UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is fully aware of the way many of the world’s greatest female athletes have been marketed throughout the years.
Athletic success can only carry a woman so far in terms of popularity. It’s a rare occasion there isn’t some degree of sexual objectification of a woman who becomes a superstar.
Even in a sport such as mixed martial arts, in which the competition is essentially a primordial contest of violence, the female athletes who have drawn the most interest, and biggest paydays, are those who look as good in a bikini on the cover of a magazine or on-screen in movies or reality shows as they do standing triumphantly over an opponent laid out on the mat.
Jedrzejczyk is intent on breaking the mold.
“I know that I’m not the prettiest one, I (don’t have the) big boobies and I’m not American,” she said last week on a conference call to promote her title defense against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York. “But I want people to remember me as the best female fighter and as the undefeated UFC champion of the world.
“I want to be a legend. I want people to talk about me in five, 10 and 20 years, that I was one of the best MMA female fighters, that I was one of the best UFC champions in the world back in the day. This is what I want.”
Jedrzejczyk has done everything right to accomplish those goals. The 29-year-old native of Poland has dispatched all challengers and managed to be interesting and funny while also mastering trash talk in English, her second language.
Jedrzejczyk now faces a huge, yet familiar, challenge in countrywoman Kowalkiewicz. The two met as amateurs, with Jedrzejczyk winning by first-round submission. Kowalkiewicz, 31, also is undefeated, earning the title shot with an impressive win over top contender Rose Namajunas in July.
While the title bout will be in New York on what is expected to be one of the biggest cards in UFC history, Kowalkiewicz says it might be even bigger back home.
“In Poland, this is really a big thing,” she said. “Two Polish fighters on the biggest event in the world. This is something big, and people are very excited and very happy.”
Jedrzejczyk is thrilled for the chance to show off her immense skills. She has relocated to the United States, lives in south Florida and trains at American Top Team with women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
“I’m very happy here in Florida,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I put a lot of emphasis on my fighting career and my life. I left everything in Poland, my fiance and my family are there. I challenge myself every day, I learn new stuff. You’re going to see new Joanna in this fight.”
Jedrzejczyk said she wanted to expand her horizons as a fighter. She believes she has done that by combining the base she has built with her longtime coaches in Poland with the fresh takes from her ATT coaches.
She’s not, however, listening to many outside opinions.
“When you’re becoming more and more popular, you have more followers, more friends, but more haters as well,” said Jedrzejczyk, who received some negative feedback from fans in Poland when she relocated to Florida. “I’m trying to keep them balanced between good and bad. I’m not reading the bad comments, and I’m not reading the good comments. I’m not checking the comments under the interviews or the pictures of me on websites other than my website, my Instagram, or my Facebook, that’s all. I’m focused.
“You’re going to hear, ‘And still …’ at UFC 205.”
The fight is part of a pay-per-view card that pits featherweight champion Conor McGregor against lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez for Alvarez’s belt in the main event, and a welterweight title bout between Stephen Thompson and champion Tyron Woodley.
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