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UFC 275's Joanna Jedrzejczyk says '2022 will be my best year'

Jędrzejczyk returns from hiatus to face Zhang Weili in rematch of the greatest UFC strawweight bout of all time.

You would assume that if someone competed in one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history, that fight would be on an endless loop – in the house, on the phone, wherever one might go.

So how many times has Joanna Jedrzejczyk watched her epic 2020 bout with Zhang Weili?

"None," she said. 

Her rematch with Zhang, which takes place this Saturday in Singapore, was already scheduled, so there have been snippets of relevant action to watch here and there, courtesy of her coaches at American Top Team, but as for watching the entire 25-minute class, which Zhang won by split decision, nada.

"Mike Brown is mad at me," Jedrzejczyk laughed. "They showed me some short clips and I know how to be better during sparring, do better, perform better and be ready. I know where I made mistakes in our first fight with Weili Zhang, I trust my coaches and we all know Mike Brown and Katel Kubis' knowledge and they help so many athletes. They help the champions to become better and I trust them. But I haven't watched it."

Jedrzejczyk didn't even take advantage of the momentum she had after a fight the entire sports world was talking about. Instead, she decided that for the first time in a long time, she was going to take care of herself. Sure, she trained in the ensuing two years, but other than that, the fight game took a back seat.

"I definitely found time to learn about life and my hobbies and myself," she said. "For hobbies, I started playing piano, tennis, did my racing debut, I just launched my supplement company and focused on other business things. I've been doing this for 19 years and I feel like the last 19 years I forgot about myself and how to keep the balance. It was sport, sport, sport only. But I was always a person with so many hobbies and passions, so I started to take some time off for myself." 

And when Jedrzejczyk (16-4 MMA, 10-4 UFC) did decide that it was time to return, she did so with a new energy for the sport, one that she believes will lead her not just to a win over Zhang (21-3 MMA, 5-2 UFC) in their rematch, but a shot at regaining her title from the woman she beat for it in 2015, newly crowned Carla Esparza

"It's perfect because I feel so happy, and the enjoyment of training and preparation and excitement about my upcoming fight, it's like never before, so I needed that break," Jedrzejczyk said. "It's been two years, but I feel like I was gone out of competition for maybe six months. And the last fight between Carla and Rose (Namajunas) showed us that anything and everything is possible in the most unexpected moment, and history made a circle. I told myself before the end of 2021 that 2022 is going to be my best year – personal, sports, business-wise – and it's happening. It's hard – it cost me lots of effort, energy and hard work, but through hardship to the stars. So I'm working really hard and I knew that I was going to be back and that I'm going to be the champ really soon, and I can't believe it's happening."

The excitement in Jedrzejczyk's voice is unmistakable, even after a hard day of training, and when asked if she always knew she was going to return to the octagon, the 34-year-old from Poland doesn't hesitate in her response.

"I knew that. This is who I am, and my friends and the UFC, they deserve this. And I owe this to myself to put myself in this uncomfortable position with being in camp and struggling in order to succeed June 11 in Singapore and go for the belt."

When Jedrzejczyk talks about the rematch, there is not a hint of, "Oh, man, I've got to go through the fire again." Instead, she laughs while throwing down a pretty strong challenge to the rest of the UFC 275 card.

"I feel like the next one is going to be even better," she said. "Oh man, I can't wait to rock and roll again. I can't wait to bring women's MMA to the next level again. I can't wait. And I'm preparing, as always, for everything, because everything and anything can happen. You can have this perfect plan and we can visualize the victory and how the fight possibly can go, but you never know. It's a tough business, but I feel that me and Weili Zhang are going to do this again. I know there are two title fights with such amazing champions - Valentina Shevchenko and Glover (Teixeira) - but I feel like we will be the main event before the main events."

There really is no response to that statement. The first Zhang-Jedrzejczyk was one of the best fights you will ever see, regardless of gender or sport. It was that good, and if you haven't seen it, maybe you should stop reading and go watch it. So to do it again, that's a high bar to reach, but the way Jedrzejczyk sees it, that's her job and the job of every fighter.

"First of all, we have to be in the best shape ever, physically and mentally, to perform as an athlete," she explains. "But it's a show business - we have to entertain; we can't let people down. They pay for this, they travel around the world, they follow us - so we need to repay them. We owe them this. We owe them the entertainment, and we have to give them what they're coming for. I know it's hard, and sometimes, it's not your night, and you feel like crap, and you have to go there and fight after so many weeks of hard training. But you know what, we always have to give all we have for these people. Whether they're cheering or hating, they're there for us and you have to entertain."

It's been too long, Joanna. Welcome home.

"I'm very tired," she admitted, still a few weeks away from her trip to Singapore, but about to hit her taper and get ready for her return. "I'm exhausted, physically, mentally, but it means that the fight is around the corner. It's time to refresh and go there and put on a helluva show."

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