The opening to Guns and Roses’ Welcome to the Jungle fills the arena echoing an earlier remark By Joanna Jedrzejczyk to Claudia Gadelha during the TUF 23 season. Gadelha is pumped up, smiling, first jogging a little, then pumping her fists on her way into the arena.
When she hits the lights they jolt her into a jog that takes her to the officials. She is smiling, high-fiving her fans on the jog down.
As Claudia removes her Reebok warmup gear her face starts to harden. She hugs her coaches, each one steeling her face even more. It is as if each one is galvanizing her for the fight.
She enters the octagon, touches the canvas, crosses herself and jogs around the cage a couple of times before stopping in her corner.
Joanna’s music comes on and she starts her way to the octagon with the Polish flag draped around her. She also jogs her way down to the octagon. There are no smiles on her face. She is all business. Joanna hugs her coaches as well.
The officials finish checking her out and Joanna kneels on the UFC logo’d mat that is right before the metal steps that lead into the octagon. After a moment in prayer, she crosses herself and enters the eight-sided cage. She makes one revolution before stopping in her corner. Then she paces staring over at her opponent for several steps, back-and-forth, stare-and-glare, she paces before settling in for Bruce Buffer.
The Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha rivalry is one that started in their first fight, a fight that ended with both combatants throwing after the bell had sounded. It was also a fight both fighters thought they won. The judges agreed with Joanna. The win earned her the right to face the then UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza.
In that fight, Joanna dominated Esparza, turning her into Flora Anderson in Deadwood while Joanna served as Cy Tolliver. The fight mercifully was stopped in the second round crowning Joanna as the new champion.
Joanna would go on to finish Jessica Penne in her first title defense and then would dominate Valerie Letourneau in her next one. Meanwhile, Claudia would completely control and defeat the former number one ranked strawweight in the world, Jessica Aguilar. That win, coupled with their close first fight made her the easy number one contender. It was the fight, the rematch the fans wanted to see.
There is no touching of gloves to start the fight. They do not even bother to ask one another. Instead, they come out looking for an opportunity to land the first big strike or takedown of the fight. And, just six seconds into the fight Claudia would strike first. A hard jab sends Joanna to the canvas forcing her to quickly scoot and scramble backwards. Claudia follows her landing a couple of big punches as Joanna gets back to her feet.
Then, moments later, Claudia drags Joanna to ground for her first takedown of the night. It is 20 seconds into the fight and already Claudia has knocked Joanna down and scored a takedown. Suddenly, it looks like cardio may not play a part in this story, but Joanna stays calm, and works her way back to her feet but not before taking a few more shots.
When they separate, Joanna lands a couple of good strikes and Claudia answers. As the round evolved Claudia would go on to score another takedown and land a few more overall strikes effectively using her jab. Joanna landed more significant strikes while losing the round.
However, you got the sense that Claudia could be in trouble if the fight went into the later rounds. She was expending so much energy. You could see the effort on her face as strained to get Joanna to the ground. Her face reflected her determined will to get the fight to the ground.
Between the knockdown and the two takedowns, Claudia got the fight to her world and won the round but you wondered about the cost.
So, of course, the UFC made us wait and put them on as coaches for TUF season 23. That led to a big buildup as their bad blood boiled all season long. We waited, and waited and waited, and that was just during the men’s TUF finale fight. Finally, it was here, the rematch we wanted and we were hoping it would be something special.
The first was a special one that left us wanting more. That fight illustrated why title contender fights should be five rounds. After three rounds we were not clearly sure who won but we all could agree that we wanted two more rounds right then. We would have to wait for another 19 months before we would get that rematch.
The first was classic in many ways. It harkens back to the earlier days of the sport, a grappler in Gadelha taking on a striker in Jedrzejczyk. That fight saw Gadelha start strong and fade, hurt by her cardio, the one weakness she had shown coming into that fight.
The second round follows a similar pattern to the first. Claudia working hard to get the fight to the ground and landing more overall strikes. While once again, Joanna had a slight edge in the significant strikes. She also forced Claudia to work harder to get the fight to the ground stopping five of her six takedown attempts in the round.
After two rounds, Claudia was clearly up 2-0 but she was showing more signs of slowing down as the round evolved. We also saw Joanna back her up a couple of times.
Gadelha came into the first fight with a sparkling 12-0 record with eight finishes and seven of those came in the first round. Understand that the criticism of her cardio was a small one. Yes, she did appear to slow down, even get tired in some fights, but she always dug deep and finished strong. It is just that when you are at her level people are going to look for holes and cardio was really the only one you could point to at this point in her career.
