UFC 275: Joanna Jedrzejczyk 1-on-1 with Kevin Iole

Joanna Jedrzejczyk joins Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole to preview her rematch against Zhang Weili at UFC 275. The former UFC strawweight champion also discusses her two-year layoff from fighting and how it'll affect her performance Saturday.

Video transcript


KEVIN IOLE: Hey, folks. I am Kevin Iole. Welcome to Yahoo Sports. And I have covered fights for a long time. And I get excited at ringside. You might see me on some of the UFC fights in the background and I throw my hands up.

One fight in particular, I was going crazy the entire fight. And that is one involving my next guest, the former Strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. She will fight Zhang Weili at UFC 275 in Singapore on Saturday. And that fight you guys had two years ago, oh, my god, people are still talking about that.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: OMG. So I want to be like you, Kevin. Hey, folks. Folks, you say? Hey, folks, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

KEVIN IOLE: See, but I'm just nice and casual.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Of course it is. I am the former UFC Strawweight champion in the future, Strawweight champion. So I'm super excited to be back to the octagon at the UFC 275 in Singapore, this Saturday in the US, Sunday in Singapore. We're having fights after the breakfast. But super excited to be back, perform, and entertain for my people, for the fans from all over the world.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you this, I mean, how much do you think the impact of being off for two years will help you? Because that fight, you both really took a beating in the fight. No matter who won the fight, both of you girls left that cage pretty beaten up. Do you think that that will make a difference in you this time around?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: No, of course not.

KEVIN IOLE: No, it wouldn't?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Of course, I beat people for a living. I beat people for money. Sometimes I get beat up and I get a few extra bruises, but it doesn't impact me. It gives me extra strength, motivation. It shows me my mistakes. It showed me my mistakes I made in the first fight so I could fix that. And now I'm better, you know?

I was sharpening my tools, making some adjustments. So the second fight with Wieli Zhang I just need to be smarter and do not make the same mistakes I did in the first fight. And no, there is no impact on my like--

KEVIN IOLE: Just like your--

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --physical or mental.

KEVIN IOLE: --body not taking abuse, you get it-- let it rest or anything, you don't think?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: It's OK. I had time to rest, and I'm good, you know. It's good that the UFC is taking care of us. Of course, we have to go through so many medicals before and after the fight, so I know I'm healthy. Of course, in the future I want to be extending my businesses. I want to be a mom, and I want to enjoy my life after my fighting career. So I really need to take care of it, of course. Sometimes there is a very thin line--


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --which we can cross, you know? But I'm feeling great. I'm feeling great. Super excited, yeah.

KEVIN IOLE: Before I get-- I move on from that last point, I want to ask you one more question. I think a lot of fans wonder this as I do. What does it feel like when you wake up on Sunday morning, like after a fight like that? I mean, is it any different than a normal fight?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: You know what, it depends. It depends. Last time I lost the fight, but I was very close to winning the belt and becoming the champion. But you know what? Maybe my heart was broken and my soul got another scar, but I woke up proud of myself, you know, that-- and like this is what I always tell people, if you are not-- people who are not into the business, who are not an athlete or not the fighters, that the hard work is so many weeks before.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: The fight is a pleasure. Of course, we still have to go there and give our best. But we perform for this one night for so many weeks, so many months. And sometimes it's just not this night. But every time I step into the octagon and my last step and my last thoughts are like, girl, just it doesn't matter what's going to happen. Just go and do your best. Win or lose, give your best. They let you shine, you shine. Give people what they came for, fans-wise. Like go there and just put-- just be your best, because you've been preparing for such a long time.

You got tons of beat up-- beat up during camp sparring, sweat, blood, tears. It's time to have fun. Because after the fight there will be this fun time of life enjoyment. And we don't talk about--

KEVIN IOLE: And you get this. You get the paycheck. That makes it fun.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Yeah, and you get the paycheck. And that's the thing. So I always try to push myself to the limit and push myself as much as I can and to be proud of myself, win or lose, being proud of myself. So I would not forgive myself if I gave up on myself, you know?

And I actually, a few days ago, I was shooting a commercial with Puma here in Singapore.

KEVIN IOLE: Oh, wow.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And they asked me, what does it mean to be the greatest? And I feel like greatest means not losing faith in yourself. And this is who I always-- who I have been forever.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And that's the thing. That's the beautiful thing about--

KEVIN IOLE: And you believe. I know you're one of those that believes in yourself. Now, you've been through a lot of rematches, right, you've done rematches in the past. What do you think you learn from those that can apply to this rematch? Is there any constant when you fight a person a second time? And is there anything that you find is similar and that you can use?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Yeah, similar, you know, it's like-- of course, with every camp we bring new tools-- into every camp we bring new tools, adjustments, changes. But somehow, you can't totally change your style. Because this is what you have been working for such a long time. This is--


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --how you are made and the way you fight. But with every rematch I just want to do more. I feel like I do more. That oh, girl, don't-- if you can, don't leave it in judges hands, where it's very difficult or just go there and do more to prove that you should win the fight.

