One of the UFC's best female champions might have earned another shot at gold.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk defeated Michelle Waterson by unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) in the main event of UFC Tampa (Florida) on Saturday night at Amalie Arena. Jedrzejczyk was the superior fighter on the feet throughout -- much like her title reign -- and bloodied Waterson's nose in the first round with an elbow. Jedrzejczyk stopped just about all of Waterson's takedown attempts, landed leg kicks at will and kept Waterson mostly at the end of her punches.
The bout was billed as a possible title eliminator for the UFC women's strawweight title, which is held by new champion Zhang Weili. Jedrzejczyk came in ranked No. 4 among strawweights by ESPN, while Waterson is No. 6. Jedrzejczyk made it pretty clear in her postfight interview with Michael Bisping that she wants a shot at the title next.
"Hell, yeah," Jedrzejczyk said. "Who is the real queen? Bow down, bow down. I'm the real queen. [UFC president] Dana [White], call you in a minute."
Jedrzejczyk said she thought she broke her right foot at the end of the second round. It was very swollen late in the fight.
"I feel like I could do five more rounds," she said. "I fought with a broken foot since the end of the second round, beginning of the third. It was hard."
One wouldn't have known it by Jedrzejczyk's output. She landed 180 significant strikes, the third-best total of her UFC career and the third-best in UFC women's strawweight history. Waterson looked for the takedown early but went only 1-for-9 on attempts.
"I feel like my grappling, my wrestling is improving with every day," Jedrzejczyk said.
Jedrzejczyk earned her 10th UFC strawweight victory, the most in division history. That total is also the third-most in UFC women's history.
While Jedrzejczyk was dominant in the clinch and at striking distance all fight, Waterson had a chance in the third. With about a minute left in the round, Waterson got Jedrzejczyk's back and was working for a choke. But Jedrzejczyk escaped and ended the round with a flurry of punches. Waterson's white UFC fight kit was red at that point, covered in blood.
"My intention wasn't to come out here tonight and absorb a lot of damage," Waterson said afterward. "My intention was to win. ... I know what I did wrong. I was reaching for the [takedowns] instead of setting them up, and we got stuck on the cage and I was getting caught."
Jedrzejczyk (16-3) was the most successful champion in the 115-pound division's history. The Poland native had five title defenses between 2015 and 2017, the second-best total ever among women in the UFC behind Ronda Rousey. Jedrzejczyk, 32, dropped her previous fight, to Valentina Shevchenko in a bout for the flyweight title, but she has only ever lost in the UFC at strawweight to Rose Namajunas (twice).
Jedrzejczyk dropped the belt to Namajunas in 2017 and lost the rematch in 2018, but with Namajunas no longer champion, it opens the door for Jedrzejczyk. Jessica Andrade knocked Namajunas out with a slam at UFC 237 in May to take the title, and Zhang stopped Andrade in the first round in August to become the UFC's first-ever Chinese titleholder.
Waterson (17-7) was on a three-fight winning streak and had won five of her previous seven fights coming in. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, resident beat former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC Philadelphia in March to set up this matchup.
Waterson, 33, is the former Invicta FC atomweight champion and was the smaller fighter against Jedrzejczyk. Her goal has been to become the first UFC champion who is also a mother, but Saturday represented a setback in that quest.
"What a warrior," Jedrzejczyk said of Waterson. "She's going to be champion one day."
In the near future, though, it could be Jedrzejczyk who has a chance to be champion again.