When Ronda Rousey steps into the Octagon to do battle with Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 on December 30th, it will mark the end of a 410 day absence from the domain in which she reigned supreme for close to three years beforehand. That's 9840 hours, 590,400 minutes (give or take a few for PPV pacing), and easily a billion clicks of keyboards around the world spent hypothesizing and endlessly speculating as to when the biggest star in the sport's history would make her grand return.
Though not without its detractors (mainly, Cris Cyborg and Julianna Pena), Rousey's welcome back gift of an immediate title shot feels to many almost like a return to stability for a division that has been anything but since Holly Holm shocked the world at UFC 193. Casual fans were barely given a chance to even familiarize themselves with the newest queen(s) of the division before an even newer one had risen up and usurped them. In the meantime, the woman who inspired it all, basically dropped off the face of the Earth.
While all this chaos was up at 135, strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk was cementing her position as the new face of women's MMA.
Just moments before Rousey was dethroned by a Holly Holm head kick on that cold night in November, Jedrzejczyk was doing as Jedrzejczyk does best against title challenger, Valerie Letourneau: putting on an absolute masterclass in the art of eight limbs. While the Polish striker had already displayed her supremely entertaining gift of violence on four separate occasions in the UFC prior to UFC 193, it wasn't until she was given a platform as big as the one a co-main event spot alongside Ronda Rousey provides, that she was really able strike a chord with an entirely new audience.
Even for an event that was almost entirely overshadowed by "the head kick heard 'round the world," UFC 193 turned out to be such a huge launching pad for Jedrzejczyk, that she was almost immediately booked for a coaching gig on the UFC's cornerstone reality series, The Ultimate Fighter, opposite Claudia Gadelha.
Despite Jedrzejczyk's relative unfamiliarity with both Hollywood and the English language, the UFC new they had a very capable star on their hands to fill the void left behind by Rousey, and better yet, one captivating enough to serve as a fitting follow-up to the season led by the one and only, Conor McGregor.
The 23rd season of The Ultimate Fighter might have ended up being the show's finale was anything but. Averaging over 1,068,000 viewers watched Jedrzejczyk pick Gadelha apart on the feet, earning the highest TV ratings of a TUF Finale since, you guessed it, the season that featured Ronda Rousey.
Beyond that, it also served as yet another stage for the champion to showcase her ever-improving skillset against her most dangerous opponent to date. Against Gadelha, an almost questionably fit fighter who had nearly eked out a decision win over Jedrzejczyk just two years prior, the self-dubbed "Joanna Champion" looked every bit as dominant as she did against much lesser competition, outworking the Brazilian in the championship rounds, and dismantling her with a constant Muay Thai attack to score a clear cut unanimous decision win.
Of course, the success of Ronda Rousey (and fighters like her) has shown us that one's skills inside the cage are only as important as their ability to promote them outside of it. Luckily, one look over Jedrzejczyk's social media pages shows that she has been more than up to the challenge, joining Paige VanZant as the face of the UFC's partnership with Reebok. In her native Poland, you might also see her ads for Samsung, egoo Energy Drink, and countless other products flooding the screen.
Now, Jedrzejczyk is poised to receive what should be the biggest bump of her life on the historic UFC 205 card next month. With an impressive win over challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz, the night will serve as the culmination of a year that has seen Jedrzejczyk not only accomplish more than arguably any other female fighter on the UFC's roster, but cement her status as one of the sport's most promising stars -- all while the biggest star in the sport's history was nowhere to be seen. After that, we may very well see her become the first two-division champion in the promotion (who's actually allowed to keep both titles).
It begs the question: How long will it be before we see Beyonce opening her concerts with the inspiring words of Joanna Champion?