UFC 231: Could Change Be Good For Joanna Jedrzejczyk?

Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk will face off at UFC 231. Will Jedrzejczyk prove her G.O.A.T. status? (Source: Nathan Denette, AP)

Possessing delusional confidence is part of the battle. The ability to back it up, no matter how little the odds favor you, is just as important.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk has lost to Valentina Shevchenko three times already. But when you listen to her speak, you wouldn’t doubt yourself regarding whether you believe in her abilities to win in round four, you’d probably doubt yourself for thinking she doesn’t have a shot.

Sure, those previous three encounters were about 10 years ago, and in muay thai, not mixed martial arts. But there’s a difference in the having Mamba Mentality – where shooters shoot, percentage and performance be damned – or simply going 0-for-3 going into your fourth at bat, as opposed to, you know, losing a fight to the same person three times in a row.

This Saturday, the two mixed martial artists will clash in the co-main event of UFC 231 – to men’s featherweight title bout between Max Holloway and Brian Ortega – in Toronto. Both Shevchenko (15-3) and Jedrzejczyk (15-2) are in their respective primes, barely into their 30’s, with extensive backgrounds across muay thai, mixed martial arts and kickboxing.

Both will try to save the UFC 125-pound flyweight division, which has Shevchenko coming down from 135 (bantamweight), and Jedrzejczyk coming up from 115 (strawweight).

Jedrzejczyk was the queen of the UFC prior to losing her title to Rose Namajunas last November in shocking, first-round TKO fashion. After losing in the April rematch by decision at Barclays Center, the Polish Punisher quickly returned to pick-up a July decision win over Tecia Torres in Calgary, stuffing all 10 takedown attempts from the wrestler.

With a win, she’d become the first woman in UFC history to become champion in multiple weight classes. Her aforementioned title reign ran 966 days (second longest among all women in the UFC) with five successful title defenses.

“There is no ‘if,’” she boldly proclaimed at Wednesday’s UFC 231 press conference. “After my victory on Saturday, I will prove that I’m the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all-time) of women’s MMA.”

It appeared due to an amount of previously built respect, or lessons learned, that Jedrzejczyk opted not to interrupt, intimidate or bully Shevchenko. She probably knows that wouldn’t work. So she channeled her confidence differently.

“I know how good she is,” she offered of Shevchenko. “My camp, my coaches, they know how good she is. They were preparing (current UFC Bantamweight Champion) Amanda Nunes for two fights with Shevchenko. So we had the perfect plan before we even heard of this fight, even before I signed the agreement for this fight. I look forward, I don’t look back. I take lessons every single day but I’m moving forward. It doesn’t matter, it was a decade ago. It’s a totally different pair of shoes. Different field.”

The difference? Well, ahead of her two clashes with Namajunas, the only woman to defeat Jedrzejczyk in MMA, there was a lot of the former, which obviously backfired, even though ahead of the fight, Namajunas was seen as a +300-to-350 underdog, per Forbes.

It’s also evident when you look at her staredowns from each of her previous four encounters.

Jedrzejczyk seemed to re-shape her thinking, but it may be a one-shot deal, because after the fight – one where she has promised a victory – she plans to return back down to 115, even though she acknowledges this current version of herself puts her in the best shape, and carries over more strength.

Since April, where Namajunas edged out Jedrzejczyk in the rematch, ‘Thug Rose’ has yet to defend her title again, though, previous Jedrzejczyk victim Jessica Andrade appears to be the number-one contender.

“There is a rumor I’m hearing more about Jessica facing Rose,” said Jedrzejczyk, well-aware of the strawweight landscape. “Rose has only four months left to defend her belt. Otherwise, I don’t see other way me fighting for this belt.

“Who else you see? Who else you see?” she later added, after a reporter asked UFC President Dana White whether or not he’d like Jedrzejczyk to remain at 125 in favor of dropping back to 115. “Who is left? I beat all of them. All of them.”

“You heard her,” White added, with a smile.

So can she do it?

Jedrzejczyk enters as a +290 underdog, according to Bet-NJ.com. Shevchenko is naturally bigger, stronger, more well-rounded as a fighter, and is 3-0 against Jedrzejczyk in muay thai.

But Jedrzejczyk has said in the past that her power gets taken away in the weight cut for 115, which would explain her many decision victories. At 125, she’s too good to have more than a puncher’s chance.

And too confident to believe otherwise.

Oh, and she’ll be back at 115.

“Strawweights, bow down, I’m coming back next year,” she said, her last words at the presser.

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

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