Joanna Jedrzejczyk has always been realistic about the time she has left in the sport.
Even when she was at the top of the world as UFC strawweight champion, the 34-year-old Polish fighter was honest enough to admit that she couldn’t compete forever. While she didn’t exactly set a deadline on her career, Jedrzejczyk has acknowledged her desire to eventually start a family, as well as the body and mind taking over over the years of fighting.
However, Jedrzejczyk is feeling rejuvenated after signing a new long-term contract with the UFC, but it could also be the last contract she signs before her retirement.
“To be sure [it could be my final contract]’, Jedrzejczyk told MMA Fighting. “This is a six-fight contract. But this fight will not be my last fight, second or third – I got a second wind.
“I turn 35 this year and I have never felt so good. Physically, mentally, I’m just happy.”
A full-time job that requires either remaining a champion or claiming the belt as one of the top contenders in her division requires Jedrzejczyk to make great personal and professional sacrifices. Every time she competes, she leaves her home, her family and the many support and business opportunities in her native Poland to train full-time with American Top Team in Florida.
She wouldn’t trade this experience for anything, because Jedrzejczyk loves routine. But she does not forget about the delicate balance that must be established between her two worlds.
“All the opportunities that I have outside the gym and outside the octagon, the money that I can make is not easy because I have to work so hard,” said Jedrzejczyk. “But somehow you need that extra motivation to get back into the octagon.
“I can’t just go out there and get face-beaten again for little money, no exposure, etc. There must be something else besides the love and desire I have for this sport. I feel like I’m still one of the greatest in the minimum division and I just want to go out there and prove it on June 11th.”
Despite her accomplishments, including the longest ever UFC strawweight championship, Jedrzejczyk is still struggling to come to terms with her place in the sport because she is often reminded that she hasn’t been a champion in five years.
As she approaches her comeback in a rematch against Zhang Weili at UFC 275, Jedrzejczyk is happy with everything she’s done but feels she’s far from over when it comes to her plans to add more accolades to her resume.
“I used to enjoy being on the go rather than sitting with my legacy,” Jedrzejczyk explained. “Now I’m getting closer [it like] love in my life. My sporting heritage is so great that some people still say that I am no longer a champion. Okay, but I’ve been there and I know my worth. This is amazing.
“That’s why I feel clean now going to this camp and this fight. I love Florida, I love American Top Team, I love Dan Lambert and all these people, and I feel like I don’t want to leave. I want to spend more time training, being around these people and fighting.”
Having survived a 25-minute war with Zhang last time, during which she took 170 punches in five rounds, Jedrzeczyk is looking to avoid that kind of damage in a rematch. That fight night punishment also came after an intense training camp where she had already pushed her body to the limit before she even set foot in the UFC octagon.
It all adds up, which is why Jedzrejczyk has been so adamant about getting paid for this new contract, as she continues to be aware of the potential risk she takes every time she competes.
“Hard work is so many weeks before the fight,” said Jedrzejczyk. “Combat is fun, but it’s also the hard part. We take a lot of damage and every battle, every camp takes something away from us physically and mentally.
“We must know our worth. I set new goals for myself and defended myself, but I feel that the next fight will be even better.”