UFC Tampa main event preview: Breaking down Michelle Waterson vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Elias Cepeda
Yahoo Sports Contributor
Michelle Waterson works out ahead of a Oct. 12 fight against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at Yuengling Center on Oct. 9, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Mike Ehrmann/Zuffa LLC)

Michelle Waterson and Joanna Jedrzejczyk and are set to meet Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at UFC Tampa in a main event that could very well determine the next strawweight title-challenger. There’s so much to consider with this fight, which is reportedly imperiled because of weight issues, and below we look at four general categories and try to zoom-in a bit to get a feel for this exciting matchup.

Striking

UFC Tampa’s main event pits two great stand-up strikers against one another as Jedrzejczyk and Waterson are set to square-off. They are very different strikers, however, with Waterson’s striking taking a karate approach, broadly speaking, while Jedrzejczyk fights with a more Muay Thai approach.

Their different styles often result in different initial goals in the cage. Waterson is fantastic at keeping her opponents at bay from a distance with snappy lead kicks low and high alike, as well as linear and side-kicks.

When opponents get within punching distance, however, Waterson throws a big overhand right punch with ferocity. Jedrzejczyk also has a heavy and short right hand, but she often stalks opponents a bit, walking them and chopping them down along the way.

On the inside from clinches, Jedrzejczyk has dangerous collar ties and body locks from which she can deliver knees, elbows and execute takedowns. Waterson has an effective head and arm throw once she’s in close.

Jedrzejczyk has shown a bit more fluidity mixing together punches and kicks in combination than Waterson, but Waterson is not uncomfortable from any range. Waterson’s spinning kicks have a great deal of power in them but her lead high kicks are often mostly distance-managers and snappy distractions to set up other attacks or ward opponents off.

Jedrzejczyk throws everything with commitment and can punch effectively with either hand and kick and knee with either leg in a way that can hurt opponents.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk works out at Yuengling Center on Oct. 9, 2019 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Grappling

Jedrzejczyk is tough to take down and hard to pin down when opponents do manage to put her on her back. If Waterson can get on top of Jedrzejczyk, especially into the side or full mount, she very well may be able to hold her there for a bit.

Waterson has showed great connection and pressure on the ground when on top, out in the center of the mat, and she is capable of finishing with submissions.

Conditioning

Waterson has never given us a reason to doubt her conditioning, but Jedrzejczyk is the more proven fighter in five-round fights. At her best, Jedrzejczyk is capable of setting and keeping a pace for the entire duration of a fight, out-lasting even well-conditioned and elite opposition.

If Waterson can keep Jedrzejczyk away for long spells on the feet and then find her way to the ground and top dominant positions over the former champion, she could very well rack up points while being efficient with her energy expenditure.

If Jedrzejczyk can put Waterson on her heels and grind her down in the clinch against the cage time round after round, however, Waterson may find it difficult to sustain her effective energy.

X-factors

Reports surfaced this week that Jedrzejczyk has had a particularly tough time dropping back down to 115 pounds after challenging for the belt at 125, and that the Polish star’s camp has even asked for a catchweight for weeks. Joanna “Champion” has always reportedly had difficulty making the strawweight limit.

If her drop down and cut to strawweight this time around is indeed going worse than usual, it certainly might affect her conditioning, overall health and strength in the fight.

She admitted to reporters this week that making strawweight always saps some of her strength. “I’m not a natural 115er,” she said during a recent scrum.

“It always cost me tons of energy and sacrificing and lots of work … ”

For her part, Waterson told reporters that she already feels some degree of psychological victory over Jedrzejczyk. “To me, honestly, it’s a small victory,” she claimed.

“Because making weight is a battle in itself and if she’s already a bit shifty in that sense then it’s a small victory on my end…she’s hurting, for sure. And, so am I. We’re all hurting. That’s the job of a fighter … ”

There simply is no denying the misery involved for professional fighters in the controlled dehydration death spiral that we benignly call “cutting weight.” With that said, Jedrzejczyk is no stranger to this dangerous chaos, and so I’m reluctant to predict that she’ll be particularly mentally rattled by any difficult or failed cut.

Nothing is predictable when it comes to removing the amount of water from their bodies after a long training camp where they already dropped serious weight via exercise and calorie reduction, but that unpredictability is nothing new for the American Top Team fighter.

“There are always some troubles with the weight cut during camp. There’s always some risk with every fighter. Your body can just shut down and then you’re not able to make weight,” she explained this week.

“Our bodies are very clever beasts … every weight cut, every camp is totally different and you have to deal with the different things.”

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