Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Rose Namajunas this November 4, 2017 at the Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
One sentence summary
David: War of the roses.
Phil: Thorns and elbows.
Odds: Joanna Jedrzejczyk -750 Rose Namajunas +525
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Joanna continues to impress in her quest to defend her belt. Her last bout, against a dogged pressure fighter in Jessica Andrade - didn’t really have drama, but it still had plenty of guts. In some ways, Andrade was a good test for Joanna. She may not have been as refined as someone like Claudia Gadelha but getting down in the muck was a worthy challenge in its own right. This time, Joanna has someone in front of her who can muck it up, and do it with a little more poetry.
Phil: Joanna is starting to get that Demetrious Johnson "untouchable" vibe. Although she's a very different type of fighter, she shares with him that terrifying tendency to get better after every single fight. Against someone like this, even if the division puts a target on her back, by the time they get to that target she’s off in the distance again.
David: On a 4-1 streak within her last five, Namajunas has elevated her game in ways I was honestly skeptical of at first. I always kind of saw her as an American version of Joanne Calderwood; a good skill set, and plenty of tools, but no shed. So far Namajunas has looked kind of brilliant at times. But I kind of worry about how well her strength of schedule has prepared her for Joanna. Would it matter? Maybe not. But so far it’s been a steady processing of well manicured action heroes, but not enough belligerent barbarians of the sport.
Phil: As Zane pointed out on Twitter, Rose's MMA career is only a year younger than Joanna's, which means that while she has a lot of ground to cover, she has to do it with the understanding that Jedrzejczyk could be improving as well. The thing about Rose is that it still feels like there's a lot of improving left to do: I still don't feel like we've ever seen her best. Everyone knows that when all the technical and mental pieces come together we're going to get something special. If there's a time for her to blossom (sorry!), it's now.
What’s at stake?
David: Just the usual obvious. Joanna will never reach that rarefied air like Rousey and Carano did in their heyday, but it’d be nice to see a real push from the UFC to do their promotional job - not just capture lightning in a bottle like usual just because the fighter already has a built in fanbase (or is good at saying dumb shit).
Phil: With a win, it feels like JJ is getting close to clearing out the division. Who else is left? Torres? Herrig? Maybe Grasso in a couple of years? She's often talked about a tough weight cut, and she's bigger and stronger than she used to be. I suspect we might see her moving up to 125 with a win.
Where do they want it?
David: So we always hear the word “angles” and it’s usually taken to be meaningful. It’s the new “well rounded”, basically. What makes Joanna a pragmatic angletarian? For one, angles aren’t just about some vague concept of geometry. Damn bro! Did you see that guy move laterally that one time in the round! And it’s obviously not just about positioning. It’s also about the strikes themselves. We saw this with Darren Till against Donald Cerrone. Punches need not be straight and mechanical at all times. Because a fight isn’t about mechanics and what you do right. It’s about mechanics, flow, and efficiency. Punches need not be poetic. Sometimes they can be dirty AF (as the kids say). Yes, there’s a literal meaning there as I think Joanna’s first fight with Gadelha was one of the dirtiest fights in recent memory. But there’s also a figurative meaning, as Joanna will whip her punches around if her opponent mistakenly believes an earmuff defense is a bulletproof vest against head strikes. The fact that Joanna has incredible balance in the clinch, maintains a high work rate, and never stops stopping - and you’ve got the ingredients of a champion.
Phil: Joanna is all carefully measured brutality. She fights with the same kind of gradated understanding of rhythm and power as a Diaz brother (pet~pet~slap) but with much better footwork and kicks. Her fight against Andrade was a masterclass in circular motion, as she speared Andrade with the jab, circled off, disrupted with leg kicks, and periodically drove something harder down the middle, like a head kick or a cross. Typically, Andrade would have been able to grit her teeth and wade through her offense (something which I expected her to have some success doing), but she was completely flummoxed by finding herself alternately stung, bashed, and groping at air. As well as sticking to a steely, disciplined keep-away game, Jedrzejczyk also looked to have been benefiting from the S&C regimen at ATT: she was bigger, leaner and meaner.
