Joanna Jedrzejczyk blew the UFC women’s strawweight division wide open at UFC 185 when she came through on her promise to become “Joanna Champion” — and now the question becomes, who will be next for a title shot?

Carla Esparza looked like she could be a dominant champion, but Jedrzejczyk quickly proved otherwise, picking her apart with fantastic striking. The kickboxing champion also showed impressive takedown defense, a key to overcoming the top wrestler in the division.

In dismantling Esparza, Jedrzejczyk shot to the top of the mountain and was instantly thrust into the spotlight, becoming a hot name in the MMA community and a celebrity in her native Poland virtually overnight. She will need another win or two to really establish herself, however, and that’s where the situation — and strawweight in the UFC as a whole — gets murky.

Because the division is so new, few fighters have had scant time to really establish themselves.  The bulk of the division was tied up on The Ultimate Fighter 20 for a good chunk of last year, with only a handful of names signed outside of the show actively competing. Jedrzejczyk was one of those. The woman she beat to get the title shot against Esparza, Claudia Gadelha, was the favorite heading into their bout, and many expected her to be the one to challenge Esparza. Having lost a split decision to the women who would go on to become champion, however, she’ll need a couple of wins to get another crack (though the UFC could try to push her after one dominant performance).

Paige VanZant is one of the breakout stars of the division, meanwhile, having won big in her debut in the fall. While much of the focus has been on her beauty (she’s a former model), she has a great chance for a crack at a title shot next month New Jersey, when she meets Felice Herrig. Herrig is also 1-0 in the UFC, though much more experienced then VanZant, and also touted for her looks to the point that her skill in the octagon may be overlooked.

The reality is, however, that VanZant is probably too green, and while Herrig could have a shot, the next title challenger will probably come out of the UFC’s visit to Poland, where Gadelha takes on Aisling Daly, and Joanne Calderwood meets Maryna Moroz at UFC Fight Night 64. Champ Jedrzejczyk will be in attendance, and there’s a good chance her first title defense will be announced that very night. While Gadelha is ranked higher (second in the division), Calderwood, who is sixth, is extremely popular, connected with audiences on TUF, and is a native of Scotland, where a big UFC card is scheduled this Summer in Glasgow. With Gadelha’s loss, Calderwood may find herself in the right place at the right time with a win.

The dark horse in the race is Tecia Torres. Having won her first bout, against Angela Magana, a win over Angela Hill at UFC 188 could put the Tiny Tornado in striking distance, especially if both Calderwood and Gadelha fail to impress/lose at UFC Fight Night 64. She’s ranked higher than Herrig, and holds a win over VanZant from their Invicta days. She was also highly touted as a possible winner of TUF 20 heading into the show, though somewhat behind eventual winner Esparza.

Frankly, the division is up for grabs right now. Jedrzejczyk sits at the top coming off a dominant win, but there are a lot of girls gunning for her, most of which will have similar records in the UFC come Spring — a couple of wins. So timing, and a compelling storyline, may become everything, in which case, either Calderwood or Gadelha (whose late punch in her split decision loss to Jedrzejczyk could become a marketing tool) are likely to fill the first challenger spot.

Who matches up best with the champion? Well that’s another matter entirely. Her stand-up game looked top notch against Esparza, as did her takedown defense, but then Gadelha took her to a split decision, so it’s not as if she has simply steamrolled over every opponent on her way to the belt. That said, she’s undefeated, and one of these fighters will need to step up. Calderwood has heart, but is her striking as crisp as Jedrzejczyk? Can Gadelha get it done a second time?

If nothing else, fans should be excited to find out, given how entertaining Jedrzejczyk’s UFC 185 bout was.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.