The first time UFC president Dana White saw Joanna Jedrzejczyk fight in the Octagon, he was so impressed that he had an assistant pull Jedrzejczyk from the back of the venue after her fight to sit with him for the rest of the night.
He was amazed by her striking skills and thought she would be the next big thing.
White wasn't wrong.
With a record of 13-0-0, she is the most dominant female fighter in the UFC. She is preparing to make her fifth title defense as the women's strawweight champion at UFC 211 in Dallas on Saturday. Jedrzejczyk is the highest-ranked female pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, and seventh overall.
"She wants to hold the belt. She wants to break records," White says of Jedrzejczyk in a phone interview. "You couldn't ask for more in a world champion, man or woman."
Jedrzejczyk is determined to succeed. She moved from Olstyn, Poland, to Coconut Creek, Florida, in September just for the opportunity to get better. And she plans to retire undefeated after setting the women's UFC record for most title defenses -- currently held by Ronda Rousey, with six -- then the overall record held by Anderson Silva and Demetrious Johnson with 10.
But before Jedrzejczyk can even contemplate withdrawing from fighting, she has to face Jessica Andrade, who is from Brazil, this weekend. Andrade is 16-5-0, and she brings strength and hard-hitting punches to the Octagon. When asked about defeating Jedrzejczyk, Andrade once told a reporter: "I think I could knock her out, I could finish her. She's got that long skinny neck that I could grab onto and get a submission."
Jedrzejczyk isn't concerned. She has a quiet confidence that morphs from controlled to animated, mirroring the way her fists launch from her body and explode on her opponents in the Octagon. She speaks with the calm assurance of an undefeated champion, one of two in the entirety of the UFC. The other is men's bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt.
"It's difficult to beat a champion," Jedrzejczyk says. "They say they will knock me out or they will submit me. They have all of these ideas and can say whatever they want, but I will always want to be one step forward."
Her coaches are confident too. For her most recent fight in the Octagon, Jedrzejczyk had just about seven weeks to prepare for fellow Polish fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205.
"The first fight came up quickly, and [there] was a lot of her getting comfortable with us and getting in shape," says Mike Brown, a coach at American Top Team (ATT), a gym in Coconut Creek. "Now we're actually starting to implement a lot of new techniques and ideas for her."
In September, Jedrzejczyk changed camps. She left Berkut Arrachion Olsztyn in Poland and moved to train at ATT. The gym is one of the best MMA gyms in the world, boasting a staff of 15 coaches, and is the home to current UFC women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes as well as UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Her family and her fiancé remain in Poland, but Jedrzejczyk uses the distance as motivation. They will be with her in Dallas, and afterward, no matter the result, she will take a short vacation in Miami before heading back to Poland.
Jedrzejczyk started Muay Thai when she was 16. Her older sister's then-boyfriend invited her to a class. After a few months of training and fighting in her first competition, Jedrzejczyk knew that being a professional athlete was what she wanted. She won multiple championships in Muay Thai and made the jump to MMA in 2012 because of the opportunity to make a living and participate in a growing sport.
"At the beginning, I didn't like the idea," she says. "It was too violent for me, the submission, the ground game. It was like magic."
The ground game is not nearly as intimidating as before. She jokes that she has a pink belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and after her MMA career she wants to compete in the combat sport, if only to prove her developed prowess. Her take-down defense is stellar, and she has twice defeated Claudia Gadelha, who has three Brazilian jiu-jitsu world championships.
Even though she has become more comfortable with wrestling, she is not exactly trying to go to the ground.
"MMA fights start on the feet," she says with a wink. "We don't start the fight on the ground." Jedrzejczyk has defended her title four times with a target on her back. It is not a secret that she is ruthless with her striking and combinations, but it is her work ethic that keeps her ahead.
After a hard workout, Brown will tell Jedrzejczyk she has more to do. Another round, another sprint, another rep.
She never flinches. Her faith rests with her coaches, and if they tell her to do something, no matter what it is, she will do it.
"She is not average by any means," Brown says.