Fight Analysis: UFC 217 Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Rose Namajunas

(Image © 2017 UFC)

The MMA strawweight championship fight between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Rose Namajunas has been much anticipated, and by no means overshadowed by the other UFC 217 title fight between Michael Bisping and George St-Pierre. Joanna’s title defences are always technically nuanced and powerful, where she has successfully defeated numerous skilled competitors including the likes of Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Rose, sans the widespread reputation and fierce following of Joanna, is formidable in her own right as an exceptionally well-rounded fighter who holds the record for the highest number of submissions within her division, having submitted Michelle Waterson earlier this year.

There has been a huge build up to this fight, no doubt fuelled by the UFC media hype. Independent of that, this is a particularly interesting match-up given the differing skillsets between Joanna and Rose. Joanna is no stranger to fighting other women with a history of successful takedowns, but Rose’s strong Brazilian Jiu Jitsu background has enabled her to achieve multiple takedowns and submissions in her previous fights. In my opinion, their skillsets will really be put to the test when the two women engage in striking and transitioning between standing and groundwork.

The Entry:

Rose’s entry into the Octagon is a picture of stoney calm as the crowd receives her. She appears grounded and focused, with little bravado or interaction with the camera nor the audience around her. Joanna on the other hand, is ever the show-woman, and makes her way to the Octagon with a proud walk, interacting with the camera by throwing fists towards the lens. This is Joanna’s usual demeanour before a fight, but I can’t help but notice that in spite of all this, she looks quite ill. Her eyes are shadowed by large, dark rings, and her face looks gaunt and pale. This seems strange this year in particular, as Joanna has come out of her weight cuts seemingly well and hydrated for each fight.

Round 1:

There’s no touching of the gloves to begin the first round, and both jump straight into the fight -throwing light jabs to judge each other’s distance. Rose is the first of the two to make a leg kick, which puts Joanna on the offensive. Joanna puts forward a few jab-cross combinations, but they fall short of Rose.

In the first few seconds of the fight, it becomes apparent to me that something is not quite right with Joanna’s fighting manner. I’ve seen all her UFC fights and she is known for her long reach and striking precision, but in this particular fight, Joanna seems ‘off’ – she appears unable to judge the distance necessary to land her strikes on Rose.

Rose’s strike combinations make contact from the beginning of the round, but Joanna struggles to reach Rose and only brushes her face a few times. Rose remains calm throughout their initial exchanges; she has a grounded-ness about her that enables her to react levelheadedly and time her strikes for maximum impact. There is a leg kick exchange between them, both landing good kicks, but Joanna misses several body/head kicks. Again, her pace and judgement of distance is unusual given her record for striking precision and explosion. After both pick up the pace with their combinations, Rose throws a heavy jab-cross-hook combination that knocks Joanna to the ground at the 3 minute mark, and gets more crosses in as Joanna descends.

I’ve never seen Joanna knocked down like this before, and Rose takes full advantage of the situation by charging in for the ground-and-pound. Luckily, Joanna shrimps out from the bottom as she is unable to secure a closed guard to protect herself from Rose’s strikes. Rose tries to move into mount while Joanna uses the cage to get to her feet, but Rose has clear shots at Joanna’s face with her left hand. Joanna over-hooks Rose’s right arm to prevent her from taking her back, but Rose eventually breaks away. Again Joanna attempts a kick to the head/body, but misses, still dizzy from the initial takedown.

Joanna leans in to deliver a jab-cross combo, but her reach is not as deep as it usually is and the impact made is minimum. She attempts another body kick, but misses significantly. Rose administers a good hook combination and tags Joanna with a right hook.

With only 2 minutes to go, Rose delivers a devastating left hook, which knocks Joanna to the ground again. Rose manages to bring in a right knee as Joanna falls, which connects with her face as she hits the floor. Rose scrambles to gain top control of Joanna, and delivers a nasty ground-and-pound with heavy overhead strikes. Joanna turtles to protect herself, but then taps out as Rose is raining left hand strikes on her head. The referee calls it – Rose has won by submission as the fight finishes at 3 minutes and 3 seconds of the 1st round.

Post Fight Commentary:

What is impressive in this fight is Rose’s consistency and ease – her technique is well paced, powerful and timed in such a way that it enables her to get to Joanna early in the fight. On the other hand, Joanna is not her usual self – her timing and judgement of distance is completely off. Where she would ordinarily land her signature jab-cross combinations and kicks with ease, Joanna markedly struggles to get close enough to make any significant impact. I have never seen her fight like this before, but I feel that my earlier observations about her gauntness and dark circles may be telling here.

I don’t think this was an issue of Joanna underestimating Rose as a contender to the strawweight belt as some commentators have suggested. However, we have to acknowledge Rose’s prowess and talent in the cage, and I think that her ability to stay calm and stick to her game plan enabled her to secure this fight. At the same time, it is undeniable that something effected Joanna pre-fight that had a detrimental impact on her ability to perform in the Octagon against Rose. She was by no means on top form, and her ability to think clearly in the ring may have been marred by a poorly executed weight cut and rehydration regime for this fight.

Since this fight, Joanna has publicly left her nutrition team, Perfecting Athletes, emphasising that she was put through a poorly executed weight cut prior to her fight against Rose. We all know that weight cutting becomes increasingly difficult the more you do it and the older you get as a fighter, and it seems that Perfecting Athletes did not support Joanna as they should have done for this fight. This is not the first time that Perfecting Athletes has been under fire for poor practices with their athletes, Fightshape nutritionist Tony Ricci argues. In a scathing Instagram post, Tony states that he had ‘never seen an athlete’s Biomotor & Cognitive abilities destroyed so well in only 24 hrs’ due to Perfecting Athletes’s abysmal rehydration protocol and ill-informed ‘holistic approach’ to nutrition for fighters.

I hope to write about this in more detail following Tony and Phil Daru’s (strength and conditioning coach for American Top Team) commentary about Perfecting Athletes on Jason Burgos and Phil’s Fight Strength Podcast. Weight cutting is a contentious practice that draws a lot of criticism from both inside and outside the fighting community. I’d like to write about it from several angles, particularly as weight cutting for women fighters is often entangled with gendered pressures to maintain or obtain a desirable female body type.

Did any of you notice anything off about Joanna’s performance in this fight? Do you anticipate a re-match in the new year? What would you like to see from Rose as the new strawweight champion in the coming months?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!