UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk was greeted by a hero’s welcome when she returned to Poland after her one-sided domination of Carla Esparza. UFC held their first event in her home country a month after the Polish starlet was crowned champion at UFC 185, and Jedrzejczyk remembers her arrival at UFC Fight Night: Krakow as a memorable experience.
“It was amazing to return home to Poland at UFC Krakow as a champion,” she recalls. “When I first won the belt, I couldn’t believe I had done it. There were a lot of emotions, a lot of tears and I could really feel how much it meant to the people in Poland.
“When you win you don’t expect it to have an impact on so many people. All I really thought about afterwards was my family, my boyfriend and my team – they’re the people I did it for. We did it together.
“I got a lot of attention in Krakow, it was a big night because it was the first time UFC came to the country. I think the event was such a success that they should come back again every year. It doesn’t have to be in Krakow every time either, I think they could do an awesome show in Gdansk too.
“The media attention is great, but I won’t let it change who I am. I live a very easy life. My main focus is always my fight preparation so I’m happy that I can go back to that. When these types of things happen to you, you want every fighter to feel what it’s like to be the champion of the UFC. It’s amazing.”
There was no denying the striking credentials of the future strawweight queen on her arrival to the UFC as a five-time Muay Thai world champion. Her calculated precision striking set her apart from the field in her two decision wins against Juliana de Lima Carneiro and Claudia Gadelha in her first two outings under the banner.
When she met Esparza in Dallas, people commented on the intensity of the European as she approached the bout. When the bell rang, such was the clinic she put on, Esparza looked completely reluctant to stand with Jedrzejczyk and it would take just two rounds for the Pole’s devastating onslaught to capture the title.
While many were caught off guard by the dominance of the Jedrzejczyk during the fight, she certainly wasn’t. Jedrzejczyk revealed that her training for the title fight was so excessive that she would leave the gym with tears in her eyes every night. To add to that, her focus was so intense that she would feel guilty for sleeping at the end of the day, because she knew it was time that she could spend training.
“For the fight with Carla, I just went in believing that I would be champion and that I would make all of my dreams come true. I was so focused, I was training so hard everyday to the point that I would have tears in my eyes when I was leaving the gym.
“Sometimes I didn’t even want to get into bed at night time, I just wanted to train so hard. I like the way I won the fight so quickly. That’s how I wanted it to go. I wanted to show everybody how badly I wanted the belt.”
Although confidence certainly didn’t seem to be an issue for Jedrzejczyk as she approached the title shot, there is certainly nothing cocky about her. Approaching her first defense against Jessica Penne in Berlin on June 20, she is adamant that if Jessica Penne wants the title as much as she did going in against Esparza, it could be a very tough fight for her.
She said: “I think it’s an interesting fight—for me, for her and the fans. She is very good on the ground, she’s number three in the world, she’s a former Invicta champion so I think it’s a good test for me. I’m looking forward to that.
“Anything can happen in the Octagon. You can go in and think you’re going to dominate a fight and then one thing will happen that can change everything. When I think about Penne, I think about how desperately I wanted the title before I fought Carla and won. If she feels the same way now, she’s going to be a very tough fight.
“I’m the champion and I’ve got to stay on top of the division. There are a lot of people standing behind me, trying to get the belt. I’ve got to prove why I’m at the top of bracket.”
When the pair face off in Berlin, Jedrzejczyk looks forward to enjoying the support of the crowd, something she feels she has missed out on so far with her first three fights for UFC being contested in America.
“That’s the great thing about these European events, it’s very easy to travel around from the different countries. I’m expecting a lot of fans to come over from Poland and I’m sure the fans in Berlin will get behind me too.
“I can’t wait to fight in Europe because my three fights so far have been in America. When I was fighting in the US I felt that the crowd were getting behind my opponents a bit more than they were for me. This time, it’s going to be different.”
Jedrzejczyk discussed how she sees Europe emerging as a dominant continent on the MMA landscape with the likes Conor McGregor, Alexander Gustafsson and Khabib Nurmagomedov representing the continent at the top of their divisions.
“All of us European fighters—we’ve grown up! Other parts of the world might have been dominant early on, but I think the European fighters are really showing how good they are now. It makes me very happy that I became the champion as a European,” she chimed.
“Conor McGregor has a chance at winning a title in July. Alexander Gustafsson, he’s so famous in Sweden, it’s crazy, he’s a huge star and I can still see him making another challenge for the title. I think Khabib Nurmagomedov will be a champion too.
“Outside of the guys in the UFC, there are still a lot of talented people on the European scene and I think eventually they will be signed too. When they come in we might see a lot more UFC champion from Europe.”
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