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UFC Tampa: Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson for UFC Tampa, and everything you don’t about the Liar’s Paradox.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson headlines UFC Tampa this October 12, 2019 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

One sentence summary

David: Don’t Believe Everything You Knead

Phil: Strawweight special FX between the Hottie and the zloty

Stats

Record: Joanna Jedrzejczyk 15-3 | Michelle Waterson 17-6

Odds: Joanna Jedrzejczyk -335 | Michelle Waterson +275

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: Joanna looks like she’s on one of those difficult ex-champion paths where tough matchups, a psychology with a lot to lose (few fighters display their confidence with such zeal even in the face of defeat), and tough physiology (she’s gonna prove the haters wrong by doing her job!) converge together to either sharpen iron, or break it entirely. I honestly don’t know what to make up her future. She doesn’t have the kind of style that opponents simply “figure” out. This isn’t the ‘Machida Era’. And yet, the results reflect someone who has been “figured” out; at least in some respects. This should be a layup fight. Which makes the stakes that much higher for Joanna to deliver.

Phil: Joanna Champion no more, Jedrzejczyk returns to strawweight following her failed bid to take the flyweight crown from Shevchenko. It was another one of those weight-changing fights which seemed interesting in the run-up, but kind of fizzled in the execution, as Shevchenko just physically dominated Jedrzejczyk and countered her at range in much the same way as she did back in their kickboxing bouts. In the time that she’s been away, the strawweight division has been through some changes. When Andrade took the belt away from Namajunas, it represented a clear route back to the belt. Then she got beaten by Zhang, and it’s open season. The only question now is whether Jedrzejczyk can actually make strawweight without killing herself.

David: Waterson never fought like a Maxim spread, but that’s where her future seemed headed. Kind of like how we always knew Sage Northcutt would fall into a time capsule, and star in the latest season of Road Rules. There’s a growing list of very good fighters at the top of the division, and Waterson never seemed like a fighter who would fall into that category. On a nice run, and inside the hierarchy of a division starting to clear itself out, this weekend will allow her to make the kind of noise that could echo an eternity.

Phil: I have to be honest - I did not think Waterson would get this far, at this point in her career. If there was a time at which she could have battled to a title eliminator, then I would have thought it was when the division was relatively nascent, when her experience advantage would get the most play, and before bigger, better athletes started to pour in. That window passed, and yet here she is. The more critical might point out that the level of competition she’s faced hasn’t exactly been the highest, and that the win over Cortney Casey was a little, shall we say, controversial, but overall she’s been looking coherent and focused, and if she wins this one there’s no argument that she deserves to be next in line.

What’s at stake?

David: I’m not really sure, to be honest. Joanna is not in a position, even with a big KO win, to get anyone interested in a title fight. She’s lost all of her title fights. Sure it’s impressive to gain that many cracks within a two-year period, but yea — just no.

Phil: Title shot I guess. Tatiana Suarez has an argument but her last win did not exactly set the world on fire. What happens to the loser is a bit more concerning: a Jedrzejczyk loss would put her at a startling four straight, and this might be Waterson’s last chance at title contention.

Where do they want it?

David: Despite (ok, copy and paste: do your thing) Jedrzejczyk’s status in the striking world, she’s never had any one tool that made her stand out. She’s not a big puncher. She’s a fast puncher, but that speed is never used in service of power. Her speed is just good for the pace she sets. She’s not terrible dynamic. She’s not even particularly agile. Instead she brings a five-tools element to her striking that makes her unmatched when it comes to keeping her punches, kicks, and elbows chugging along. There is no — as they used to say in the video game world when internet speed was a baby velociraptor trying to crack its own shell — lag. She succeeds with consistency, pace, and mostly precision. And it’s all done with movement, and timing. She’s still elite. But she needs to adjust. This fight will leave in her good position to do so.

Phil: Despite her recent record, Jedrzejczyk remains one of the very best tall fighters in the UFC. With the possible exception of Namajunas, she’s the best in the division at utilizing lateral movement and a jab to have opponents running onto her attacks. What she lacks in power she makes up for in volume, chipping away with attacks to the leg and body. Opponents who rush in past this layer find themselves locked up with a grimy, inexhaustible clinch fighter who cross-faces, stiff-arms and relentlessly attacks with knees and elbows. She can be taken down, but tends to consistently battle her way back to her feet, and in many of her fights the sheer effort of taking and keeping her down has exhausted her opponents, in a broadly similar way to Michael Bisping. The gaps in the armor have been relatively limited, and primarily center around her reliance on her reach: Namajunas was able to explode past the jab and hurt her, and Shevchenko was able to make her look relatively pedestrian in a range kickboxing match. Her all around lack of power (landing head kicks on an Andrade who simply shrugged them off) also makes her slightly vulnerable to dropping rounds to singular dynamic moments.

David: Waterson is an interesting mix of skills and physicality. They don’t quite gel, IMO. I always get the impression that she’s capable of so much more finesse with her strikes, but then she falls into the trap of trying to bludgeon her way in and out of exchanges. Waterson is good with her basic attack strategy. She has a TON of options. By switching stances, she’s able to attack the lead leg in different ways. Her southpaw jab seems particularly natural to her, and those side kicks that mostly just “look” annoying setup a basic range package that allows her to control distance even when her opponent isn’t being threatened with anything. She seems most at home less with karate, and more than your traditional Maurice Smith blitz, attacking the leg from an orthodox stance, and bulling her way in with punches and (as we saw against Kowalkiewicz) other indoor hostilities.

Phil: Waterson is an example of when the Jackson-Wink style works. One of the things which the camp is the most effective at has always been “letting athletes be athletes”- they let their fighters fight in the ways that they’re comfortable with. If you want to try something crazy or creative? They’ll let you. At their best the camp doesn’t shape, but encourages. There are commonalities though, and Waterson tends to typify them- she moves a lot on the outside, throws an array of quick snapping kicks, and has a fairly deep wrestling and grappling game that nonetheless tends to rely on some WMMA staples like the head’n’arm. Over time she’s become a better and more comfortable puncher, and while she’s never exactly going to be reenacting Robbie Lawler vs Johny Hendricks, she’s no longer a one and done hitter. Her main problems have been the ones which come along with the gym: she’s still not a tremendously efficient puncher, her defence is mostly just “moving out of the way of things with her feet quickly.” Other than that she’s fairly undersized for the division.

Insight from past fights

David: Zane made a really good point about how Joanna has developed into more of an out-fighter. Which is true. But I also believe it’s a function of her competition; the same competition that stripped her of her gold. Rose fought through her attack, and Shevchenko just countered it. Her losses take up such a minor but sustained part of her career that it’s no wonder she’s developed a symbiotic relationship with it. It’ll be interesting to see how Joanna’s less punctuated pressure clashes with Waterson’s bruising forward momentum. On paper, it seems like a complete bloodletting from Joanna’s vantage point, but I also believe Waterson will have more opportunities to claw her way into opportunities as a result.

Phil: I think the physical factors are (no pun intended) sizable here. Waterson’s win over Casey was somewhat debatable, and she ended up getting battered by “Cast Iron”. Even against a comparably sized fighter in Torres, Waterson got muscled around and outpunched. In general the people she have beaten just have not been physically on par. Conversely, Jedrzejczyk’s struggles have mostly come against women of comparable size and frame (Shevchenko, Namajunas, and even Valerie Letourneau). Waterson is going to be somewhat dwarfed.

X-Factors

David: Hey. It’s like Dana White says: don’t believe ANYTHING you read. It’s time like these that I really appreciate I was dumb enough to major in philosophy, and can use this facepunching platform to talk about deflationism. Hey, wait. Where did everybody go??

Phil: What could it possibly be? Oh yeah, the fact that Jedrzejczyk told the UFC she couldn’t make the weight, and then got so mad at the media for questioning her ability to make the weight that she then made the weight. Skeletal and swaying, she looked satisfied in that way unique to those who have pushed themselves to bad places and see the end in sight.

Prognostication

David: My biggest problem with even pretending to make a case for Waterson is that she’s just so slow on the reset. Even if I thought Waterson could find some openings over five rounds, she’s too stationary avoid one onslaught at a time. Nevermind that one round alone will bring about the worst parts of the Bible. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, round 2.

Phil: This seems like a nightmare matchup for Waterson. Even if Jedrzejczyk has gotten addicted to fighting on the outside and has stopped pressuring, I can’t really see how Waterson wins this one. She’s far worse defensively, fights at a slower pace, is both smaller and fights shorter, and most of her finishes have come from submissions. Unless Jedrzecjzyk really has been broken by the weight cut, the pick seems fairly clear. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, round 4.