Rose Namajunas vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk co-headlines UFC 223 this April 7, 2018 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
One sentence summary
David: Rose versus Joanna...unless they were on the bus Conor attacked.
Phil: Oh man please just still be on
Odds: Rose Namajunas -105 Joanna Jedrzejczyk -105
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Namajunas came out on TUF like a fixed version of Amir Sadollah; a sincere fighter with spunk and personality, but not a visage on a Wheaties box. Times changed, obviously. And now TUF’s Furiosa is defending her belt against the former queen of thorns. She’s a fascinating story getting lost in the typical UFC drama that Dana loves to burnish more than the sport itself, but she’s not overly indignant, or overly bromidic, so naturally the UFC doesn’t know what to do with her except hope her fists do the talking. For me, her status is still a mystery; either Joanna is a great matchup for her, or she really has risen to that next level.
Phil: Rose was the anointed one, until she wasn’t. When that first Strawweight TUF was being put together, Dana was loudly getting excited about one fighter in particular that he thought was “the next Rousey.” As it turned out, he did indeed mean Thug Rose. Mostly I just think he was reading the surface: aside from being a pretty girl with a predilection for armbars, Rose has little in common with Ronda. A couple of deflating losses to Carla Esparza and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Rose was somewhat forgotten as someone who was neither as conventionally attractive (post-buzzcut) as fighters like VanZant and Waterson, or as good as Gadelha or Andrade. So it was something of a surprise when she crushed the unbeatable champion in one round.
David: We’ve always spoken about Joanna in hushed tones; “oh my god this woman’s an animal!” No, we didn’t buy the Joe Rogan koolaid, but still—Joanna was and still is a fearsome fighter whose loss remains a modest shock. Maybe that was part of the issue; that persona of fear—filled with flinch-first staredowns, and bloodthirsty word grenades—wasn’t as Bill the Butcher as she thought. Once you start fighting for your reputation as much as your health, you invite more blinks, and Joanna blinked. No I don’t think Joanna lost because all of that bluster caught up to her, but it’s gonna take more than intimidation to put down Rose; an opponent who didn’t use half her arsenal to cut her down in less than five minutes.
Phil: If Rose was the Rousey-who-wasn’t, then after their fight Joanna has picked up something of what made people turn on Ronda. Primarily, her complete non-acceptance of the fight as anything that she did wrong. Even if it’s true, and she went in there incredibly compromised due to an incompetent team, it’s a bad look (and it’s worth noting that she used to say how bad her weight cuts were before joining Perfecting Athletes, and how much they’d helped her). The question now is whether that’s something which is genuinely likely to affect her performance, or if she’s just one of those competitors who feeds off their own salt.
What’s at stake?
David: It’s a tough rematchup for Joanna, mainly because there’s no real live fights for her if she loses and has to climb the fight ladder again. Does she move in weight if she loses? Maybe. But given how little weight she cut for this fight, the theoretical move seems sketchy.
Phil: Rose gets to confirm her standing atop the pile, and then gets to fight some frankly harder stylistic matchups. Joanna... yeah. Maybe the rubber match, maybe 125. Who knows, really. No-one wants to see her dominate Andrade again, I suspect.
Where do they want it?
David: Rose has improved in many ways, but first and foremost is her movement. Early in his career, it was all sound, no fury; she’d chamber random kicks, and punches and string them altogether as if the pressure alone was enough. It wasn’t. Not only did she change her philosophy of attack, but improved mechanics allowed her harness more power in her punches. Once a banter blaster of dilation, she’s become a master blaster of constriction; tightening the pressure she enacts to achieve heavy ion bruising. This is how she caught Joanna (more than once); using feints and slick movement (laterally, and front to back) for punch entries that could avoid sustained combination exchanges in the pocket where Jedrzejczyk thrives. Rose’s left hook was mathematical perfection in the first bout; the first knockdown happened when she feinted a straight right into the left hook. She ditched the feint the second time, and that’s all she wrote. Because Joanna is not a significant grappling threat, the standup exchanges will remain the key factors. I will say, it’s still competitive; Namajunas remains a fighter of propulsion rather than precision. Yes, she’s excellent, and coming into her own. But she’s not a nuanced fighter in between her punch entries (good jab, but a little erratic, and she defends well on the basis of her movement rather than avoiding damage during exchanges), and I think a more careful approach by someone like Joanna could expose some of Namajunas’ lingering (but minor) flaws.
