Alesha Zappitella Wants Her Shot on the Big Stage and Won’t Stop Until She Gets There

This weekend, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has finally given its female strawweight championship a UFC pay-per-view headlining slot four and a half years after its inception.

Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk headlined a UFC Fight Pass event and a Fox Sports 1 card in her almost three year reign, everything else was a co-headlining spot, at times lower.

Women’s MMA has seen vast progress in its short existence. This unfortunate case of questionable promotion is deserving of criticism but the exclusion of the atomweight division is something that deserves scorn. I have not been able comprehend its UFC absence for years; luckily, I am not alone in this sentiment.

Invicta FC atomweight Alesha “Half Pint” Zappitella has been vocal on the atomweight exclusion subject in the past. A tweet that saw her critique some of the UFC’s prelim fighters and tagging the UFC’s twitter account for her shot in the promotion last week had many fans supporting the young atomweight contender. I was amongst them and decided to reach out to her for comment.

Here’s the interview between yours truly and Alesha Zappitella.


Juice: How’s it going Alesha? How are you doing today?

AZ: It’s going well. I’ve been training hard for my next fight and getting prepared for school to be out for the summer (I work for an Elementary school).

Juice: When’s your next fight? Has it been announced?

AZ: I’m waiting on the promotion to announce my next fight. All I can say is that it is an exciting matchup.

Juice: Fair enough. I’ll trust you on that one. Your base is wrestling correct?

AZ: Yes, I have wrestled since I was 5 years old

Juice: Impressive. For men with good wrestling credentials it’s almost a foregone conclusion that they will take up MMA at some point. That doesn’t seem to be the case on the women’s side. Did you ever think MMA would be a career you pursued?

AZ: I always had an interest in Mixed Martial Arts. When I was young I wanted to do some sort of striking, but with wrestling all year round I never had time. By the time I got to high school I started watching UFC and realizing that it was something I could see myself doing. When I realized that college wasn’t the path in life for me, I devoted all of my time to my real passion, learning the martial arts and becoming the most well rounded artist I could be and I am still evolving daily.

“I devoted all of my time to my real passion, learning the martial arts and becoming the most well rounded artist I could be”

Juice: That’s a great attitude. Always awesome to see people pursue their interests and in your case you’ve obviously been successful. WMMA has come a long way in a short amount of time. Yet, does it ever feel like you’re in No Man’s Land or perhaps No Woman’s Land at this weight? It seems like a lot of girls in this division seem to bounce around from organization to organization always looking for fights since there is no atomweight division in the UFC.

AZ: I love Invicta, they care about their fighters. Which is something I have not found with any other promotion I have fought for. However, it does feel like I am in No Man’s Land. I work just as hard, if not harder than any man or other female mixed martial artist out there, and at the end of the day the fact that I just don’t have the same opportunities as everyone else is disheartening.

However, that isn’t slowing me down. I need to be a pioneer for the atomweight division. Atomweights are very exciting fighters to watch. We are just as skilled as any other weight class. Yes we are smaller, but we set a faster pace which usually end up being very exciting fights to watch.

Juice: Your words on Invicta seem to reflect what virtually all women who have fought for the promotion say. The fact that they took up the mantle for females in the sport when Strikeforce was about to go under to make sure the girls had somewhere to go is a fact I’m sure you also appreciate.

I originally reached out to you because of your tweet during last week’s UFC Ottawa card. You certainly minced no words and I respected your outspokenness. There is definitely some characters in the division Jinh Yu Frey, Seo Hee Ham and yourself not only are interesting people but all have exciting fighting styles. Do you see parallels in atomweight and men’s flyweight as far as the perceived interest because you are the smallest of your respective genders’ divisions?

AZ: I see how the divisions get compared but it isn’t the same. Men have weight classes that range from 125-265 lbs. Women have weight classes from 115 lbs to a 145 lb weight class that is underdeveloped, some of the best in the world at that weight are yet to even have their shot. Women are naturally smaller, girls who are around, or like me, less than five feet need a place to strive for in the big leagues.

