The UFC’s strawweight division has a brand new champion. Just months after Carla Esparza became the division’s first belt holder, at UFC 185, that same belt was ripped from her possession. After a truly impressive performance, it now belongs to Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk, an undefeated striker with tremendous Muay Thai and takedown defence to boot. And from the early vantage point, hers looks like it could be a very exciting title run.
Of course, Jedrzejczyk’s reign doesn’t begin with quite the same hype that bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey’s did, but the buzz is there all the same. She’s the first European champion since Andrei Arlovski held the heavyweight title, which makes her marketable on the continent, and she’s also generating a good deal of interest among North American fans, helped by her confidence, charm and thrilling fighting style. And so, what we have in our new strawweight champion is a fighter both talented, and telegenic—a young champ with all the prerequisites for superstardom. The question is: in what direction does the UFC go with this promising 27-year-old?
Really, the options for Jedrzejczyk are plentiful. Thanks to a packed division of talented strawweights, the UFC could take their new champion in any number of appealing directions. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at her hypothetical roadmap.
The first and most obvious course for the Polish striker is a run of the UFC’s 115-pound gauntlet. Because she never competed in Invicta FC, the source of the majority of the organization’s roster, she’s yet to face many of her peers. This leaves a good deal of fights available to her. Just imagine the possibilities: rankings-wise, a scrap with Jessica Penne makes sense, and would probably be a great fight. Then, there’s always a rematch with the division’s number-two, Claudia Gadelha, who Jedrzejczyk narrowly defeated to earn her recent title shot. Beyond that, there’s a host of other options awaiting the new champ. A clash with Rose Namajunas would almost guarantee fireworks, while bouts with Tecia Torres, Conor McGregor teammate Aisling Daly and the much-hyped Paige VanZant would do the same.
Then, there’s perhaps the most appealing fight on the champ’s immediate horizon: a clash with fellow European, Joanne Calderwood. The Scot fights in just a few weeks time, taking on Maryna Moroz in Jedrzejczyk’s native Poland. If she achieves victory in Poland, she’ll move to 2-0 in the UFC, and will have the opportunity to call Jedrzejczyk out from her own back yard. And while this makes for a bit of an interesting storyline, the main appeal of this fight is the way the two women match up. Stylistically, the two Europeans are quite similar to one another—and not just because their first names are only a letter different. Both currently own unblemished, 9-0 records, and more importantly, the two fighters own the division’s best striking arsenals. Pairing them together is bound to lead to a gunfight, and because the UFC will soon be making trips to both Poland and Scotland, there’ll be plenty of valid opportunities to book this matchup. It could easily headline or co-headline a future card in either country.
Yet the prospects for Jedrzejczyk extend far beyond the UFC’s current strawweight roster. Under the Zuffa-owned Invicta banner, a handful of other exciting challengers await the champion, requiring only a UFC contract to earn the honor. There’s undefeated Mexican prospect, Alexa Grasso, who would undoubtedly give the champ a good fight. There’s current Invicta FC strawweight titlist Katja Kankaanpää. Then, of course, there’s World Series of Fighting strawweight champion Jessica Aguilar, who many consider the division’s absolute best. WSOF is undoubtedly keen on hanging onto Aguilar, but if the UFC can pick her up, she’d make a stark test for Jedrzejczyk, and the pairing would leave little doubt as to the division’s very best fighter.
Really, the options for the strawweight queen are endless. Her division is packed with hungry challengers, all eagerly awaiting a shot at her belt, while outside the UFC, a number of dangerous threats to reign await their chance. And while this whopping talent that exists in the strawweight division will be a bit of a challenge for Jedrzejczyk, It’s a great thing for us fans. Yes, she’s only been champion for a few weeks, but the Polish striker is likely to have a very exciting championship reign. And should she achieve long-term success, keeping her undefeated record and her UFC belt, Jedrzejczyk’s options get no less exciting. As a former 125-pound fighter, she’s even got some wiggle room for some superfights with UFC bantamweights. For the moment, such things remain entirely hypothetical, but only serve as further proof that Jedrzejczyk, the UFC’s rising star, has the potential for a seriously epic title reign. That reign continues with her next fight, whoever her opponent may be.
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