In a year that already has proved to be massive for the UFC, with one major card after another, UFC 205 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden in New York looks to be the biggest and most important of them all. In honor of such a marquee event, ESPN.com is providing dedicated previews to all 13 bouts on the card, breaking down what's at stake and projecting who will win, along with quotes and statistics for each fighter.
Strawweight championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (12-0) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-0)
Odds as of Nov. 5: Jedrzejczyk -370; Kowalkiewicz +310
Dana White's thoughts
"Joanna wanted Karolina to fight in the UFC. She told me, 'Karolina will do very well and end up getting to me. And I want to beat her.' Apparently, Karolina is really big in Poland too. Joanna wants to prove to Poland she's the undisputed best 115-pounder in the world. We're promoting this big in Poland through our television partners; and here in the States, every Polish bar we could find, we send them information about the fight. We did the same thing with Irish bars when Conor McGregor was coming up. This is the second megacard Joanna has been on; she was on the Australian card last year with Ronda Rousey. It takes time to build yourself into a star, but she's so nasty, she's exactly what fight fans like. She's a gangster."
What's at stake?
Jedrzejczyk willing to fix things even if they're not broken
Since her most recent fight in July, Jedrzejczyk has made moves usually reserved for a fighter coming off a devastating loss -- not a successful title defense.
Jedrzejczyk recently uprooted her life and moved to south Florida to train with American Top Team, even though she has done nothing but dominate since joining the UFC in 2014. She also parted ways (from a business standpoint) with her former management.
The Polish champion said the moves were necessary in order to further her career. Even at the top, there's always room for growth -- and that mindset has made it difficult for the rest of the strawweight division to catch up.
"My dream is to retire as an undefeated champion," Jedrzejczyk said. "Sometimes you need change to do that. I'm not longer just a muay Thai fighter. I want to be the champion of every level: striking, wrestling, grappling.
"Of course, so many people told me I shouldn't change anything. Why change what's working? But sometimes people are afraid of change. Change is difficult, but it always leads to victory. This is what I expect."
Jedrzejczyk has already cleaned out many of her greatest challenges at 115 pounds, and she is hopeful the UFC will add a 125-pound division before her career ends. "One or two" more fights at strawweight, then a 125-pound flyweight title would be ideal.
And although there is still plenty to play out in that scenario, Jedrzejczyk isn't immune to thoughts of leaving her legacy at that and walking away from the sport. The level of dedication it requires to be perfect in this sport is exhausting, and she admits a few more conquests, plus a bigger profile in the U.S., might be enough to close this chapter of her life.
"I'm not going to fight for such a long time," Jedrzejczyk said. "Maybe I will do three or four more fights and retire. Maybe after two fights, I will say, 'OK, it's enough.' I could be happy. I did my job.
"I have a dream for the rest of my life. I want to be a good mother. I want to marry my fiancé, maybe next year. I want to have a baby. I'm 100 percent in everything I do in my life. If I am going to be a mom, I'm going to be a perfect mom. I want to open a small business in the future, just for myself. People see me as a UFC champion right now; what they haven't seen is how hard I was working for 10 years to get where I'm at right now."
Jedrzejczyk is currently living away from her fiancé of 18 months, as he remained in Poland during her fight camp. She said she's looking forward to a three-day Polish wedding, for which her sponsor, Reebok, has already discussed providing 300 pairs of custom sneakers for guests.
Opportunity for title, Poland and redemption in one night for Kowalkiewicz
During a 45-minute media call to promote UFC 205 last week, Kowalkiewicz answered a grand total of one question.
She was actually asked another, but her line dropped and Jedrzejczyk took that opportunity to answer for her.
"I can answer for [Kowalkiewicz]," Jedrzejczyk said. "'I am very happy, I am very happy -- but Joanna is better.'"
It was a clever line by the UFC's dominant champion, but it also somewhat painted the narrative of this fight. Kowalkiewicz earned the title shot by upsetting the talented Rose Namajunas in July, but very few expect her to pull off anything similar at UFC 205.
Kowalkiewicz has actually suffered a prior loss to Jedrzejczyk. The two met during their respective amateur careers in 2012, with Jedrzejczyk claiming a submission win. Kowalkiewicz has said "everything has changed" since that first fight.
"I am ready for this fight, I work for this," Kowalkiewicz said. "I can do it. My dreams come true. Joanna is the best in the world, and I want to fight with the best."
Jedrzejczyk: 12-0 record (6-0 UFC); fourth defense of UFC women's strawweight title
Jedrzejczyk: Outlanded opponents 575-195 in significant strikes in UFC title fights
Kowalkiewicz: 10-0 record (3-0 UFC); past five wins have come by decision
Kowalkiewicz: +95 significant strike defense in UFC fights
Declaring a champion "unbeatable" in this sport is very, very foolish -- but I'm gonna do it anyway. Jedrzejczyk is currently unbeatable at 115 pounds.
Kowalkiewicz deserves all the credit in the world for upsetting Namajunas in June. But that fight seemed to further illustrate the gap between Jedrzejczyk and her opposition -- not suggest Kowalkiewicz had closed it.
Jedrzejczyk continues to drop less-than subtle hints that she might look to take this fight to the ground. She has repeatedly mentioned fans seeing a "new Joanna" in this bout. The fact remains that "old Joanna" should be more than enough to record her fourth defense. Kowalkiewicz can be very, very efficient with her knees in the clinch, which could zap the energy of a Jedrzejczyk (who cuts a good amount of weight to fight at 115), but Jedrzejczyk's offensive firepower still wins out.
Prediction: Jedrzejczyk by decision.