Joanna Jedrzejczyk has devoted much of her life to fighting. As a young fighter, she had a few dollars in her pocket, and faced a quandary: She was hungry, and could use it to buy food, but she was ambitious, and could use the money to buy a subway ticket to get to her training facility.
She bought the subway ticket and went to train.
She stressed her body to dangerous levels prior to her strawweight title defense against Rose Namajunas on Nov. 4 at UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden. Some 14 hours before the weigh-in, she had 15 pounds still to cut to reach the strawweight limit of 115. And she found her weight going up.
She didn’t sleep the night before the weigh-in, as she attempted to shed the weight. She said she took two 15-minute naps, but otherwise desperately tried to wring every last ounce of water possible from her body. She made it with only minutes to spare, but the toll it took on her was obvious.
“How could I compete that night?” Jedrzejczyk asked rhetorically. “I was not a competitor. Rose won. She fought a very good fighter. She is a very good fighter. Great performance. But my body, my brain … My brain was frozen.”
She vows a different outcome in the rematch on April 7 at UFC 233 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
This, though, is not a story about a difficult weight cut, even though Jedrzejczyk believes deeply it’s why she was denied a record-tying sixth consecutive successful title defense, which would have matched Ronda Rousey’s mark for the most by a woman in UFC history.
No, this is a story that acknowledges while Jedrzejczyk is a fighter to the core, she is not simply a fighter. She is a multi-faceted person with varied interests who wants to become a mother, see the world and explore new things.
She’s been so focused, so serious, so dominant in the cage that it’s difficult to envision her as anything other than “Joanna Champion,” a fearsome fighter whose sole mission is to destroy the best women fighters in the world.
That’s part of her mission, to be sure, but it’s not it entirely. And her issues with her weight against Namajunas opened her eyes to the dangers that lurk in the fight game.
Everyone who steps into a ring or a cage understands the risks and knows what could happen. Those risks are heightened when a body is drained of its fluids in a near-hopeless bid to shed weight.
“Most people can’t lose 15 pounds in a month, and I had to lose 15 pounds in 14 hours,” she said, the passion in her voice rising. “Fourteen hours! Sometimes, if you don’t drink enough water, you feel like crap at the end of the day. But I had to cut the water from my body, from my brain.
“Of course, it is [one of the scary things about being a fighter]. I’m happy I’m healthy. I’m happy I’m still alive. Win or lose, being a fighter is only part of my life. I’m a human. I’m a woman. I want to be a mother in the future. Businesswoman. I want to do so many things. Explore the world, do so much stuff. [Fighting] is only part of my life.”
The words were oh so true, but startling considering who was speaking them. She’s finished her fights with the efficiency of a trained assassin and seemed fully committed to only one thing.
She gave up much in her pursuit of fighting greatness, and while she laments the changes in her life, she’s ready and eager to do it again. She vows to defeat Namajunas and begin her second reign as champion.
“There is a price we pay in our lives to do this, no question about it,” she said. “It takes a level of dedication and effort and focus that most people cannot understand. But you know what? I had a dream that I wanted to be a UFC fighter, and I had a dream not just to be a UFC fighter but a UFC champion. And it happened, so I cannot complain. Life changed after I became a UFC fighter, after I became a champion and a dominant fighter in the strawweight division. I said this is what I want, and I got it, so I cannot complain. But it is not easy. I believe in God and I know this is my mission. It’s my mission.”
She finished her sparring on Tuesday and broke into tears when she left the cage.
Things had gone nearly perfectly and tears of joy streamed down her face. She’s so focused on regaining the belt and demanded perfection from everyone around her. She fired her nutritionists after UFC 217 and demanded more from those who stayed.
It wasn’t necessarily pleasant, but she became emotional as she finished because she realized she’d given herself her best chance to get the belt back.
“The hard work is done and I had my last sparring session [Tuesday].” Namajunas said. “I was crying after that and [my team was] like, ‘Hey, you did an amazing job. Why are you crying?’
“I said that it was a long camp and a very hard camp and I was so dedicated. I put up such great work. I was so happy, you know? I got emotional because I know I did everything in my power to do what I want to do. What I need to do. I gave all the sacrifices and put in the work to give myself the chance to do what I want to do.”
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