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UFC Fight Night 161: Jedrzejczyk vs. Waterson - Predictions and Picks

Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Preview
Modified 21 Dec 2019, 00:42 IST

The UFC hits Tampa this weekend with a great double main event
The UFC hits Tampa this weekend with a great double main event

After a low-key pay-per-view – on paper, at least – last weekend, the UFC’s Fight Night series returns this week with a pretty loaded card in my opinion. UFC Fight Night 161 goes down from Tampa, Florida, and in the main event we’ve got a major Strawweight clash between former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and title hopeful Michelle Waterson.

Elsewhere on the card, fights like Cub Swanson vs. Kron Gracie, Mackenzie Dern vs. Amanda Ribas and Niko Price vs. James Vick seem to guarantee action, even if the show isn’t the heaviest in terms of name value.

Here are the predicted outcomes for UFC Fight Night 161: Jedrzejczyk vs. Waterson.

#1 Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Michelle Waterson

Could Joanna Jedrzejczyk win back the Strawweight title?
Could Joanna Jedrzejczyk win back the Strawweight title?

After losing three of her last four fights – all three losses coming in title bouts – former Strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s next fight was always going to be a major one for her, but the current state of the title picture at 115lbs has made it a whole lot more interesting. After losing twice to Rose Namajunas, it seemed difficult to imagine Joanna in another Strawweight title match any time soon, but of course, not only has Namajunas since been dethroned, but the woman who beat her – Jessica Andrade – has since lost the title to Weili Zhang.

Essentially, the only dominant champion the division has ever had is Jedrzejczyk. And that means that if she beats Michelle Waterson this weekend, it’ll be pretty hard to deny her another crack at the gold – even if that’s at the expense of current top contender Tatiana Suarez.

It’d be a little harder to give Waterson a shot off the back of a win here I think as Suarez has been so dominant, but a win over Jedrzejczyk would easily be the biggest in the career of ‘The Karate Hottie’, and would at least put her in line for a No.1 contender’s match. So there are big stakes on the line in Tampa this weekend.

So how do these two match up? It’s quite interesting because gut feeling tells me this will largely be a striker vs. grappler fight in terms of where each woman wants to take the fight. We all know that Jedrzejczyk is one of the deadliest strikers, pound-for-pound, in the UFC right now, but I’d argue that Waterson’s ‘Karate Hottie’ nickname is a bit of a smokescreen. Is she hot? Sure, but the ‘Karate’ tag is a little false as I’d actually say she’s a better grappler than a striker.

It’s not that Waterson can’t stand and strike with her opponents; she’s very good from a technical standpoint and is able to cut angles and use her kicks and long punches to catch her opponents from range, something that’s quite surprising given she’s not that tall (5’3”) and doesn’t really have a long reach (62” to Joanna’s 65.5” in this fight). On the flip side however, she’s not unusually quick for a Strawweight, and she doesn’t carry that much power in her strikes. In fact, I can’t remember her scoring a knockdown in the UFC off the top of my head.

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On the ground, though? Waterson is fantastic. Her takedowns aren’t the strongest – she prefers a lateral drop or a headlock throw from the clinch, both risky moves – but from the top she’s an excellent fighter, able to control opponents and keep them grounded while also threatening with submissions. In fact, of her five UFC victories, four of them came largely from her grappling, while her two losses saw her struggle with the striking of both Namajunas and Tecia Torres.

What makes this fight fascinating is that judging by her last fight – a loss at Flyweight to Valentina Shevchenko – as a lot of people suspected even when she looked unstoppable, Joanna’s major weakness seems to be her ground game. Shevchenko was able to take her down on numerous occasions, and once she had her there the Polish fighter didn’t appear to be too tricky to control nor did she offer a lot from her back.

On the other hand obviously, Joanna’s striking is almost unparalleled in the division. Sure, Namajunas knocked her out in their first fight, but while she was able to outpoint her the second time around, it was a very close fight to score, and outside of that, nobody’s really come close to outstriking her. She can be hit – we saw both Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz knock her down – but outside of that? Her jab is razor-sharp, she throws insanely fast combinations and she attacks her opponents by cutting off the cage with excellent footwork and angles.

Waterson shouldn’t be as outgunned on her feet as say, Carla Esparza or Valerie Letourneau were, but can she survive with Joanna for five rounds? Even if she does, I don’t see her having too much success. Jedrzejczyk is probably faster, definitely hits harder, and can take a punch extremely well. Waterson is tough but Torres had her in trouble at points with her combinations, and Jedrzejczyk is on another level.

That means ‘The Karate Hottie’ should look to grapple – but unfortunately for her, I’m not sure she can pull off that game, either. The problem for her is that Jedrzejczyk’s takedown defense is tremendous – at Strawweight, only Gadelha really got her down and even then, she bounced right back up. Sure, Shevchenko outwrestled her easily, but then ‘Bullet’ is also far larger having fought most of her career at 135lbs.

Add in the fact that Waterson prefers takedowns from the clinch – an area in which Joanna excels in terms of her striking, with violent, slashing elbows and knees – and the likelihood of her securing enough takedowns to win this fight just doesn’t seem all that high to me.

Can Jedrzejczyk finish Waterson? If she can then I think the title shot could be in the bag, but given that she hasn’t actually taken someone out since the overmatched Jessica Penne back in 2015, I’m going to say she won’t. If she doesn’t come away with her hand raised, though, I’d be very surprised.

The Pick: Jedrzejczyk via unanimous decision

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Published 07 Oct 2019, 23:45 IST
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