Ronda Rousey is not the only woman doing things inside the UFC octagon. Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas headlines a list of excellent fighters in the UFC’s women’s division. Once fans of the cage get to know these current stars and up-and-coming combatants, they may never stay away from UFC programming. There are a few women who are an irresistible watch. A couple of them may end up facing each other at some point in the next year or two.
The UFC is in good hands.
If Ronda Rousey does indeed retire in the next few years, she will leave the company in a strong position. Rousey has helped pave the way for other women to make a name for themselves. One of those names, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, was already established.
Few people in the men’s or women’s division can say that they have only tasted defeat twice in any level of mixed martial arts or kickboxing. Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s sterling record of 39-2 (her record includes her UFC performance) is unmatched by most fighters. Undefeated in the UFC (10-0), the women’s strawweight champion has the skill to take out anyone in her division. Some people may begin to wonder if she could challenge Ronda Rousey. That fight will never take place because of the size differential, but one is allowed to dream about it.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is just as dominant as Rousey. She somewhat came out of nowhere when she beat Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza to become the strawweight champion. It was Esparza’s first defense of the belt.
The fight was built up by The Ultimate Fighter series. UFC president decided to give strawweights the opportunity to compete for the recently-created title by fighting on the reality show. Jonna Jedrzejczyk and Carla Esparza seemed destined to face each other after injuries, and other circumstances, took place during the time of the show’s taping.
What should have made Joanna Jedrzejczyk a household name amongst casual mixed martial arts fans is her staredown with Esparza during their weigh-in.
The staredown must be seen in order to be believed. Joanna Jedrzejczyk instantly became a charismatic fighter after it took place. In order for fans to root for you, you must show some personality. Jedrzejczyk’s likability level was raised tremendously with one gesture.
Her next title defense is the co-main event on the same card that features Ronda Rousey. Do not expect Joanna Jedrzejczyk to get a ton of work in.
According to MMA Mania, the odds-makers in Las Vegas have made Jedrzejczyk a -2000 favorite in her UFC 193 match versus Valerie Letourneau. That makes the challenger the largest underdog in UFC history.
Barring a huge upset, the next challenger to Jedrzejczyk’s title could be two other women who are somewhat overshadowed by Ronda Rousey.
Upstart Paige VanZant or Rose Namajunas may be next in line.
VanZant is on the cusp of breaking through. She has the talent to go far in the company, but she is still too green to face Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Despite her inexperience, Paige VanZant is marketable.
Marketability is what makes Ronda Rousey the tour de force that she is. It also helps that she vanquishes her opponents in mere seconds. Paige VanZant is not competing at that level. She does not have to. All she has to do is win. She may have to fight Namajunas in order to get to the champion.
Rose Namajunas has a good thing going for her: aggression. It is her aggression that took her to the Ultimate Fighter semifinals last fall and winter. Aggression is what sets her apart from most of the women in the strawweight division. Rose Namajunas wants to fight, and she does not care who it is she is facing.
Up until recently, she fought with the nickname “Thug.” Living up to that name was difficult, she told Fox Sports. Namajunas also admitted being too aggressive can be costly.
“No more of this thinking where she relies on ‘I’m the baddest b*tch in there!’ That creates a lot of pressure. Because, what happens when you lose? It crushes you. Now, it’s just about improving, looking honestly at what an opponent can do to you, what you can do to them, and fighting.”
Her 4-2 record is misleading. Her losses are from Carla Esparza and Tecia Torres, two of the best in the sport. Those defeats guarantee to make Namajunas a better fighter. How good she has become was on display during the preliminary card at UFC 192.
In putting Angela Hill to sleep with a standing rear naked choke, Rose Namajunas put the strawweight division on notice. There are a lot of people who want their hands on Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s title. Rose Namajunas might be next in line.
After watching Jedrzejczyk, VanZant and Namajunas fight, take a moment to study bantamweight contender Julianna Pena. Pena is now seventh in the bantamweight rankings. She is beginning to lobby for an opportunity to fight Ronda Rousey. If she gets her wish, Julianna Pena might be Rousey’s toughest opponent. She is a fast-charging grappler who never quits.
[Photo by Ronald Martinez / Getty Images Sport]