Joanna Jedrzejczyk meets Rose Namajunas at UFC 217, and a victory will see her tie Ronda Rousey with six successful title defenses (she's also creeping up on Rousey's total-number-of-days-as-champion record, which sits at 1,074).
With such historic implications on the line for the Polish striker, it's hard to ignore her place in MMA history. Even though she only debuted in MMA in 2012, and the UFC in 2014, she has vaulted herself into the discussion of the greatest ever.
Steven Rondina joins me in a discussion about Jedrzejczyk's place in MMA history and where that argument goes if she has another successful title defense on Saturday.
Nathan: Steven, let's first set the stage of who Jedrzejczyk (14-0) is even competing against for this honor. Is it really just Rousey and Cris Cyborg? Rousey (12-2) holds the current record for title defenses (six) against a strong slate of opposition that included mind-bending results. Meanwhile, Cyborg (18-1-1) has been a dominant force in MMA for more than a decade. She just lacks the level of opposition, as her record is built on the backs of smaller competition. It's an argument similar to the College Football Playoff: resume vs. eye test.
How does Joanna Champion stack up before UFC 217 and where does a victory leave her in this discussion following Saturday's event?
Steven: I could probably bend the truth here and make a case for a number of women's MMA pioneers.
Japanese star Megumi Fujii was the first true women's MMA standout, and her 22-0 run from 2004 to 2010 includes names that are still relevant today, like Carla Esparza and Ham Seo-hee. Amanda Nunes—who crushed Rousey at UFC 207—will end up in the discussion before long if she can continue holding on to the women's bantamweight title. Gina Carano gets brushed off by many these days, but she's a key player in the rise of women's MMA in the West and wasn't exactly a slouch in the cage.
We can also talk about "what if" scenarios where the Roxanne Modafferis, Takayo Hashis and Tara LaRosas circa 2008 were transported into a future where women's MMA wasn't just a regional attraction.
Really, though, you're right. This is a three-horse race between Rousey, Cyborg and Jedrzejcyk. As with all sports, the competitors of today are bigger, stronger and more technical than the best of 10 years ago, and that prunes out a lot of the names from yesteryear.
In my opinion, you can already make a strong case for Jedrzejczyk being the greatest female fighter of all time, strictly based on strength of competition. Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz are all very good on every level, and the other contenders she has beaten aren't easy outs, either. Adding that "longest reign in women's UFC history" feather to her cap just cements her claim to that throne.
Nathan: I would agree with you. Fujii is a nice name to add to the discussion for historical perspective, but the evolution of MMA really puts Jedrzejczyk ahead of her on any list without debate.
A victory at UFC 217 will only help her case for being the greatest of all time, but there will be no doubt if she moves to 125 pounds in 2018 and captures gold, which is not a leap. She has already shown a keen interest in moving up, and it's where she competed prior to arriving in the UFC. She was never a strawweight (115 pounds) until she made her UFC debut. Flyweight is her natural weight class.
If she becomes a two-division champion, then there is no argument to be had. She will be the greatest of all time without debate. Can she erase all doubt? It will be exceedingly difficult because of the talent level at flyweight, including potential kickboxing nemesis Valentina Shevchenko.
Steven, for anyone who may still be new to Jedrzejczyk, which well-known MMA fighter could she be likened to as to illustrate her skill level?
Steven: The UFC likes to compare Jedrzejczyk to light heavyweight darling Chuck Liddell and, well, that's not really accurate because she's actually a skilled striker while Liddell just kind of punched hard. If I were going to really compare her to anybody, it'd be Anderson Silva.
Both thrive going backward, like working angles, have great counters and have a fierce clinch game. What Jedrzejczyk lacks in kicks and knees, she makes up for in face-ruining elbows. And what she lacks in knockout power, she makes up for with utter brutality.
Nathan: That is an apt comparison even when factoring in Silva's jiu-jitsu black belt and Jedrzejczyk's lack of one. And Silva was considered the men's GOAT for several years until the rise of Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson.
Jedrzejczyk just turned 30 and is in the midst of her prime, which is a scary thought for the women of 115 and 125. She's already the greatest strawweight and has a case for being the greatest period. She'll only add to that resume in the coming years.
When Joanna Champion finally decides to hang up her gloves, which we all hope won't be in the near future, it's unquestionable that she'll have carved out her spot in history as the greatest of all time. She will serve as the standard-bearer for the next generation.