How Joanna Jedrzejczyk Defended the Crown
Another night, another big fight in the march towards UFC 200. This time it was Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha in the gutsiest slog in the history of their young division. Gadelha made a good case through the first six rounds that her and Jędrzejczyk have fought, but the last two were all Jędrzejczyk. It is hard not to feel for Gadelha, she lost a hotly disputed decision in their first fight over three rounds, came in and dominated the first three rounds of this match, and still wound up losing. But that's fighting, the numbers on the record don't make exceptions for how well you did or how hard you tried, the only thing that matters is the 'W' or 'L'.
Gadelha came out at the opening bell and Jędrzejczyk flicked out her jab. A second flicking jab. The third flicking jab was greeted with a stepping jab of Gadelha's own and the untouchable Joanna Champion was on her rump.
From then on Gadelha stuck to Jędrzejczyk like lacquer. Each clinch saw Gadelha achieve double underhooks and ratchet the champion's arms up and out like chicken wings. Each struggle along the fence ended with Gadelha slinging Jędrzejczyk to the mat. Each striking exchange ended with a bull rush to the fence or straight to the mat.
Large portions of the second round were spent with Gadelha riding on one of Jędrzejczyk's legs as she sat along the fence, preventing the champion from scooting her hips away. A classic stalling position. The problem with grapevining one leg or both legs along the fence and using it to keep the opponent from getting from their butt back to their feet is that you can't hit with any force. You aren't punching down on the opponent so the benefit of top position is pretty much eliminated, and you aren't able to turn your hips into the blows because your legs and hips are occupied locking down that leg. So Gadelha was left arm punching as hard as she could but it was a labor intensive method of doing next to no damage on top of the exhausting game of holding Jędrzejczyk down.
In the second round Gadelha began to entangle Jędrzejczyk's near leg on the feet but found herself the victim of an uchi-mata throw.
As the rounds progressed the pace that Gadelha was pushing wilted her. Were this a three round fight she would have won comfortably. Unfortunately this championship fight was scheduled for five rounds. As an aside it is frankly daft that fighters are still allowed to have title shots without ever having been scheduled in a five rounder before, giving champions in the divisions which cannot main event with anything but a title fight a huge advantage over their rivals. Anyway, the thing about the clinch is that you're breathing into your opponent's shoulder, they can hear when you are sucking wind. So as Jędrzejczyk broke free from a clinch at the end of the third round, she used the remaining seconds to hammer home two hard front kicks right to the gut.
That was the moment that Jędrzejczyk drove the pace higher and Gadelha pretty much didn't show up for the last two rounds. Jędrzejczyk still had life in her feet and danced around the cage flicking out jabs at Gadelha, while Gadelha swung back one slow, strained punch at a time. There was no sign of defensive movement from Gadelha, no combinations, zero kicks. It became the Joanna Jędrzejczyk show. Here's a couple of the nicer looks the champion showed against a nearly unresponsive opponent.
A jab into the switch forty-five stance change of karate, followed by a nice southpaw right hook into left straight.
A giving of ground from a rare and telegraphed Gadelha lunge, and a leaping in left hook on the return.
The usual body straight which Joanna Champion uses to wind opponents, followed by a stiff lead upstairs and a perfect retreat from range while applying a leverage guard over Gadelha's lead shoulder with the missed second jab.
Double hand control and another application of the leverage guard with the lead hand—raising the lead shoulder and stiff arming Gadelha's.
And as Gadelha summoned up what was left of her strength at the start of the fifth round, we were briefly transported back to the first fight as the two traded punches and Jędrzejczyk pivoted off line and killed any follow up on the momentum Gadelha might hope for.
Brooks versus Pearson
The night also saw the octagon debut of Will Brooks, a highly regarded lightweight and the former Bellator champion. Against the savvy veteran, Ross Pearson, Brooks looked as good as advertised but Pearson also had his moments. One of the more interesting points of Brooks' game was his use of Andy Ristie's favorite stance switch. Stepping up to throw a powerful inside low kick with his left leg, Brooks will retract the leg behind him into a southpaw stance. From there he waited for Pearson to step in so that he could counter with different strikes from the southpaw position. Andy Ristie decimates top quality defensive kickboxers with these well hidden stance changes.
Here Brooks follows with a left body kick and steps back looking for the right hook counter.
The left body knee was one of Brooks' most effective strikes in the fight.
It really stood out that both men have a good head for fighting on their shoulders, going to their foe's body just as frequently as they did to the head. Body shots on the counter are especially important because when an opponent is out of position their hands will almost always go up out of concern for counter punches to the head. Here Brooks parries a kick, Pearson's guard flies up because he has conceded a minor dominant angle, and Brooks digs in the right uppercut to the body instead, following unsuccessfully with the expected head shot.
Here Pearson throws an overhand against the guard, ducks the return and lands a right to the body as he pivots off.
Here Brooks lands a knee from the clinch and as the two break, rather than swinging for the head on an occasion where every fighter's hands will come up and a fighter as savvy as Pearson will move his head off line, Brooks lands another body shot for free.
In fact when Pearson stepped it up in the third round, as Brooks began to fade, it was one-twos to the body which made the difference. Roy Jones Jr. annoyed James Toney in their bout by throwing the orthodox boxing combinations that most fighters would to the head, but focused entirely on Toney's chest. Against Brooks, Pearson twice went to the body with a proper one-two and then scored his ringing hook upstairs afterwards—once in combination, once on the counter.
And there was a reminder that Brooks' takedowns have been a constant feature of his Bellator career.
Finally of note: Doo Ho Choi picked up another knockout victory with his right hand after Thiago Tavares tried the old Josh Thomson / Jason Miller grapevine stall on the fence for much of the first round. As soon as Choi got free he applied pressure along the fence and looked to time his usual right hand over the top of Tavares' jab. When Tavares made it clear he wasn't going to throw and kept his left hand high and wide, Choi tapped the inside of it and threw a right perfectly down the center. Different plane, same power, and a beautiful knockout all the same.
A decent night of fights and while the ending wasn't as dramatic as Alvarez versus Dos Anjos, it keeps the momentum going into the cursed but still highly anticipated UFC 200 card.
Check out these related stories: