Jessica Penne to Joanna Jedrzejczyk: 'Come at me with your best shot'
Jessica Penne knew something was off when she watched Carla Esparza staring down Joanna Jedrzejczyk ahead of their title fight at UFC 185 back in March.
Esparza won the inaugural UFC women's strawweight championship after defeating three fighters, including Penne, on "The Ultimate Fighter" before eventually defeating Rose Namajunas last December to take home the gold. For her first title defense, Esparza was matched up with the undefeated Polish striker, and the fight went south on her in a hurry.
Jedrzejczyk was in Esparza's face from the first time they met until the time they stepped into the Octagon together. It took the former Muay Thai kickboxer less than two rounds to win their fight and rip the title away from her with a pulse-thumping TKO.
Penne faced Esparza during the reality show, but more importantly she's been friends with the former UFC champion for several years, so when she saw the performance she put on against Jedrzejczyk, even she was shocked at the outcome.
"I saw a very different fighter in Carla, and I think Joanna definitely capitalized on that," Penne told FOX Sports. "If they fought again, who knows how it would be different or if it would be the same. I think there are some tough matchups in this division for everyone. I think that was a very tough matchup for Carla.
"I don't think she rose to the occasion like she normally does. I think Joanna's a very tough fighter and played it very smart and had a spectacular victory against Carla."
Part of Jedrzejczyk's game plan going into fight week was based on pure intimidation and mind games. When the two of them faced off after a round of media interviews, Jedrzejczyk barked at Esparza throughout their time on the stage together and then stalked her down the stairs while instructing the former "Ultimate Fighter" champion to stop smiling because the title she was holding onto was going to be gone in just a matter of hours.
Penne watched it all unfold, and whether Jedrzejczyk had a psychological advantage over Esparza is debatable. But when she earned the first crack at the new UFC champion -- this Saturday at UFC Fight Night in Berlin -- she decided to strike first before they ever got a chance to look eye-to-eye in Germany this week.
Penne took to her Instagram to take a jab at Jedrzejczyk about her peculiar way of facing off at the weigh-ins when she crouches down and looks back at her opponent with a maniacal stare.
While trash-talk has never been Penne's strong suit, she was prepared for whatever Jedrzejczyk might throw at her, and instead of sitting and waiting, she just went on the offensive.
"I love a challenge. I'm in this game to challenge myself, and I want to prove that I'm the best, so come at me with your best shot; I'm ready for it," Penne said about Jedrzejczyk's attempts to intimidate opponents.
For all the mind games that Jedrzejczyk might try to play this week, Penne knows the most important things to focus on are her actual fight skills inside the Octagon. Before she was UFC champion, Jedrzejczyk was a high-level kickboxer, and she's translated her striking to a devastating style for mixed martial arts.
She displayed it in her fight with Esparza as she picked apart the former champion with her fast, devastating hands and long reach. As good as she was that day, Penne isn't ready to gush about her opponent's knockout prowess because that was only one fight in her career.
Penne says there's a lot more on Jedrzejczyk's resume than just the Esparza fight, and she hasn't always been quite as impressive. She also knows the strawweight champion won't get away with the same things against her that Jedrzejczyk did with Esparza, and that's how Penne plans to leave Germany with the title in tow.
"I definitely think Joanna's a great fighter, and I do think she earned that spot. I've seen her other fights, and I think some people are a little too distracted by her last performance," Penne said. "It was a great performance. She had a great game plan, and it ended in devastating fashion, you can't take that away from her.
"I'm a very different fighter. I have a very different strategy on how I'm going in there. I do see her as a tough opponent, but I think it's going to bring out the best in me."