated and know when to go out from this business. 

Josh: Tell me what you think about Valerie? 

Joanna: Valerie is a good fighter. She’s tough. She’s a striker but she can fight on the ground very good … But I can fight on the ground too. I think it’s going to be a great match between two strikers. She has the power, good high kicks. But I’m better. I’m faster. I’m a champion, ya know? All of them go crazy before the fight, with the stare downs. They’re talking too much. They think they can beat me. But I’m on a different level. I’m a champion. I’m doing more than they are doing.

Josh: I feel a lot of times fighters will talk a lot and there’s a lot of hype around what they say. But when you say that ‘you’re the champion’ and that you feel you’re a better fighter, it sounds like you obviously truly believe it. What makes your training and preparation better than everyone else?

Joanna: I’m working so hard, man. Everyone’s gonna say their preparation is so good. They don’t know how hard work looks like. I know this shit, man. I was crying — Blood, tears and other crazy stuff in my preparation. But I know those things are making me a better fighter and a champion, ya know? 

Josh: And being in Poland, I was curious, does it help your preparation? Does it give you an advantage because it may be an escape from people, distractions, media … from people like me!? So you can hone in and focus for what you get ready for?

Joanna: Definitely, I’m going to be in the U.S. so you can interview me every week, okay! [Laughs].

I’m joking. But I love the U.S. so much … After the fight I want to go home and spend time with my family but in January I want to return to the U.S. and spend time there with my fans, with media and do all kinds of different stuff. Because they want me there and I want to be there for them. 

UFC 191 Weigh-in

Josh: And because your fight is just before Ronda’s, it’s UFC 193, it’s Australia, you could argue more eyes are going to be on you than ever before. What’s going to going through your mind as you enter the ring to face Letourneau?

Joanna: Ya that’s true. I’m happy I can fight in this terrific UFC show. It’s going to be a crazy show. I’m lucky because I can watch a lot of fights [Laughs]. She [Rousey] is fighting after me. But I’m really happy. My last fight was in Berlin. My fight was a headline fight. I’m happy. I did well. But of course sometimes I feel like I need more exposure. But I don’t complain. UFC and UFC PR are doing great stuff for me.

Josh: I can only imagine how much you’ve sacrificed to get to this point. Can you tell me what it means to have the type of support you have? You’ve mentioned your fans before. You really don’t seem to be taking this ride for granted. 

Joanna: I’ve had a fighting career for 12 years. I’ve had really bad times. I wanted to quit the sport so many times because of the money, because of the sponsorship, because of the motivation. But right now I’m really thankful to UFC, Dana and Lorenzo for the opportunities which I got from them, ya know? … Like I said last time, I’m a UFC soldier so if you want me to fight next week, a week after my fight, I’m going to do it for them … People, we always forget about bad things, bad times, and we just enjoying the good times, ya know? But we must remember how hard was the time before? So we can enjoy those good things. That’s who I am.

Josh Helmuth is the editor of CraveOnline Sports.

Photo (top): Getty