Joanna Jedrzejczyk Eyes Crowning Achievement with Win over Weili Zhang

Tom TaylorContributor IMarch 5, 2020

TAMPA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 12: Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland stands in her corner prior to her women's strawweight bout against Michelle Waterson during the UFC Fight Night event at Amalie Arena on October 12, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Getty Images

In the lead-up to her UFC 248 strawweight title fight with Weili Zhang, Joanna Jedrzejczyk was sent an old photograph by a friend. 

The photograph shows Jedrzejczyk in her locker room moments before her first crack at UFC gold, which went down just shy of five years ago on March 14, 2015. She ended up winning that title fight, defeating the division's inaugural champion Carla Esparza by second-round TKO, satisfying what she says was an overpowering, all-consuming need. 

As she navigates the final days before her fight with Zhang, she says things feel different.

This time, it's not about what she needs. It's all about what she wants.

"Five years ago, I fought for the belt for the first time," Jedrzejczyk told Bleacher Report. "My friend sent me a picture of me sitting in the locker room. Back then, I needed to do it, but now the big difference is I just want to. I don't have to prove anything to anybody—even to myself. But I really want to win."

Jedrzejczyk fans might find this sentiment worrying. Yet the former champion assures that, while she now views the title as a luxury and not a necessity, her dedication to winning the belt has not wavered. In fact, she's more focused than ever.

"I'm very disciplined, very motivated, very focused, but this camp I was even more so," she said. "So many people who have been working with me for the last few years, they said that they've never seen me in shape like this.

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TAMPA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 09: Joanna Jedrzejczyk works out ahead of a fight against Michelle Waterson  on October 12th at Yuengling Center on October 09, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
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"I will cement my legacy."

"Legacy" is a word Jedrzejczyk uses often. Interestingly, though, she feels that her legacy is already rock solid. She is, after all, the longest-reigning champion in UFC strawweight history, having defended the belt five times before she surrendered it to Rose Namajunas in 2017. 

"I'm still the champion, with the belt or no," she said. "My legacy is so big; I don't care if people doubt me. I know who I am. 

"There is no pressure on me," she added. "The pressure is on [Zhang]. She has to prove that she's the right person in the right sport. I'm doing this for myself, for my country, for my team, for the people who believe in me."

No matter her motivation, Jedrzejczyk will have her work cut out for her when she steps into the cage with Zhang, who is riding an absurd 20-fight win-streak. Yet the former champion feels she and her team have constructed the perfect game plan to usurp the champ's throne. She claims to have some tricks up her sleeve that she can't divulge pre-fight, but she is quite forthcoming about her overarching strategy. 

"I want to use my combos and my boxing, mix my boxing and my kicks," she said. "My footwork is going to be key. My jab, my distance, my reach, cutting angles.

"I want to be unpredictable," she added. "I want to make her uncomfortable. This is what's going to happen. Weili is a very a dangerous fighter, so my strongest muscle in this fight is going to be my brain. I will have to be smart and clever, but of course, physically I'm ready too. Strong, powerful, lean, mean, and ready to rock and roll, man.

"I think I can expose her in this fight."

Ahead of this fight, much has been made of the perceived beef between Jedrzejczyk and Zhang. The pair have exchanged quite a bit of trash talk on social media, which has created a narrative of bad blood and animosity. 

Jedrzejczyk refutes that narrative.

"I don't like this Twitter fighting, the social media fights," she said of her relationship with Zhang. "She's just my next big challenge, and she has something that I really want. She has what I've been dreaming about since I lost it. I just want to get back on the strawweight throne. That's it."

While Jedrzejczyk says she feels no ill-will toward the champion, that doesn't mean she won't enjoy beating her. 

"It's going to feel amazing," she said. "I've been visualizing it. Last week I watched a friend of mine, Jan Blachowicz, winning a fight in New Mexico. I watched three of the last fights on this card. Every time [the fighters] were walking out, stepping in the Octagon, I was closing my eyes and visualizing. 

"I'm visualizing Dana White putting the belt around my waist and I can't wait. It's going to be a special moment in my life, and it's going to be bigger than my whole legacy."

Jedrzejczyk is dialed-in on her fight with Zhang, but that doesn't mean she's not thinking about her life after fighting. She has big plans down the road. She wants to learn to snowboard—the risk of injury is too high to try right now. She wants to get her MBA. She wants to continue traveling. The first priority, though, is dethroning Zhang in front of a legion of friends and family from Poland and celebrating her win with some donuts and vodka. 

"I just want to go and have fun," she said of her post-fight plans. "I booked 45 tickets for my friends and family. This has never happened before. I'm super happy that they're going to be there supporting me. I want to hang out with them and sip on some vodka after the fight and eat some Krispy Kreme after the fight.

"I'm focused on winning the belt on March 7, celebrating on March 8—that's International Women's Day. What a beautiful morning it's going to be."