On July 28 at UFC on Fox 30, we witnessed a pivotal match-up between former strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk and fifth-ranked Tecia Torres.
This fight represented a chance for Jędrzejczyk to face a “top” opponent and establish herself as a force to be reckoned with, while simultaneously vaulting her into position to challenge current champ Rose Namajunas for the UFC strawweight belt for a second time.
Meanwhile, Torres was hoping to catch Jędrzejczyk in a precarious position as the loser of two in a row, one by knockout and the other in a punishing and highly contested decision. With a win over Jędrzejczyk, Torres would vault into the top three and land in prime position in the discussion of who would be the next to challenge Namajunas. For as accomplished and experienced as Torres is, she hasn’t been able to get a career-defining win over the elite fighters in the UFC, which has kept her out of the title mix thus far.
Let’s take a look at the fight from the perspective of Torres, who dropped a unanimous decision to her Polish counterpart. Torres may have lost, but what did she do well in the fight? What did she do that cost her the bout?
Torres, who stands just 5-foot-1, is a small strawweight. This limits her ability to engage in physically grinding battles with opponents. Another side effect of her small stature is the amount of work she has to do to get in and maintain the distance. Torres needs to assert herself offensively and protect herself defensively, especially when faced with an active and aggressive opponent.
Torres navigates her limitations through a combination of strategic, physical and technical tools. Despite being one of the more diminutive fighters in division, she is among the best athletes in it. She plays a distance game by using her foot speed, mobility, explosiveness and timing to maintain or extend distance. Her combination of active and deft footwork allows her to outmaneuver and outposition her opponent, thereby disrupting their rhythm. This limits her opponent’s ability to generate volume or consistent forward pressure.
Among her technical tools, Torres maintains her effectiveness when fighting from the outside by throwing kicks. She is a traditionally trained martial artist who deploys a series of round, front and sidekicks to act as a buffer between her and her opponent, thereby offsetting her lack of size and length by keeping her opponents at bay.
Once Torres has established the range from which she likes to work, she begins to rely on the real meat of her fighting game. She moves in and out, blitzing opponents with a combination of strikes before darting back out and re-establishing distance. Her kicks set the table, while her athleticism serves the meal by allowing her to manipulate distance via her speed and explosiveness. Torres maximizes her speed by using shifting punches to go from one stance to another while doubling up the amount of strikes she can throw. All of this serves to allow her to cover more distance when on the attack.
While effective, these tools and type of approach require a very large expenditure of energy. This can’t be maintained over the duration of a three-round fight, which is where Torres’ wrestling game comes into play. Once she gets inside, Torres can punch her way into clinches that allow her to use body locks, trip takedowns and throws from the clinch. This in turn allows her to get top position and control an opponent as she chips them up with a series of deliberate strikes. The problem for Torres is once again size-related. Her kicks help her establish and maintain range, but they don’t set up takedowns nearly as well as a jab or a right-hand feint. Furthermore, the shifting stance of her offensive attack doesn’t transition seamlessly into takedowns quite as well, which often results in poorly set-up takedown attempts that either come from too far out or appear telegraphed.
This doesn’t mean Torres wasn’t able to do a few things that troubled Jędrzejczyk. Torres took advantage of some of the less noticeable holes in the former champion’s game, as well as the Polish fighter’s previously unexploited lack of variation and creativity.
Torres was able to establish and consistently use a kicking game. She landed frequently to the head and body of Jędrzejczyk. This helped Torres to minimize the disadvantage she had in height and reach.
Torres was also able to gain the clinch repeatedly. She trapped Jędrzejczyk along the cage and forced the former champ to take part in an extended grappling exchange. This allowed Torres the ability to take some of the spring out of Jędrzejczyk’s step and put a cap on the volume and accuracy of the Polish fighter’s strikes.
Jędrzejczyk may be a world-class kickboxer at range and a punishing fighter in the clinch, but it’s a different story within boxing range. She is not just inconsistent offensively, but she is very vulnerable defensively, too. This was on display in Jędrzejczyk’s fights with Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha, Valérie Létourneau and the aforementioned Namajunas. Torres became another in a long line of ranked fighters who were able to find Jędrzejczyk’s chin.
