Joanna Jedrzejczyk on flyweight criticism: ‘I earned this title shot’

TORONTO — Joanna Jedrzejczyk understands why the other fighters in the women’s flyweight division might be upset. Just don’t expect her to feel too badly about it.

The Polish star will compete in her record-breaking ninth UFC title fight when she competes against Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant women’s flyweight championship in the co-main event of UFC 231 at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday. After spending her entire UFC career competing at 115 pounds, a run that included a lengthy reign as the strawweight champion, Jedrzejczyk was granted an immediate shot at the 125-pound crown that was recently stripped from inaugural champion Nicco Montano.

There’s no questioning Jedrzejczyk’s reputation at 115, but the other flyweight contenders are less than thrilled that she was able to jump the line. One-time bantamweight title challenger Liz Carmouche has expressed her disappointment in being leapfrogged by Jedrzejczyk, and at Thursday’s early media event, Jessica Eye said it was “terrible” that Jedrzejczyk was given the title opportunity over fighters like herself and upcoming UFC 231 opponent Katlyn Chookagian.

For Jedrzejczyk’s part, she can see where Eye’s comments are coming from, but she isn’t letting that affect her mindset as she looks to make history by becoming the first female fighter to win UFC titles in two divisions.

“Honestly, I feel sorry,” Jedrzejczyk said. “But when you get to the UFC, so many fighters, they’re like, ‘Oh, I reached my goal. That’s it. I’m the man, I’m the girl.’ Bullshit. The hard job is starting here. So you must put on work, it’s not only about being the best athlete. It is about [that], but people must see the charisma, the character, be honest with them, and you must show who you are and somehow people like me, you know?

“And they wanted to see my fight with Valentina Shevchenko. They saw me as the challenger for this title and here we go. I earned this title shot, that’s it. I earned that. Who’s next, I don’t know, but for sure if you work hard enough you will get to this spot where I am now.”

The good news for contenders like Eye and Chookagian is that Jedrzejczyk has no plans to simply win the title and leave potential challengers hanging. Though she said at Wednesday’s press conference that her plan in 2019 is to return to strawweight, the division that she ruled over for over two years, Jedrzejczyk insisted that she will defend her new title even as she chases her old one.

“No, no, no, I was the champ for almost three years and I was defending my belt very often,” Jedrzejczyk said when it was suggested that she might not be able to defend the flyweight belt and compete at 115 pounds at the same time. “I’m a pretty busy fighter so there is no option that someone will wait for me like, 10 or 12 months to get the title shot. For sure, no. I can fight next week or somewhere else, so I don’t care.”

Jedrzejczyk had nothing but positive comments about her experience as a 125er so far, and declared that she “will run the flyweight division as I used to do strawweight.”

That would be a compelling second act for the 31-year-old, who along with Cris Cyborg and Ronda Rousey is consistently mentioned as one of the greatest female fighters in MMA history. Cyborg, the UFC’s reigning women’s featherweight champion, has won 20 consecutive bouts (excluding one no contest) dating back to her lone loss in 2005. Rousey was one of the biggest draws in company history and she still holds the record for the most successful UFC title defenses by a woman at six.

Jedrzejczyk recorded five consecutive successful defenses at strawweight and on Saturday she will pass Rousey for the most title appearances by a female fighter with nine. All three women have impressive accolades on their resume and Jedrzejczyk believes there’s enough room for all three of them at the historical mountaintop.

“We all are different,” Jedrzejczyk said of Cyborg and Rousey. “We all have done so much for this sport and we all have missions in our lives, so every mission is special and there is no better or worse mission. We all are on missions and my mission is different and [this is what matters to me]. But so much respect to all of these girls.”

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