- A strawweight battle between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson headlines UFC Fight Night 161
- Can heavily favored Jedrzejczyk recapture the magic that made her one of the most feared strikers in MMA?
- If Waterson extends her three-fight win streak, she’ll launch herself into the title conversation
The UFC heads to Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, for UFC Fight Night 161 on Saturday (Oct. 12). In the main event, former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces Michelle Waterson. Jedrzejczyk, who is the No. 5-ranked fighter in the division, is just 1-3 in her past four fights. Waterson, the No. 7-ranked strawweight, has victories in her past three outings. Yet Jedrzejczyk is a massive favorite.
JEDRZEJCZYK VS WATERSON ODDS
|Fighter||Odds (as of Oct. 8)|
UFC Fight Night 161 streams on ESPN+ at 8:00 PM ET following prelims on ESPN+ at 5:00 PM ET.
On paper, Jedrzejczyk’s recent 1-3 run might look a little disappointing, but you have to take into account that those three losses all came in title fights. Two of those bouts went the five-round distance and one was at 125 pounds, a weight Jedrzejczyk had not fought at since 2014. Jedrzejczyk was 14-0 before she suffered the first defeat of her career, losing the strawweight title to Rose Namajunas in 2017 via first round TKO.
Jedrzejczyk followed that with a decision loss to Namajunas in the rematch. In July 2018, the Polish fighter defeated Tecia Torres by decision before moving up to face Valentina Shevchenko for the vacant women’s flyweight title in December. Shevchenko won that contest by decision.
Waterson, the former Invicta FC atomweight champ, joined the UFC in 2015 as a strawweight. She opened her UFC career with a 2-2 record but has gone 3-0 since April 2018. Her most recent win came over ex-strawweight title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz in March. Waterson dominated that high-profile fight, winning by decision.
There was a time, not too long ago, when Jedrzejczyk was in the discussion as the best striker in MMA. That talk was not hyperbole. With her aggression, high output, decent accuracy, strong defense, and fight IQ, she seemed to have a good chance of becoming the longest reigning champion in the UFC women’s divisions. But after five successful title defenses, she was stopped by Namajunas.
[N]ot too long ago … Jedrzejczyk was in the discussion as the best striker in MMA.
Jedrzejczyk was and will always be a striker. Don’t expect her to change that game plan for Waterson. The ex-champ has a height and reach advantage over Waterson and there is no doubt she will look to exploit those advantages and keep her striking at distance. Jedrzejczyk is not likely to tangle with her opponent in close until she senses an opening and moves in for a stoppage.
Waterson is not a bad striker, but she is not on the level of Jedrzejczyk. With that, I believe Waterson will look to take this fight to the mat. Jedrzejczyk does have good takedown defense, but she was taken down five times on 14 attempts in her loss to Shevchenko. Waterson needs to pressure Jedrzejczyk and attempt as many takedowns as she can. She’ll want to take those shots in close quarters so even if she fails to score the takedown she is not at distance. If she can keep the fight against the fence when it’s not on the ground, Waterson could have a chance to keep her winning streak intact.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
This matchup might not be Jedrzejczyk’s last chance to get back in the strawweight title mix, but that day is fast approaching. That is especially true since her aura of invincibility has faded with her three defeats. Jedrzejczyk has to be aware of this fact. This contest is an opportunity to remind the division, the fans, and the UFC matchmakers of her past dominance.
The UFC and its ownership group have been high on Waterson for some time. She has scored a spot in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue and the network ran an E:60 feature on her earlier this year. There’s little doubt that the promotion would love to see her succeed. If Waterson gets past the ex-champ on Saturday, don’t be surprised to find her fast-tracked into a title fight against strawweight champion Weili Zhang. Zhang is not currently booked for her first title defense.
TALE OF THE TAPE
|Joanna Jedrzejczyk||Category||Michelle Waterson|
|6.07||Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute||4.04|
|2.77||Significant Strikes Absorbed Per Minute||3.57|
|0.14||Takedown Average Per 15 Minutes||2.15|
|0.00||Submission Average Per 15 Minutes||1.25|
Waterson has a chance to pull off the upset in this matchup, but it is a small chance. She’ll need to institute her game plan from the first second of the fight and not slip up at all. If Waterson provides Jedrzejczyk with any space, she will be on the defensive and that’s the wrong place to be against the ex-champ. Waterson is a good fighter, but I don’t believe she is good enough.
Pick: Jedrzejczyk (-400)