TORONTO — Joanna Jedrzejczyk is one of the world’s best female fighters, and fought close to her peak on Saturday in her flyweight title fight against Valentina Shevchenko at Scotiabank Arena in the co-main event of UFC 231.
It wasn’t nearly enough, which speaks more to Shevchenko’s brilliance than anything against Jedrzejczyk.
Shevchenko appeared stronger, had more weapons and was the more accurate striker. While Jedrzejczyk battled hard to get off the floor after being taken down and competed fiercely on the feat, it was obvious on Saturday why many called Shevchenko the uncrowned champion on the day the division was created.
She is uncrowned no longer, as the judges rewarded her technical excellence with a unanimous decision. All three judges had it 49-46 for Shevchenko. Jedrzejczyk, wrapped in the Polish flag, applauded for Shevchenko and nodded her head. Jedrzejczyk appeared to be fighting back tears as she walked to the locker room, but she had nothing to be ashamed of, given she lost to one of the best women ever to fight in the UFC.
“I’m very happy this fight is done,” Shevchenko said. “She’s very special. It’s more valid to get the belt from this kind of fight than any other woman.”
It was the fourth time they fought and the fourth time Shevchenko won a decision. The first three were in Muay Thai boxing matches, while the fourth was in mixed martial arts and gave Shevchenko the UFC championship.
From punches to kicks to knees to takedowns, there wasn’t little that Shevchenko didn’t do right on Saturday. She never had Jedrzejczyk in serious trouble, but that’s largely a testament to Jedrzejczyk’s skill and heart.
Shevchenko had come agonizingly close to taking the bantamweight title last year at UFC 215 in Edmonton when she lost to Amanda Nunes. It was a fight that could have gone her way, but she was fighting a much larger woman.
When the flyweight division opened, it was clear it would take something far beyond a great effort to deny her the belt. And while Jedrzejczyk kicked and punched and fought her heart out for all 25 minutes on Saturday, she could never land that one strike she needed to change the momentum.
It was Jedrzejczyk’s third loss in four fights, and her third consecutive loss in a title fight after losing a pair of strawweight bouts to Rose Namajunas. After a win over Tecia Torres, she moved up to flyweight to challenge Shevchenko. She represented herself well, but even with an excellent performance it wasn’t close to enough.
MMA is one of those sports where it seems like nearly everyone loses eventually. But if someone as talented as Jedrzejczyk wasn’t able to come really close, it might be a while before there is a new women’s flyweight champion.