KEVIN IOLE: That's one of the things that I was going to say. You have had that really narrow line, because you haven't had a lot of finishes. You are on a streak, both wins and losses, I think where a lot of fights have been decisions. It's been a while since you won a fight by a finish.


KEVIN IOLE: Why's that?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Because I'm a real five-brander. I was the champ for a reason for such a long time, almost three years. And I'm a real five-brander. I was born to be the champ and fight these five rounds and give fun to people and entertain them.

KEVIN IOLE: And I know you've really dedicated your life to this. I remember you telling me a story, I don't remember exactly, one time, but you had enough money to either buy food or go on the train and go--


KEVIN IOLE: --work out and you--


KEVIN IOLE: Do you remember the story? Tell that story, because I think people will find that interesting.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: So that's the thing, I had another endeavor. I released two books in Poland, my biography books. And HBO made a documentary about me. And we were really trying to get the rights to sell the movie worldwide, and same with the books. So I tell these stories with more-- I told the stories with more-- there are these stories with more details.

And the thing is that I used to train in Thailand, and Amsterdam, and in Holland, in Amsterdam, with Ernesto Hoost, legendary K-1 fighter.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And there was time that I was booked for some fight, but I was not making much money, like 500 euro, 750 euro. But the thing is that sometimes the fights got canceled. And I had no money because Amsterdam was so expensive that time for me.

KEVIN IOLE: That's expensive.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: So, you know, and I had to travel every day to a different city for training. And there was a time I had five euros in my pocket. And honestly, the ticket was like 3.5. And I didn't know what to do, because bread and food was much more expensive. And I didn't know what to do.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: But I was always a believer. And then I was like, OK, God, you want me to do this, but somehow I'm struggling. So what's the next step is going to be? And then like from somewhere the money came. I got some wire. Funny because it was like-- probably like $200 for something. Like, I'm like, OK. OK, so it means that I need to continue. I have to struggle.

And you know my favorite motto is [SPEAKING POLISH], through hardship to the stars. This is how we say this?


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Yes. So everything worked out perfectly for me, you know?

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, the life of a fighter. If you want to be a fighter, think about-- don't even worry about that egg on her forehead. Think about--

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Oh, man, like when I hear people saying this, they want to be fighters, of course, if they want to do it, do it. But it's also about being lucky. And we're all dreaming about some stuff, things material, traveling, love, this, that. But we need to have a plan. We need to help our dreams. We need to work really hard to make it happen, you know? Like nothing comes for free. Nothing comes easy.

KEVIN IOLE: That's why you usually don't have rich people that go into fighting. Because they don't need to put up with all this stuff that you guys put up with when you become a fighter.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Oh. No, you know what? Now with the UFC-- with the exposure, you can be rich and you can fight.

KEVIN IOLE: I mean as a beginning. I get it now. You're making some money.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Oh, like at the beginning? Of course, no. Nobody wants to clean the mud.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: You have to wipe the mat with your face, and people are not ready for this. But oh, somehow we know-- we love it, especially when you reach the league. I mean, like when you reach the championship, when you get the championship belt, like you make it to the league, you know? You make it to the league.

KEVIN IOLE: You've been in a lot of title fights in your career, both in kickboxing and in MMA. Now that you're not a champion, does it make you hungrier for that feeling of standing there and having the belt around your waist and people calling-- I'm sure once you become a champ, everybody calls you champ. But knowing that you are the reigning champ, do you get that hunger back when you don't have the belt?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: I'm hungry for the belt. But it has different meaning. Because I'm just one step before it's going to happen. I just have to win the fight with Weili Zhang and I will became-- I will be fighting for the burden. We'll win this. And the perfect scenario for me is winning here in Singapore and fighting for the belt at MSG with Carla Esparza.

And the other thing is that I'm hungry, but it has totally different value for me. Because I know this one victory will be bigger than all of my victories.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: It will cement my legacy double, because I did that so many-- I've done that so many times already. And I'm hungry, but I'm an artist somehow. I'm a surgeon. So I want to go there, use my tools, and give the best show as I can and show the people what I've been working for so many weeks.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, you're hungry, but I think the thing that makes this a great fight is, you've got to imagine that Weili is hungry, too. She's lost a couple of fights to Rose Namajunas in the interim. And so she's got to be hungry. Like a loss in this fight-- usually in the UFC losses don't hurt you too much, but a loss in this fight, I'll tell you what, puts the loser back quite a few ways, right?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Oh, probably yes. Probably yes. But if we both put on a fight of the year--


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --it doesn't matter if you win or if you lose, you stay there at the top and you can be next fighting for the-- for being the pretender or fighting for the belt. Because it's all about showing the best way you can in the octagon. So if you show up the best, better than last time, and better than the other--

KEVIN IOLE: Hard to be better than the last time, but OK.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Of course. No, it will be better. I know it's-- people are worrying that it's only three rounds and we're not going to have that much time, but believe me, we will.

