It’s a new year, so Combat Press is taking a look back at the best of MMA in 2016. Throughout the next few weeks, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.
Female Fighter of the Year – Joanna Jędrzejczyk
Entering 2016, UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk was on her high horse, coming off the best year of her MMA career. In 2015, she captured the strawweight gold by savagely clubbing Carla Esparza and then defended the strap in violent, exciting affairs against Jessica Penne and Valerie Letourneau.
How can you do much better than that? Topping 2015 was going to be tough in the year 2016, but Jędrzejczyk certainly was able to prove why she’s the undisputed best fighter at 115 pounds, and among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Jędrzejczyk only fought twice in 2016. She saw less activity as she was expanding her star as a coach on The Ultimate Fighter 23 opposite heated rival Claudia Gadelha. While the event was to showcase the new talent presented by the UFC, the aggressive, intense rivalry brewing between Jędrzejczyk and Gadelha blew through television screens into the living rooms of those who watched, creating buzz for their title rematch.
Jędrzejczyk had to take on Gadelha at the live finale in what pundits were calling the toughest fight to date for the champ. En route to a slim margin in their initial fight, Jędrzejczyk showed that cardio and toughness matter. She fell behind early on the cards, only to rally as the fight went on. Jędrzejczyk defeated her rival via unanimous decision, cementing herself as the premier strawweight in the world.
Jędrzejczyk then made a quick turnaround, helping to add depth to an already-stacked UFC 205, which served as the UFC’s premiere at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She was tasked with another rematch from much earlier in her career when she was paired with fellow country woman Karolina Kowalkiewicz, another top-five opponent.
In a great fight where Jędrzejczyk survived some danger, the Polish fighter was again able to pull out the unanimous decision, winning what was the second toughest challenge to her crown to date.
So, while Jędrzejczyk won the belt in 2015 and won one less fight in 2016, the competition level was higher. That’s not a knock on her 2015 opposition, but she did fight the two most qualified contenders to her belt in 2016.
That’s why Joanna Jędrzejczyk is our Combat Press Female Fighter of the Year. She put in the work, expanded her star and has become a must-see fighter from the world of the UFC.
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