Post-Fight Thoughts: Rose Namajunas -vs- Joanna Jędrzejczyk 2
The co-main event for UFC 223 was a rematch between previously long-standing women's strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas, the usurper. Only 5 months ago, Rose had taken the title with a shocking — and extremely quick — TKO in the first round of their bout at UFC 217. Some, myself included, felt the rematch was a bit premature; the outcome of the first fight was completely unambiguous — Rose controlled the entirety of the fight before dropping Jędrzejczyk with a punch and swarming her. The outcome of the first fight looked anything but a fluke, regardless of how much stock you put in Jędrzejczyk's claims of a difficult weight cut.
Still, given Jędrzejczyk's title reign consisted of 5 defences, there is room to make the argument that her resumé was sufficient to warrant a rematch. I've always been against immediate rematches, barring a controversial decision or finish. It's not like the fight was a hard sell for me, I just thought it might make sense to give this rivalry time to grow, and avoid possibly shutting Joanna out of the title picture if she were to lose again. Regardless, the UFC calls the shots and booked the rematch as soon as possible. Memories of their first encounter were still somewhat fresh by the time they both made the walk to the cage again.
Given the short gap between fights, I didn't know what differences to expect in this second fight — beyond the fact I didn't foresee another quick finish. Jędrzejczyk apparently changed her approach to the weigh cut, coming in lighter and dehydrating less, while Rose seemed unfazed by the whole ordeal — as is typical for her. Based on what little could be gleaned from the 3 minutes which comprised their first meeting, I gave Rose the edge as her kickboxing style seemed perfectly tuned to foil and counter Jędrzejczyk's predominantly muay thai style. This ended up being more-or-less the story of the fight.
Jędrzejczyk did look a lot sharper, and more composed in general, but was still unable to string together a lot of effective offence. Namajunas was landing a counter-left hook almost at will, and Joanna never adjusted for it throughout the fight. Each round was contested exclusively on the feet, save for a takedown Rose landed in the final seconds of last round. Neither fighter was relying on power shots and, over the course of the fight, both began to show damage, though Jędrzejczyk was visibly much more busted up. In the championship rounds, Namajunas looked to have broken Joanna's nose with a couple of direct hits. To her credit, Joanna did tremendous damage to Rose's left leg with an accumulation of kicks, to the point that it was visibly bothering the defending champ, and managed to outstrike her 145-to-105.
There were no lopsided, truly dominant rounds, but I felt Rose won the first, fourth and fifth, taking the fight 48-47 — I had everything tied going into the final round. The judges saw it differently, awarding Jędrzejczyk only a single round. The former champion seemed stunned at the decision, although I don't think there is any case to be made that the wrong winner was declared, you could probably argue for quite a while over the individual rounds themselves. For the purposes of promoting an eventual third contest between these women, a decision is the best outcome; Jędrzejczyk is already asserting she was "robbed," and it's less definitive than another finish.
Even without a finish, the fight was very exciting. There was a lot of tension in every round, as both Namajunas and Jędrzejczyk put in very technical striking performances that were fun to watch. Rose Namajunas has really developed into a great fighter; I didn't give "Thug" a chance in the first fight — I thought she was going to catch a horrible beating. Namajunas stunned me the first time, and erased any remaining doubt that the first win was a fluke by notching a clear, unanimous decision in an immediate rematch. It looks like we're going to have to get used to Rose as strawweight champion.
As for Joanna Jędrzejczyk, she seems to be taking the loss about as well as the first one — which is to say "not very." Claims that she was robbed by the judges are far fetched, but I understand athletes often need a reason — regardless of its merit — to point to, to explain a loss. After UFC 217, it was the harsh weight cut; after this loss, the judges got it wrong; for all her talent and work ethic, Joanna does seem to have problems accepting losses. Hopefully, once she gets the frustration out of her system, we will see her get back to her winning ways.
There has always been talk of Joanna moving up, to flyweight, but there is no guarantee of success there either. I'm not ready to say that Joanna Jędrzejczyk is 'done' as a title contender, but she's got 2 losses to the current champion of strawweight, and the flyweight division means physically bigger opponents and their own stylistic problems — including Valentina Shevchenko, who holds wins over her in muay thai competition. As for Rose, I would expect the UFC to pair her up with Karolina Kowalkiewicz, continuing the feud with WMMA's Polish contingent, and Karolina is the last woman to defeat her. Both women have interesting options ahead of them, and I look forward to seeing both of them fight again.
Rose Namajunas emphatically stated that her title reign is legit and she is here to stay. Joanna Jędrzejczyk will need to regroup and consider her options, but I highly doubt this is the beginning of any sort of significant decline.
Published: April 8th, 2018.