May 10, 2017

UFC 211: Joanna Jedrzejczyk Is Ready To Kick Down the Door To MMA Stardom

By Raphael Garcia

UFC 211 is just days away, and it may not be receiving the same type of hype or promotion as other events in recent memory, but this is an important card with a number of bouts worth watching. In one of the night’s featured matchups, Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks to defend her strawweight title for the fifth time against a very tough test in Jessica Andrade. This is an important moment in the development of Jedrzejczyk, not just for her, but for the Ultimate Fighting Championship as well.

Since defeating Carla Esparza at UFC 185, Joanna Champion – as she likes to be called – has blossomed into quite the personality. Her public appearances and presentation on social media suggests that she has the potential to be the type of star that fans can get behind. A big win on Saturday keeps her in a position to become that draw.

Unlike some of the other fighters that have achieved stardom in MMA, Joanna Jedrzejczyk needs the title to build her platform. Men and women such as Cris “Cyborg” Justino or Conor McGregor outgrew the belts around their waists; nearly anything they do is “money,” as people are going to stop and watch, regardless of whether there’s a title on the line. Joanna Champion isn’t in that position. Losing the UFC Strawweight Championship to Andrade on Saturday night would force her back into the shuffle. And while there are a number of compelling fights available in this division, those that don’t feature the title seem to lack the fanfare, compared to anytime the champion steps into the cage.

Jedrzejczyk has the potential to be a pay-per-view draw for the UFC, although she has yet to headline a card on that platform. She has, however, had two opportunities to headline events on Fox Sports 1. Her rematch against Claudia Gadelha at The Ultimate Fighter 23 Finale garnered 1.086 million viewers, and. UFC Fight Night 69 scored similar numbers for her defense against Jessica Penne. These numbers show that people are willing to watch her often brutal fights; she brings the type of style is pleasing to many of the fans in attendance and watching on TV.

However, putting her at the top of a PPV card right now is risky for the UFC. The organization is not in a place where it can take too many PPV events with low buyrates. Demetrious Johnson has been kept out of the PPV main event spotlight because it’s clear that he hasn’t developed into a draw with the paying viewers, though he’s drawn big numbers on Fox. So admittedly, putting Jedrzejczyk on the marquee and having the event fail could hinder her ability to bounce back in the future.

But a different approach with Joanna Champion from the approach taken with “Mighty Mouse” could prove more successful. The UFC pushed Johnson into main event slots because they had to; originally booked into the co-main event, injuries or other issues in the main event often forced the organization to “promote” him and his opponent to the top of the card. When abysmal buyrates would come of it, it was viewed as a harsh referendum on Johnson’s drawing power. However, if the UFC took Joanna Jedrzejczyk, placed her in the main event, and promoted her as the star she could be, the results might be different. Of course, the other side of the main event equation is the opponent, and while Jessica Andrade may not have the name to get the job done, Rose Namajunas can be that attraction. The onus is on the UFC to push Jedrzejczyk to the fans as a champion they can’t miss, and her title defenses as can’t miss as well. Continuing to present her as a second-rate option undermines her credibility.

UFC 211 is a strong card from top to bottom, as fans have a variety of reasons to tune in. And although she fights in the PPV’s co-main event, Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s breakthrough moment is nearing. She is one step away from the opportunity to be considered as a headliner; an impressive victory over Jessica Andrade on Saturday night puts her on track to becoming the draw that the organization needs.

UFC 211: Miocic vs. Dos Santos 2 takes place May 13, 2017 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.

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