Jedrzejczyk entered into the first fight with a pristine 7-0 record herself. She also carried the title of multiple Muay Thai champion with her. Adding to her reputation was her second round KO win over women’s MMA pioneer Rosie Sexton at Cage Warriors 69. Sexton, who had spent much of time at bantamweight, had earned a reputation as being a tough fighter to stop withstanding 206 strikes from Jessica Andrade in their three round fight. Jedrzejczyk just destroyed her.
Fans were not disappointed by that first fight building the anticipation for this rematch. The story of them coming to blows on the TUF set after filming had finished just added to the excitement. We wanted the second fight to pickup where the first left off.
It did. And, then it got better and better.
We watch MMA hoping for fights like this one. Hoping to see greatness, to see displays of courage, heart, will, and that championship warrior spirit that will show us the greatness we as humans are capable of reaching. To be inspired to dig deep when we are faced with tough struggles.
At the start of the third Joanna bounces out looking like the fresher fighter. Brian Stann remarks that Claudia is “moving with heavy legs” and it appears that we are seeing the effect of the toll of the first two rounds on Claudia.
After a couple of exchanges that see Joanna land a couple of solid strikes, Claudia moves backwards for really the first time in the fight.
But, Claudia has a champion’s heart beating in her chest and she sets herself, comes forward and lands her own combo. Her cardio may be fading but her heart and her will are not. They exchange again with both landing solid strikes.
Another exchange sees Claudia land another right left combo, she ducks under a jab on a perfectly timed shot to momentarily get Joanna to the canvas but just seconds later she is back up.
They stay attached as Claudia is glued to Joanna they spin their way to the ground with neither gaining an advantage before they are back to their feet, still glued to one another. Joanna lands an elbow but Claudia refuses to let go.
When they finally do separate Claudia lands an elbow only to see Joanna land one her own as well as several punches.
Joanna is starting to take the fight but Claudia refuses to let her.
There are three minutes left in the round and Joanna is getting loose landing several solid strikes. Now the fight is shifting back to the champ. Claudia responds but is landing one or two strikes to every four or five that Joanna lands.
Still, Claudia throws her blows with power trying to change the momentum of the round with one big strike. Claudia some how finds it in her to bullrush Joanna and is able to get her down for a moment. Joanna quickly is out and ends up on top landing several big strikes before stepping away and gesturing to Claudia to get up. For a moment Claudia lays on her back hoping to entice Joanna back down before referee John McCarthy tells her to get up.
It takes Claudia several seconds to get back to her feet. She looks exhausted. Joanna seems to be getting stronger. After several strikes from Joanna and another stuffed takedown, Claudia responds with a clean elbow that staggers an off balance Joanna backwards to the cage with her left knee grazing the canvas for almost but not quite one whole second, more like a beat.
Claudia tries to turn it into a takedown but Joanna stuffs it and lands five hard elbows to one by Claudia. The round ends with each throwing and missing with a big strike. Tremendous display of toughness, heart, and will by both fighters but the fight has shifted to Joanna.
When it comes to that, when it comes to having a champion’s heart, to having that champion’s spirit both of them have it. They showed us over the eight rounds they have shared with each other in the octagon.
They echoed back to last real golden era of boxing. The days of Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. Those men wanted to fight other. They wanted to find out who was truly the best of the best. It is refreshing to see two fighters like Joanna and Claudia want to fight other to find out who is the best.
In the fourth Joanna would dominate Claudia putting on a devastating display of striking prowess. Equally as impressive as Joanna’s striking was Claudia’s heart. Many fighters would have quit in that round. Instead, Claudia came out in the fifth trying to find a way to win the fight. She would fall short but again displayed a champion’s heart as she made it closer round than the fourth. Trying to will her tired weary limbs to land that one round changing blow, but it would not come as Joanna continued to show no signs of getting tired.
As Claudia’s strikes slowed down Joanna’s seemed to be speeding up, but Claudia would not go away. She just did not have enough left in that final round. Her champion’s heart and will was being matched by the fresher Joanna.
Joanna would take the decision to retain her title and Claudia earned the respect of everyone who watched the fight. She is champion who just ran into another champion, one who was just a little bit better on this night.
Michael Bisping said afterwards that basically Claudia would have a long road back to another rematch and title shot having lost two to Joanna. I disagree with him. I do not think that it will be that long of a trip for her. Right now what the fight fans want to see is Joanne Calderwood and Joanna. Besides Calderwood, the next in line would probably be the winner of the Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz fight. No one, especially those close to her, wants to see Esparza fight Joanna again.
Given the close nature of the two fights it would be easy to see Claudia earning her way to another shot with two or maybe three wins. Joanna will also be tested by Calderwood if that is indeed her next fight.
Right now, Joanna and Claudia have consistently proven to be at a different level than the rest of the division. Though Calderwood’s destruction of Letourneau indicates that she could be right there as well.
image credit – FOXSports
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