UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk had the toughest fight of her career when she fought Claudia Gadelha in December of 2014. That fight was topped on Friday night at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale in Las Vegas, but once again it was Gadelha that tested her.
Having ripped through her next three opponents after that first fight, many expected Jedrzejczyk to have any easier time with Gadelha this time, but that didn’t happen.
While Jedrzejczyk was obviously faster on the feet, the disparity between her speed and Gadelha’s wasn’t as apparent early in the fight, when Gadelha was able to use her power shots to rock the champion on a few occasions.
What really set the first two rounds apart from the rest was Gadelha’s success in taking Jedrzejczyk down. With her strength fully intact, Gadelha frequently muscled Jedrzejczyk to the fence and forced her to the canvas.
As the fight wore on, however, Jedrzejczyk had an easier time regaining her feet, and spent less time on the canvas.
In the third frame, the tide turned. Gadelha’s gas tank began to visibly empty. Jedrzejczyk began stuffing more and more of Gadelha’s takedowns, and stepped up the pace of her striking, which Gadelha had little answer for.
Jedrzejczyk’s striking was a whirlwind of activity. She was constantly shifting stances, bouncing on the balls of her feet, using her jab to set the cross, then using it to set up an inside kick, then a flurry of punches with a knee tacked on the end of it. The champion was a blur when she hit her stride.
The fourth frame was were it all came crashing down for Gadelha. She slowed to a point were she was little more than a punching bag. But every time Jedrzejczyk looked to put her away, Gadelha would dig deep and shoot, or she would counter with one bold punch or elbow that would briefly stun Jedrzejczyk.
Although Gadelha recuperated a bit between the fourth and fifth rounds, Jedrzejczyk wasn’t about to let her foot off the gas pedal. Gadelha was moving better, but most of her power was gone. Noticing this, the champ took a few more chances, lighting Gadelha up with a dizzying array of strikes, but couldn’t find the angle to put her away.
At the end of the day, however, the judges rewarded Jedrzejczyk’s efforts with a unanimous-decision victory, keeping the belt firmly around her waist.
The lead-up to this fight was more contentious than almost any fight in recent memory. Through months coaching opposite each other on The Ultimate Fighter and same nasty mudslinging in the build-up to Friday night, there was no love lost between the two.
Five rounds of trying to take each other’s heads off and neither backing down has an amazing effect on all the vitriol, nullifying much of it.
“We new that it was going to be really tough fight with Claudia Gadelha,” said Jedrzejczyk. “She is number one, I am the champion, and I have so much respect for her.”
Then, turning to Gadelha, she said, “Claudia, I’m so sorry, you are the greatest fighter. Thank you.”
Gadelha came to the mic, hugging Jedrzejczyk, but appeared to admonish her for the trash talk, saying, “(Fighting) is very important, but more important is to be humbled and to work for people, the fans. I respect everybody here. I respect Joanna as a champion. I think this is very important, but more important is being humble and respecting people.”