When Torres was successful in getting Jędrzejczyk down or landing her best strikes, it was on the counter. When Torres got inside and Jędrzejczyk initiated boxing exchanges, Torres countered early and often to put the former titleholder on her heels. There were instances in the second round where Torres was able to land individual counter strikes off of missed jabs and kicks. It also set up her wrestling. In the second round, Torres came through with her closest attempt to finishing a takedown when, by the fence, she ducked under and got to Jędrzejczyk’s body. The one takedown Torres did complete came when she got stuck with a body jab, changed levels for the left hand and then put Jędrzejczyk on the ground. This was the best chance Torres had to take control of the fight.
Torres did a lot of things right in her clash with Jędrzejczyk, any many of these things could have won her the fight. However, she didn’t do enough of them or do them early enough to win. She countered Jędrzejczyk — a viable approach, because Jędrzejczyk is much better on the counter than she is on the lead — but she didn’t set her range to make the former champ close the distance and she didn’t use volume to create better entries for takedown attempts. Furthermore, she failed to walk Jędrzejczyk into the boxing range where Torres’ hand speed and boxing ability would thrive. Instead, Torres sought to rush into the clinch at the beginning of the fight before she had landed anything of note or forced Jędrzejczyk to make any sort of adjustment. Torres walked into Jędrzejczyk’s wheelhouse, set up shop and chased takedowns while being summarily dismantled with knees, elbows and short punches.
Torres’ approach took some heat and sharpness off of Jędrzejczyk, but it also allowed the former champion to accrue a lot of damage on Torres. This made Torres hesitant and took some of the spring out of her step. Historically, when Torres has lost a step athletically or in regards to cardio, she becomes vulnerable defensively and is effective only in brief spots offensively.
In addition, Torres waited too long to use her kicks. She gave away a whole round and her whole game plan. By the time she brought kicks into the equation, her stamina, aggression and confidence had taken hits. Jędrzejczyk had Torres’ timing and ultimate goal figured out. The kicks were an act of desperation by Torres, and the previous clinch exchanges had limited the amount and variety of the kicks she ultimately threw. Torres resorted to telegraphed, naked kicks that got her some traction before she was snuffed out by counter rights and Jędrzejczyk’s uptick in kicks.
The biggest and most damning issue for Torres was in her preparation and the direction from her corner. She didn’t use any subterfuge or misdirection to hide her greater plan. She didn’t take advantage of Jędrzejczyk’s vulnerability when leading, nor did she switch up entries or areas of attack. Torres came in with a plan that was quickly sussed out and then showed no ability to adjust, whether that means changing approaches or attacking different targets. At no point did Torres or her camp show any willingness to change course. Where were the body-head combinations? The body is readily available to be hit, which sets up the head shots. Why didn’t Torres alternate from single to double, double to single and back again? Instead of chasing the takedown against the fence, why not create space and throw strikes to exploit Jędrzejczyk’s pocket boxing while limiting her exits?
Torres lost, but not because of any lack of ability or skill. Instead, the loss was a result of poor fight IQ, a lack of situational awareness and poor preparation. It’s difficult to think of a more poorly crafted plan of attack. Torres’ approach gave Jędrzejczyk the fight the dethroned champ needed to not just look good, but to win handily.
The ability to recognize and react to what your opponent does is an earmark of an elite fighter. It’s concerning to see a corner that lacked the ability to provide a blueprint to turn the fight around or at the very least build upon the little success Torres had found. There were a number of vulnerabilities Jędrzejczyk had shown, and Torres and her camp touched on them briefly. However, Torres and company made no commitment to attack these holes in Jędrzejczyk’s game. This led to an impressive and, some would say, dominant win for Jędrzejczyk that once again put the Polish star in championship talks and clearly reasserted her position as an elite strawweight.
Torres once again failed to break through. She gave another spirited — albeit losing — effort against a member of the elite in her division. Torres repeated what she had done in her fights against Namajunas and Andrade. She has proven herself better than most by beating a group of second-, third- and fourth-tier strawweights on her way to a top-five ranking. But, once again, when the talent, skills and experience level of the opponent rise, Torres’ ability to meet that challenge falls.