UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been the picture of dominance in her six UFC outings. Aside from a contentious split decision over Claudia Gadelha in her second fight with the promotion in December 2014, Jedrzejczyk has been a buzz saw carving her way through her opposition.
The native of Poland brutalized Carla Esparza to win the title in March 2015, stuffing 16 of her 17 takedown attempts and outlanding the defending champion by a margin of 53 to four. Jedrzejczyk turned the face of Jessica Penne, her first title challenger, into something resembling bloody hamburger meat on the way to a third-round stoppage.
Despite breaking her hand against Valerie Letourneau, Jedrzejczyk still took a clean decision and even set the record for significant strikes landed in a title fight. In her second meeting with Gadelha this past July, Jedrzejczyk erased any lingering doubt from their first fight, dominating the last three rounds in lopsided fashion.
"I have not seen a better striker live and in person in mixed martial arts than Joanna Jedrzejczyk," said UFC and Fox Sports play-by-play commentator Jon Anik, who called her fight against Gadelha. "I’ve been doing this now for five years, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been more blown away by a UFC fighter."
Jedrzejczyk’s striking skills are otherworldly.
With her fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her sights at Saturday’s UFC 205 mega-event in New York, Jedrzejczyk left her native country to train at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, one of the best camps in the world.
For the most part, fighters switch camps because something isn’t working. Why would a dominant fighter at the peak of her game, one who was comfortable with her coaches and was still making notable improvements, changes things so dramatically?
"I’ve had such good coaches, and they’re amazing human beings," she said of her old trainers in Poland. "I had really good sparring partners. My family is back home. My fiance is there. So my life was kind of easy. Everything was working."
Most fighters would be satisfied with an undefeated start to their careers and three successful title defenses, but not Jedrzejczyk, who is determined not to slip into complacency. "Sometimes you need to learn from someone, you need to change your scheme and your gym, to transfer your focus. You must open your mind and get the pressure into your head. This is what I’ve tried for the last six or seven weeks at ATT."
ATT is one of the best gyms on the planet, home to fighters like former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, his successor Tyron Woodley (occasionally), Dustin Poirier, Yoel Romero, Will Brooks and Junior Dos Santos.
Just as relevant to Jedrzejczyk is the fact that many top female fighters are based at ATT, including bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and strawweight contenders Tecia Torres and Jessica Aguilar. "Top-level fighters and sparring partners" were a major factor in her decision to move to South Florida, she said.
The all-around quality of coaching at ATT was another factor behind her decision.
"It’s amazing how many coaches there are at ATT," she said. "I have my coaches; most of the time, I work with Mike Brown, who used to be the WEC champion, Kami [Barzini] and Katel [Kubis], but I also work with Dyah [Ali Davis], who is the boxing coach, with Phil [Daru], who is the conditioning coach, and other coaches like Conan [Silveira, one of ATT’s founders].
"They’re very helpful and very nice to me. It’s amazing, because you can always ask someone if you don’t know something. They take care of every single fighter."
That constant desire to grow as a fighter has been clear since Jedrzejczyk arrived in the UFC in the summer of 2014. It’s easy to forget given how dominant she has been, but the champion has been competing professionally in MMA only since 2012. For comparison, Gadelha, her last opponent, had six years of pro experience under her belt before she ever stepped foot in the Octagon.
Jedrzejczyk has become nearly impossible to hold down.
The champ’s evolution is still ongoing too.
"Now I can call myself a complete MMA fighter," she said. "I’m not anymore just a stand-up fighter. My first two [UFC] fights, I was just using my hands and takedown defense with Juliana [Lima] and Claudia and Carla as well, but now I feel more comfortable, so I can kick and clinch with them.
"I can tell that if they take me down and I must fight on the ground, I feel good. Since I got to ATT, I stepped onto a different level, a better level. My jiu-jitsu is good, and my wrestling is good. There are many good wrestlers in Eastern Europe, but American wrestling is some of the best in the world. I want to wrestle in my next fight because I’m more confident on this level."
That kind of evolution takes time. Going from a veteran of 70 amateur and professional kickboxing fights to a novice MMA fighter was a humbling experience for Jedrzejczyk.
"When I decided to join the MMA classes, I was so mad at myself because I am a competitor," she said. "Every day, I like to win. It was so frustrating, so difficult for me when they would submit me 20 times during the training. But this is what made me, this is who I am right now."
It’s easy to see how Jedrzejczyk would progress so quickly, and her mindset is that of an intensely coachable athlete.
"I don’t like to coach myself. So many fighters in the UFC are making a really big mistake doing this. They think they’re smarter than their coaches are," she said.
"I’m hard on myself. There are no excuses in my preparation during the camp. I like to have a head coach and now I have three of them—Mike Brown, Katel and Kami—taking good care of me. This is what I like about it, they’re focused on me and I’m focused on training. Fighters should be fighters."
There are few places to better one’s skills than ATT, a full-service gym with an array of elite coaches in every discipline. The options at Jedrzejczyk’s disposal appeal to her meticulous, detail-oriented nature.
"I was smart before because I learned a lot about diet, nutrition, about other sports, about physical therapy, so I can be a better fighter by myself," she said.
But she trusts her coaches and their knowledge, and it’s hard to grasp just how much better she might become in an environment where she’s surrounded by elite trainers and training partners. How much higher can the already dominant champion go?
We’ll find out at UFC 205, which is on track to be the biggest event in the promotion’s history. "I really feel as though she has more to gain at UFC 205, being aligned with Conor McGregor, than anybody else," said Anik. "She’s the fighter who can take her star power to the next level."