The next UFC women’s strawweight title challenger could be decided Saturday.
Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk meets fellow top contender Michelle Waterson in the main event of UFC Tampa. Jedrzejczyk has said that she has been promised a title shot against new champion Zhang Weili with a victory. Meanwhile, Waterson has long expressed her goal to become the first UFC champion who is also a mother.
Jedrzejczyk comes in ranked as the No. 4 strawweight in the world by ESPN, while Waterson is No. 6.
Jedrzejczyk (15-3) 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 last fight to Valentina Shevchenko in a bout for the flyweight title, but she’s only lost to one person at strawweight in the UFC, twice to Rose Namajunas.
Waterson (17-6) is on a three-fight winning streak and has won five of her last seven. 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 at 5-foot-3 will be the smaller fighter against the 5-6 Jedrzejczyk.
In the co-main event, perennial featherweight contender Cub Swanson takes on Kron Gracie, son of the legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu and vale tudo fighter Rickson Gracie. Swanson (25-11) is looking to snap a four-fight losing streak. Gracie (5-0) won his UFC debut over Alex Caceres in February and is a promising up-and-coming MMA fighter, but will be giving up a lot in the way of experience to Swanson, who is 10-7 in the UFC.
Also at UFC Tampa, Niko Price and James Vick face off at welterweight in a battle of action fighters, top prospect Mackenzie Dern returns against fellow blue-chipper Amanda Ribas, and Deiveson Figueiredo meets Tim Elliott in a key flyweight matchup.
Fight in progress
Alex Morono drops Max Griffin and unloads the kitchen sink of strike but can’t get the finish in Round 2. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
From ESPN Stats & Information Group: Morono picks up his third straight victory.
The flyweight division has a new, serious contender.
Figueiredo snatched a guillotine off an Elliott takedown, put the squeeze on and Elliott had no choice but to tap. The finish came at 3:08 of the first round. Afterward, Figueiredo called out No. 1 contender Joseph Benavidez. Figueiredo said, through translator and manager Wallid Ismail, that champion Henry Cejudo won’t be back until next year due to injury, so why not make Figueiredo vs. Benavidez for the interim title?
“Cejudo, you’re out,” Figueiredo said. “But Benavidez, come to fight for the interim belt. Cejudo isn’t gonna come back until next year. Why are you gonna wait? Benavidez, are you afraid to fight me? Are you afraid of Deiveson Figueiredo?”
Figueiredo (17-1) has won two straight and six of his last seven in the UFC. The dynamic Brazilian fighter’s lone career loss was to fellow contender Jussier Formiga. Figueiredo, 31, has stopped 14 of his 17 career wins, an eye-opening number in a division that has been panned for its lack of finishes. Figueiredo came in ranked No. 4 among flyweights by ESPN. Elliott (15-9-1) has lost three of his last five fights. The 32-year-old Las Vegas resident is the former Titan FC flyweight champion.
Late in Round 2, Marlon Vera lets loose with his strikes on Andre Ewell, including a powerful knee. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“Every time I jump in the cage, I am more experienced and more prepared,” Vera said. “All I have to do is keep my work ethic on point, work hard, be in the gym all the time and keep looking for ways for me to improve. For me, it’s all about competition and I like to perform, that’s why I prepare myself so hard. I always say, whoever is next and ready, I’ll pick up the phone, say yes, put my boots on and walk into the Octagon. I just need to heal some things from this fight, I’m hurting a little, but as soon as I’m ready to go, I’ll contact my coaches and ask what’s next. Success is something you need to earn, if you can’t pay that rent then you can’t win out there, and I earn it every day. I’m the contender in this division.”
From ESPN Stats & Information Group: Vera picks up his fifth straight win, tying Petr Yan for the longest active win streak in the bantamweight division. Vera’s wins have all been stoppages, while Yan has gone to decision in three of the five fights, but Vera has not beaten a ranked fighter during that streak while Yan has beaten two Top-10 fighters: John Dodson and Jimmie Rivera.
“Words can’t describe how it feels to get my first win in the UFC,” Baeza said. “It’s an accomplishment of so many years of hard work and all the people who have put time and love into me. I want to thank the UFC for putting me on this card and help me bring my family here. I almost need to make up a new word for how I’m feeling, nothing really does it justice. I always take one fight at a time, I had a great opportunity with Dana White’s Contender Series and it helped me get used to the cameras and the media and all that, but that and this were two separate monsters, I had to tackle one at a time. I’m ready for whatever the UFC throws at me baby, this is just the beginning of my journey.”
From ESPN Stats & Information Group: Baeza’s knockout stemmed from a kick to the leg, the ninth such finish in UFC history and first by a welterweight. Baeza earned his UFC contract this summer on Dana White’s Contender Series.
“That’s two wins in a row now and before that I fought Israel (Adesanya) and he’s the champ now,” Vettori said. “It was a super close fight (against Adesanya), many even said I won, so I’ve had some up and downs but I’m finding my stride now. Even my first eight or so fights, half of those guys are in the top 15 or former top 15 now I feel, I never had easy fights, but it’s been a great learning curve and now I’m on the right path.
“I need to find a way to finish fights, but I feel like I am putting on dominant performances, so I just have to keep going and it will come. I was a little pissed with him because I stepped in as a replacement to fight him in Canada, and it wasn’t really a fight that did a lot for me, and then he pulls out three days before. I had friends and family from Italy who came to see me, my coaches put in a lot of work, so I was mad. He also talked a lot of trash, so I wanted to show a lot in this fight and prove to him that I am better and I did that.”
Vettori makes it back-to-back decision victories in the Octagon with his win. After winning his UFC debut by submission, Vettori’s last six fights have all gone the distance. He is 3-2-1 in those fights.
From ESPN Stats & Information Group: Vettori is the only fighter to win on a scorecard over undefeated UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. He lost a split decision to the Last Stylebender on April 14, 2018.
JJ Aldrich opens up Round 3 with a strong combination of punches against Lauren Mueller. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
“I really needed this, just for myself more than anything,” Aldrich said. “I’m here for a reason and I do belong here, I wanted to prove to myself that I can compete, even when I get hit, I can still come out and win. This is my first win at flyweight, I felt really good. I’m not a small flyweight, I was a pretty big strawweight and I had been cutting to that because that was where the UFC had fights, but I’m glad to make flyweight my home and shoot for the stars. Afterwards, my corner asked me how I felt and I told them that I felt really good and won the fight. I knew she won the second round, so I wanted to come out in the third and put on a dominant performance and I feel like I did that.”
From ESPN Stats & Information Group: Aldrich has won four of her six UFC fights, but this was her first win at flyweight.