Joanna Jedrzejczyk eyeing women's GOAT status vs. Valentina Shevchenko

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
If Joanna Jedrzejczyk beats Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday at UFC 231, she’s said she’ll have earned the right to be considered the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time. (Getty Images)
If Joanna Jedrzejczyk beats Valentina Shevchenko on Saturday at UFC 231, she’s said she’ll have earned the right to be considered the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time. (Getty Images)

Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s voice, bubbly and filled with excitement and joy, came on the other end of the telephone. She started with an apology.

She was listening to the hold music, and somehow, it got her fired up for her fight against Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant flyweight title on Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 231 at the Scotiabank Centre in Toronto.

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“I can’t wait,” Jedrzejczyk said of her fight with Shevchenko. “My whole career, I have tried to make history and on [Saturday], I’ll be making history again. I’ve always looked for the biggest challenges and I’ll be the first woman in history to be champion in two weight classes in the UFC.”

Before she was asked a question, she went on and on, clearly excited, clearly motivated. She trains at American Top Team and is one of three women at the gym to fight for a world title in December. Jedrzejczyk goes first for the UFC flyweight belt on Saturday against Shevchenko. Then, ex-UFC fighter Valerie Letourneau faces Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for the Bellator flyweight belt on Dec. 15. The month concludes with UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes, an ATT product, challenging Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 in Las Vegas for the featherweight title.

“I’ll get it started the right way,” Jedrzejczyk said.

Jedrzejczyk knows Shevchenko well. They fought in Muay Thai three times, with Shevchenko winning each of them. The last fight was in 2008 and Jedrzejczyk dismisses it out of hand as being a factor on Saturday.

“Totally different in almost every way,” Jedrzejczyk said of Saturday’s bout relative to their three Muay Thai fights. “We’ve both changed. I’m stronger, faster and more sharp. I have more skills to beat Valentina. I wasn’t experienced then like I am now. She is a tough fighter and I agree with that, but I am a better and smarter athlete now and that will be a difference.”

Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk face off during the UFC 231 press conference on Dec. 5, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Getty Images)
Valentina Shevchenko and Joanna Jedrzejczyk face off during the UFC 231 press conference on Dec. 5, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Getty Images)

If Jedrzejczyk wins, she’s said she’ll have earned the right to be considered the greatest women’s mixed martial artist of all-time. She’ll be the first to hold belts in two divisions in the UFC, but her primary challenge for the honor of women’s GOAT will come from Cyborg.

Among the others who would be in the discussion would be Megumi Fujii, Holly Holm, Nunes and Ronda Rousey. Fuji’s last fight was five years ago and she fought in an era where there weren’t nearly as many women competing.

Holm put herself into the conversation by destroying Rousey, and would have probably gotten the nod had she defeated Cyborg, but Holm lost both of her title fights at featherweight. Nunes beat Rousey, Miesha Tate, Shevchenko and Germaine de Randamie, who beat Holm to win the inaugural UFC women’s featherweight belt. If Nunes beats Cyborg, it would be hard to deny her given the quality of opposition she’d have beaten.

Still, that Jedrzejczyk is even in the conversation is testament to her skill. And now that she is fighting at a more natural weight and not having to struggle to get to the 115-pound strawweight limit, she figures to be better.

Whether that’s enough to defeat Shevchenko, who beat Holm and Julianna Peña at bantamweight and lost a razor-thin decision for the title to Nunes, remains to be seen. Shevchenko seems like the bigger and stronger fighter, but Jedrzejczyk has no concern with that.

“I’m not fighting Gabi Garcia,” she said, dismissively, referencing the giant 6-foot-2, 230-pound jiu-jitsu ace. “I have a big heart and I have the skills. That is what this fight is about, my skills versus hers.”

Jedrzejczyk’s volume punching is something Shevchenko hasn’t had to deal with in a while and it creates a type of pressure that can change a fight.

Shevchenko complimented Jedrzejczyk and said, “I don’t see too many weaknesses; if you do, please tell me,” and then laughed heartily.

Jedrzejczyk herself is laughing because she feels so good and is confident the belt will once again be around her waist.

“So many great things are happening in my life, personally and as an athlete,” she said. “I’m a person with big goals and high ambition and I am going to show who I am as a person and an athlete. And after this fight, everyone will be saying, ‘There she goes. She is the greatest of all-time.’ That’s the kind of fight it will be. You will see this.”

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