Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) strawweights Carla Esparza and Joanna Jedrzejzyk will scrap over the title this Saturday night (March 14, 2015) at the UFC 185 pay-per-view (PPV) event inside the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Esparza was named the No. 1 seed when she entered The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 tournament and looked the part, winning each of her bouts and submitting Rose Namajunas in the finale. Next, she looks to solidify her grip on the division by taking out another dangerous opponent.
Jedrzejzyk entered both of her UFC fights as a fairly large underdog yet emerged victorious in both fights. She'll look to pull off another upset here, hopefully with a knockout.
Let's take a closer look at the keys to victory for both women.
Key Wins: Rose Namajunas (TUF 20 Finale), Jessica Penne* (TUF 20), Felice Herrig (XFC 15)
Key Losses: Jessica Aguilar (Bellator 46)
Keys to Victory: A powerful wrestler with an excellent top game, Esparza has nullified many opponents. Once she gets into top position, Esparza grinds away and hunts for submissions, which account for four of her 10 victories.
Esparza is a developing boxer, but she cannot afford to strike with Jedrzejzyk. Her opponent has crisp technique and some legitimate punching power, which could cause the champ some serious trouble.
Instead, Esparza has to rely on the wrestling that has brought her so much success. By stalking Jedrzejzyk and walking her into the fence or waiting for her opponent to over-commit to a punch, Esparza can make the takedown come easier.
Once Esparza gets her opponent down, it's very important for her to quickly establish position. Jedrzejzyk showed in her last fight that she's quite adept at scrambling back to her feet after being put on the ground. To prevent this, Esparza needs to attempt to finish her takedowns away from the fence and in positions like half guard or side control.
Key Wins: Claudia Gadelha (UFC on FOX 13), Julianna Lima (UFC on FOX 12)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Jedrzejzyk is a multiple time champion in Muay Thai and perhaps the best striker in the strawweight division. The Polish fighter can crack, which she demonstrated by flooring Gadelha in her most recent bout.
As is commonly the case in striker vs. wrestler match ups, the key for Jedrzejzyk is lateral movement. If Jedrzejzyk moves only forwards and backwards, she sets herself up for easy takedowns and becomes predictable. Plus, getting pinned against the cage by a powerful wrestler is never a good thing.
Instead, Jedrzejzyk needs to ensure that she's circling, particularly at two times. First off, she needs to circle away from Esparza's punches, as the champion usually sets up her double with two or three punches. Jedrzejzyk can still plant her feet occasionally and rip a counter shot, but her priority should be staying on her feet.
Additionally, Jedrzejzyk needs to move her feet after landing her own shots. If she scores with a nice combination then stands still in Esparza's range, she's simply making it too easy for the champion.
Finally, Jedrzejzyk should look to discourage Esparza's takedown attempts by landing small shots whenever possible. If the majority of Esparza's takedowns are met with sprawls and elbow strikes, it will tire her out and lead Esparza to strike more.
Two things that favor the Polish kickboxer.
Bottom Line: The women's strawweight division is still brand new and wide open. Esparza may be the champion, but her grip on the division is far from iron, like women's bantamweight queen, Ronda Rousey.
This is another chance for Esparza to establish her dominance. It's not even universally recognized that she's the best strawweight on the planet -- World Series of Fighting's Jessica Aguilar would certainly disagree -- so it's important that each of her performances are impressive. With a victory over the undefeated Muay Thai specialist, Esparza further secures her case as the best in the world.
Should Esparza fall to her challenger, she's likely pretty far back in line. Since the division is so new, it will be easy for new, young contenders to suddenly pop up -- such as Paige VanZant and Alexa Grasso -- and take Esparza's position near the top of the division.
While Jedrzejzyk was not expected to contend for the title so quickly, she's definitely earned her way here. If she can capitalize on this opportunity, she'll be the second-ever strawweight champion and have victories over two of the best grapplers in the division.
Which says very good things for her future.
A loss would certainly make getting back into the title mix difficult, but it would probably be easier for Jedrzejzyk. There aren't a lot of strikers of her caliber in the picture, so any particularly violent victories would really help her stand out.
At UFC 185, Carla Esparza will look to defend her title against Joanna Jedrzejzyk. Which woman will leave the Octagon strapped with gold?