Phil: Rose’s early career was a spasming array of random finishing techniques, and it’s a credit to both Wittman and her own coachability and focus that these have coalesced into an incredibly well-constructed game. Of the two fighters, she doesn’t look like the better athlete, but she almost certainly is: those noodly arms deliver smooth, percussive shots, including the only jab that challenges Jedrzejczyk’s in the division, and the aforementioned left hook. She retains her other finishing weapons (the head kick, the back-take and power submission game) as well as a frankly horrific top game. The question is always: where is her head at? And I’m not sure it was actually answered terribly well in their last fight.
David: Jedrzejczyk remains an absolutely brutal fighter once she begins chaining her offense. With her penetrating jab, and searing right-left combination striking, few fighters can deal with her rhythmic attack. As I always say when talking about Joanna, she’s an expert markswoman; not content to strike in straight lines, she’ll arc around traditional defenses to display a comfort on the feet few fighters (man or woman) are capable of. It’s that comfort that makes Joanna such a deadly striker; she’s simply at ease on the feet. Her only flaw is that her movement is pocketed in ways that leave her vulnerable to swift punch entries. I never thought Rose had a chance, but we did point out that it was rare for Joanna to face a striker who could pivot, and shuffle, which could prove to be revealing. And revealing it was for reasons we’ll get into...
Phil: While she used to be a bit spindly compared to powerhouses like Gadelha, Joanna has increasingly grown into a muscular, imposing figure at strawweight. That jab remains one of the best around, and leads into the rest of her game. Primarily- quick, flicking kicks to the head and body, and brief rushing combinations. She’s one of the very best around at kicking and then pivoting and keeping her defense active afterwards, which makes for an effective wall for opponents coming in. Perhaps the fact that every opponent did come in was something which lulled her into fighting a particular style, or perhaps she has simply always been protected by either having major speed (Letourneau) or reach (everyone else) advantages. She remains absolutely tireless, and while she’s not any kind of offensive grappler, she is a viciously dirty clinch fighter, who frames, pushes, and elbows. Given that this was the kind of approach which deflated Namajunas so badly against Kowalkiewicz, it might be worth revisiting the clinch game.
Insight from past fights
David: I don’t think there’s a lot to be learned from the first fight precisely because it was so damn dominant. Rose never hesitated with her punch entries, and beat her with a single punch (the left hook); at least functionally. As such, I think we can take two diametrically opposed lessons here; Rose’s punch entries will remain a threat, but her left hook might not (if Joanna is well-prepared). If Joanna is able to adjust, and avoid the left hook with movement (either with her feet, or head), suddenly we’re talking about a completely different fight. Joanna doesn’t just have defensive ways to avoid taking damage, but her kicks could become critical to neutralizing Rose. Still, that says nothing about the different ways Rose can threaten.
Phil: The interesting thing about the last fight wasn’t necessarily the new things we saw, but how well it fit into pre-existing narratives: namely, that Joanna gets hurt early in fights, and that Rose tends to come blazing out of the gate, then slow down dramatically. It was both incredibly dominant and also the only real way that any of use expected Rose to win. The most shocking thing was indeed the footspeed differential- I’ve never seen Jedrzejczyk look plodding before. She needs to figure out a way to diffuse that, or a way to interpret Rose’s feints as she steps in so that she’s not being ping-ponged back and forth between the left hook, the cross, and just nothing.
David: Unless one of the TV dudes leaves a cable on the octagon floor...
David: I honestly have no clue. Because Rose dominated Joanna the first time with such a limited display of her arsenal, that can either be an argument for Rose (Rose just needs that left hook), or an argument for Joanna (if Joanna can neutralize that left hook, how effective can Rose be). Namajunas is not a one-note striker, but MMA domination tends to be a display of momentary dominance rather than collective influence. So I’m not confident it’s Rose’s to lose. Having said that, Joanna appeared to have no answer for those punch entries. Rose Namajunas by Decision.
Phil: It feels odd, doesn’t it? On the one hand, we’ve never seen JJ against someone with a comparable frame and speed, and her reactions to Rose’s shots were bad. Her vulnerabilities early are pronounced and haven’t been a problem which she has solved in rematches (Gadelha did better early the second time). On the other hand, Rose is someone who has faded mentally when she’s gone outside the second round, and we just haven’t seen her do it all that much lately. If Jedrzejczyk knows all she has to do is hold on and rely on her natural ability to adapt, can she come up with a gameplan which preserves her for long enough? I’m fascinated to see it, and I’m going to say “yes”. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.