Joanna Jedrzejczyk and the UFC’s European Revolution

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

It took Polish starlet Joanna Jędrzejczyk less than ten minutes to dethrone Carla Esparza in her first title defence as UFC’s straw weight champion. After three minutes of stuffing takedowns, Jędrzejczyk dominance in the striking department became evident as ‘The Cookie Monster’ dived at her legs in attempt to take the fight to the ground.

Although some thought the Jędrzejczyk had what it took to claim the win, no one saw the contest being as one-sided as it was. Towards the end of the fight, Esparza seemed bewildered by her opponent’s boxing skills. When referee Don Turnage stopped the bout after a particularly vicious flurry Esparza collapsed to the canvas as he stepped in, underlining the Pole’s dominance.

There was a genuine intensity to Jędrzejczyk in the lead up to the bout. It seemed like she was almost offended by being considered the underdog for the matchup. Not since Andrei Arlovski in 2005 had a European held a UFC title. Before the Belarusian, the only previous promotional champion was Bas Rutten who won the heavyweight championship in one of the most controversial decisions of all time against Kevin Randleman back in 1999.

UFC have definitely upped their efforts on the continent though and the influx of European talent has been clear for all to see. This year the ZUFFA promotion could have as many as six events in Europe, and usually, there are a host of MMA proponents from each nation that guarantee big numbers at the events.

January’s Stockholm event was proof of how much European fans are willing to do just to host an event. 30,000 people packed into the Tele2 stadium in the midst of a bitterly cold Scandinavian winter, and at about 4 am, due to the US viewership, they got to see their hero Alexander Gustafsson go to work.

Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC

Even tough Stockholm have had a host of UFC events, their appreciation for the cards was evident as they stood and gave ‘The Mauler’ a standing ovation despite him being put away in just over two minutes by the light heavyweight division’s number one contender Anthony Johnson.

The passion has been noted on the majority of UFC’s European destinations like Berlin, London, Stockholm, but perhaps most famously in Dublin back in July 2014.

Having been starved of an event since 2009, when the UFC returned to the Irish capital last year with a hometown boy, Conor McGregor, as the main event the 02 Arena was practically vibrating with a little over 9000 people in attendance. Five of the athletes that were in action hailed from the island, another nod to UFC’s European expansion, which provided a memorable back drop for the night.

Commentating on the event that night, former welterweight contender Dan Hardy claimed the crowd had been even louder than the promotion’s highest attended event, 2011’s UFC 129 in Toronto.

“The one that’s stood quite far, and I think it will stand out for a long time to come is the Dublin card,” said Hardy in an interview with the Irish Daily Mirror. “The first fight was like a main event and the reaction of the crowd when Paddy (Holohan) won—it just went absolutely insane.  

“I’ve never seen an arena that full so early in the evening. A lot of the time you see people trickling in before the main card, which is always a little bit disappointing. Obviously the atmosphere just increased in Dublin as the card went on.

“Considering there were half the normal fans there that would usually be at a pay-per-view, it was absolutely unreal. I’ve never witnessed an atmosphere like it. Even in the 50,000 seat arena that UFC did in Canada, GSP was the main event on that card and it wasn’t even comparable to Dublin.”

Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Jędrzejczyk becoming the champion at UFC 185 is proof that the European expansion is not just too capitalize on the popularity of the sport—there are undeniable challengers in nearly every division.

We have already seen Dagestan charge Ali Bagautinov unsuccessfully compete for the flyweight strap. Only Donald Cerrone stands in the way of Khabib Nurmagomedov competing for the lightweight title, which is currently held by a man he defeated over three rounds last year, Rafael Dos Anjos.

In the middleweight ranks, Dutch veteran Gegard Mousasi seems to be just outside the title conversation, but a win over Costas Philipou, another European who is originally from Cyprus, should put him right amongst the top dogs of the 185 lbs bracket.

Despite the quick ending to his bout with Johnson in front of his hometown crowd in Stockholm and given how much he pushed champion Jon ‘Bones’ Jones in their bout, you could never rule out Alexander Gustafsson as a potential title challenger at 205 lbs again in the future.  Jimi Manuwa meets Jan Blachowicz in another light-heavyweight clash that could propel on of them to the top of the bracket when they meet in Poland on April 11.

Meeting featherweight champion Jose Aldo on July 11, Conor McGregor is the most likely to become the UFC’s next European champion. Regardless of how you think the Irishman will fare on the night, he is 25 minutes away from adding to Jędrzejczyk’s presence as the lone European in UFC’s current championship contingent.

Due to the amount of talent springing up from the continent, and their proximity to their divisional championships, don’t be too surprised if there are more than just one European UFC champion by the time 2015 is over and done with.


Check out these related stories:

The First Strawweight Title Defense: Expect Esparza and Jędrzejczyk to Steal the Show

Quick Results: Two New Champs at UFC 185