David: I’ll still maintain - just a little - that Rose has benefited from two things converging at once; fighting pressure fighters with exploitable flaws, and improving her strike selection. The latter is obviously to her credit while the former is not. Having said that, it’s also the most important part of her game in preparation for Joanna. Rose is still something of an interval striker - sometimes stuck headhunting or, as she did against Carla Esparza (but has since cleaned up), stuck spamming various attacks. However, she still has some serious talents. Namajunas has a good sense of lunging - it’s not what you might call “distance management”, but her bouncy movement is an athletic strength that I think can proxy for spatial awareness in its own way. Granted, Joanna is not Paige Van Zant (who is busy making weird PG Blair Witch Instagram videos), and won’t be befuddled but Rose is nonetheless pretty skilled at darting in and out, sifting that left hook straight right combination down the piper for quick and selective violence (VIOLENCE, Ariel!). I’d mention the ground but it’s only going there if someone is asleep, asking where they were five minutes ago.
Phil: I do think the ground is an interesting question, partially because it feels like Rose's most likely avenue to victory. She's an opportunistic clinch grappler rather than a Esparza or Gadelha-esque shot machine, picking up inside or outside trips, and diving for the back or an array of submissions. She jumped into the MMA public's consciousness with that crazy flying armbar back in the day, but I've always been quietly impressed by her kimuras: it's a power submission which she manages to hit with some regularity at a very scrambly weight class. Rose remains a dangerous, dynamic threat in many areas, and if those areas don't fit together as seamlessly as Jedrzejczyk's do, she still remains a fighter who can suddenly yank a fight away from someone who incautiously steps into the wrong area. The basic dynamics essentially remind me a little of GSP-Condit.
The most stable part of Rose's game is that jab. She's been able to lean on it against fighters like Kowalkiewicz and VanZant, but whether she can jab with one of the best in the game for 25 minutes is a tough, tough question for her to answer.
Insight from past fights
David: I sort of find Namajunas’ fight against Michelle Waterson modest confirmation of my skepticism. Waterson, who is not a big fighter (and as in fact quite small for the division), kept her distance on the feet with authority at times, only really faltering when Namajunas outscrambled her. But again, I go back to the feet. Namajunas’ striking is somewhat muted against Waterson’s oblique attack. There’s simply no way Rose will be able to get away with durations of hesitancy. Her entire game is built around her ability to pressure in specific ways. But it’s a broad approach that has the (theoretical) ability to beat Joanna.
Phil: The obvious one was Rose against Kowalkiewicz. Against a frankly lesser version of the champion, she had one of her most concerning performances. She never has wholly negative performances, and it had moments of brilliance mixed in, but the fact that she was so easily bullied in the clinch speaks poorly of her chance to mix it up Jedrzejczyk's forearm framing and elbow attack in close, and I'm simply not sure that she has the diversity and pace from further away.
David: There was this drama - which is frankly, a bad look on Joanna’s part. There’s really no excuse, either. Maybe it’s just “gamesmanship” or whatever, but it’s uneducated gamesmanship regardless. Extra motivation for Namajunas? Extra pressure on Joanna to perform? With a title, and money on the line, I guess it’s always possible to trip over small things. It’s almost like mental states can be at the mercy of external forces.
Phil: Yeah, there isn't much. Joanna is just one of those competitors who feels utterly insulted by the fact that anyone thinks they can hang with her. On the challenger's part, while Rose might deteriorate mentally in the fight, I think it'll be because she's trapped in her own head rather than because of anything the champion said.
David: Namajunas is a good fighter, but I feel like she’s bringing a scalpel to a Khyber knife fight. There’s definitely the possibility of Rose having potentially dramatic moments, but if Joanna gets into a rhythm, I don’t see her overcoming. The thing that will keep Rose in the fight is her ability to manage away from the blast template. She’s quick on her toes, and the first two rounds could be nail biting. But I can barely see one strike for a path to victory let lone two, and she’ll need them all against a fighter who uses three like one. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, round 4.
Phil: The odds seem extreme, but Rose feels like she only has about a round / round and a half to get things done with a headkick or an RNC. I always think she struggles to bring the varied pieces of her game together into something coherent rather than opportunistic. She's tough, athletic, and dangerous, but even if she can put an early scare into the champion I suspect she will be systematically shut out of the fight. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.