KEVIN IOLE: Just a couple other questions.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: But yeah, Weili Zhang, it's a tough match-up. We are calm. Of course, I'm calm. We're talking about, but it's going to be a really tough fight. But I'm ready for anything and everything. That's a good thing about it.

KEVIN IOLE: What is the biggest change you think we're going to-- the biggest change you think we will see in the fight, like tactically? Can you imagine-- you think she's going to do something dramatically different, or?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Oh, I think she's going to shoot. And I think she's going to grapple and wrestle more. Ooh, but she will pay a big price for this.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. Might get a hint on what Joanna's still working on.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: I don't know, we both are very good strikers, you know, well-rounded strikers. But yeah, footwork is going to be the key, reach, distance.

KEVIN IOLE: Very good. Well, let's wrap on this. You mentioned earlier you worked on your businesses and everything. You got a movie, books, and things going on. What is your plan to do after fighting? Like I know-- there's very few people who love this as much as you do. And I've seen that for a long time.


KEVIN IOLE: When you walk away from it, what's going to make you happy work-wise?

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Mm. So when I was coming to the UFC-- now people are like, oh, you lost some fights. You lost your belt because you were focused on social media doing media, photo shoots. I love doing things. And people don't know that I used to work at the grocery store of my parents when I was becoming a UFC champion. And I was always full of energy to do three, four, five jobs. And I never stopped. And the thing is that I just loved my supplement company. Just yesterday I announced my sports equipment with a Polish brand, a very good quality sports equipment--

KEVIN IOLE: Oh, wow.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --like treadmills, Orbitreks, ellipticals, things like this. And I have my healthy juicers. Because people don't see this, but everything is wrapped around like sport health-wise. Because this is who I am. And I will not give people a piece of me. It's not only about business and making money but giving people a piece of me and--


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: --give them strength and health. And that's the thing. But I did my racing debut this year and last year, so sorry, the end of the year. So definitely I want to do stock car race in the future, after I've retired, play more tennis and piano.

But I opened my foundation, JJs Stars Foundation. Of course, I see myself working with my manager, Jennifer Goldstein, who is representing me. And I want to help athletes. I want to be the real manager, who I have right now, but I haven't had for a long time now. And I want to be the real manager, with the experience from the other side.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And I will now learn from Jenny. And I want to be better, help them, and make them better somehow and tell them what to do. Because sometimes we get lost, you know?


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And sometimes there are people who just want to take an advantage of you and from you. But definitely, extending my businesses but also enjoying life even more. This is where they put the card down. This is what they now have said. But people can hate on me for doing this, but I know how to manage my time.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: And some of the athletes, they go home, they rest, they sleep. I don't sleep because I'm thinking for 10 people. I always think for 10 people. And what can I do better? How I can do this, that. But I want to do this. I was always like this. That's why I'm here. That's why I became UFC champion in 2015. That's why I'm going to become the UFC Strawweight champion one more time, this year. Mark my words.

KEVIN IOLE: How can anybody hate on this woman? Come on, it is amazing what she's got going on. You can only be inspired by her. And you can watch her fight on Saturday.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Really, like when I was becoming a UFC champion, I was working for 50 bucks a week, you know?


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Life can change, guys. And when they see all these cars, fancy watches, my travels, everything, I tell them like, [ZIP SOUND] go back.


JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: I had to work for this 12 years, to become recognized, to make people talk about me. But that's the things I do. I talk to you. I talk to people. I want them to know my story. And I will not tell people that-- we are all the same. It doesn't matter if I am here, I have this watch, I have this amount of money. We are all the same. We all are struggling every single day. But it's all up to you how you're going to find yourself, how you're going to carry yourself and bring it up to the stars. That's the thing.

KEVIN IOLE: She became an overnight sensation in only 15 years. So it was really easy. She did it. Joanna, thank you very much. Good luck again. So I'll be seeing on Saturday.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: Thank you so much. I appreciate you.

KEVIN IOLE: We will see you then.

JOANNA JEDRZEJCZYK: So guys, UFC 275 on Saturday. Watch us. Thank you so much.

KEVIN IOLE: Live on pay-per-view.


KEVIN IOLE: We'll see you. Thank you.

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