By: Jesse Donathan
“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run. You never count your money, when you’re sittin’ at the table, there’ll be time enough for countin’, when the dealin’s done.” – “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers.
UFC Fight Night 161 is taking place on Saturday, October 12, 2019 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida live on ESPN+ and will feature a scheduled women’s strawweight bout between Joanna Jedrzejczyk (15-3-0, 4 KOs) and “The Karate Hottie” Michelle Waterson (17-6-0, 3 KOs). The evenings co-main event will feature a featherweight showdown between mixed martial arts veteran Cub Swanson (25-11-0, 11 KOs) and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu prodigy Kron Gracie (5-0, 0 KOs). Kron is the son of legendary Brazilian Jiu-jitsu master Rickson Gracie, who of course is the brother of mixed martial arts legend Royce Gracie.
According to Ken Pishna of MMAWeekly.com, “Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 19 main event between former strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and top contender Michelle Waterson was in danger of being canceled because of Jedrzejczyk struggling to make weight,” writes Pishna in his October 9, 2019 Yahoo Sports article titled, “Joanna Jedrzejczyk rebukes rumors of possible UFC Tampa main event cancellation.”
Citing an ESPN report by Ariel Helwani, the Yahoo Sports article went on to note that, “Multiple unnamed sources said that Jedrzejczyk informed UFC official(s) more than a week ago that she would be unable to make the 116-pound limit for the fight.” According to Pishna, “Waterson’s camp refused to accept a catchweight bout.”
“Did I miss something?” Jedrzejczyk told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “Was the weigh-in today? It’s Friday, right? Today is Wednesday. There’s nothing to be stressed about. I should be the one stressed, and I’m not,” said Jedrzejczyk.
Digging deeper into the equation, according to an October, 9, 2019 Andrew Whitelaw YouTube video titled, “Michelle Waterson REACTS to reports that Joanna Jedrzejczyk will MISS WEIGHT!” Whitelaw would interview Waterson in an attempt to get to the bottom of the UFC Fight Night 161 main event controversy. Referring back to the original ESPN report, Whitelaw asked Waterson for her take on the situation as it presently stands.
According to Waterson, “You know what, um, that is something that my management team is working on currently. It’s not something that I am focused on, I’m focused on fighting Joanna Saturday, that is my main focus and I hope that she is professional enough to make weight and put on a show for the people who came to watch.”
“We knew this was going to be hard for her to make the weight,” Waterson explained. “Coming from 125 after fighting Shevchenko, putting muscle on, and not just like, not just regular weight, actual muscle,” said Waterson. “And with the extent of how long it’s been since she’s fought, we knew it was going to be rough for her. But we figured if she wanted to have the advantage of being the bigger girl, that she would sacrifice and make the weight.”
Cutting right to the chase, Whitelaw asked Waterson point blank, “Would you fight her, if she can’t make the weight, would you fight her at a catch weight?”
“It depends,” said Waterson with a smile. “You know, like, I think that is the most frustrating part, because you know, her claim to the UFC is the strawweight queen. So, if you’re the strawweight queen, make strawweight weight,” a clever Waterson said with a laugh.
Interestingly, according to an October 9, 2019 Twitter social media post from TSN Sports UFC reporter Aaron Bronsteter, “Combate have updated the story and report that the UFC have given Michelle Waterson two choices: Face Joanna this weekend at a catchweight or face Jessica Andrade at UFC 244.”
In response to the Combate report, Showtime combat sports analyst Luke Thomas weighed in on the latest developments in the on-going saga with Jedrzejczyk’s alleged weight issues. “Imagine training for a particular fighter with specific skills and body type for weeks,” writes Thomas. And, “By no fault of your own, they come to you last minute & say ‘fight her heavy now or her opposite soon.’ This is one of those areas where fighters having less leverage than boxers is glaring,” opined Thomas.
With Waterson’s hand seemingly forced into a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation at UFC Fight Night 161, a glimpse of how promotions can ultimately make or break fighters is gleaned through questionable ultimatums and threats of unfavorable matchups should they not bow to the promotions demands.
While a cancelled main event would be disastrous for the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its affiliates, one cannot help but wonder if there was another way to approach this situation beyond ultimatums to athletes who have did absolutely nothing wrong in this equation beyond train to meet their contractual weight requirements.
If Joanna Jedrzejczyk has lost her strawweight queen crown, it should not be incumbent on Michelle Waterson to help her find it by conceding the size, strength and weight advantage to appease an opponent who did not walk the line. Michelle Waterson is playing with a stacked deck of cards with a free trip behind the woodshed as a consolation prize Saturday night. Unless Friday’s weigh-in yields a 116-pound strawweight limit Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Waterson’s knowledge of knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away and when to run is going to be tested.
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