So much about WMMA in the UFC up to this point is about what sells. And small, attractive, skilled women martial artists will sell. We have it all. With that being said, I don’t see how anyone can’t be a fan of the men’s flyweight division with exciting fighters such as Demetrius Johnson and Kai Kara-France.

Juice: Love that you mentioned France. He’s one of my favorites as well. It’s unfortunate that those guys are unsure of their standing but it seems like a lot of fans are now rallying behind men’s flyweight. It would be very unfortunate if the men’s flyweight roster is cut but if I knew for a fact that the women atomweights would get their shot in its aftermath it would soften the blow substantially.

I don’t know much else you can say to make your point to UFC brass on why you girls deserve the chance, I’ll definitely cosign all your statements. Any last words you want to say to them? Or any plugs for your social media, website, sponsors, Invicta, fans, etc.?

AZ: My entire life has lead up to this. I have been breaking down barriers for women since I was five years old, getting atomweights in the UFC is the next step. I haven’t reached the pinnacle in my career, myself and other atomweights deserve to have the same opportunities as everyone else.

You can find me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook . I want to thank Invicta for all that they have done for WMMA and my career. I want to thank all of my sponsors that have stood by me from my high school days in wrestling to the ones I have picked up along the way. I also want to thank my coaches and teammates at Scorpion Fighting System for pushing me to be the best martial artist I can be every day.

I also want to thank my parents for pushing me towards my dreams no matter what path I take in life, as well as my wrestling coaches along the way who never let me give up on myself. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without my supporters. Also, thank you for this interview and your support of the atomweight division.

iFox with Juice Ep. 20: Conor, You Ever Have Your Shit Pushed In? Links

iFox with Juice episode 20 is out now. Here is all the places where you can hear it.






iHeart Radio:





Why Joanna Jedrzejyczyk will be a star.

The buzz around the mixed martial arts world last week was almost unanimously bolstered on Anthony Pettis. It was Showtime’s moment to shine, this would be his breakout, signature performance but Ares, or Mars, or whatever gods of war one might choose to believe in, had different plans. Pettis met a formidable opponent, to say the least. Rafael Dos Anjos, the 30 year old Brazilian who was once perhaps known best for being the guy on the wrong side of the highlight reel, receiving a monstrous uppercut by Jeremy Stephens, broke through and shined. He dominated the champion for 25 minutes and took the title from the talented Wisconsin native. But the one who received the most attention last night was a brash young woman from Poland.

Joanna Jedrzejyczyk, the former Muay Thai champion, put on a frightening beating to the Southern California native and first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza. From the very beginning, Jedrzejyczyk landed heavy accurate punches on the champ. Esparza was game, and went to her wrestling base to try to take control of the fight, the game plan didn’t last too long. Joanna quickly began to implement her world class striking to put it on Esparza, and put it on she did. After a number of clubbing right hands, a myriad of punches pinned Esparza against the fence and the referee came in to stop the beating and crown Jedrzejyczyk the new 115lbs. Champion.

The minute Dana White came into the Octagon to put the belt around Jedrzejyczyk’s waist, there was a sense that a star was being born before our eyes. Now I know the criticisms that our being loaded in the barrels of the naysayers. “Europe isn’t a big market.” “Women’s MMA doesn’t move the needle like the men do.” “Jedrzejyczyk can never be as big as Rousey.” Fair enough, let’s dissect these counterpoints. Europe is not Brazil or Canada, this is true. However, 2015’s usual big January card, UFC on FOX 14 was headlined by Alexander Gustafsson at the Tele2 Arena, a 30,000 seat soccer stadium in Stockholm, Sweden, which took place somewhere around 4 AM local time. No need to look much further if you question the Europeans’ loyalty. Women’s MMA is flaring rite now, has it caught up to some of the men’s divisions? No, but I challenge you to show me an MMA fan who wants to see a middleweight bout between two unknown newcomers over a top notch Women’s MMA fight. Additionally, Invicta FC 11 & UFC 184 were held back to back in a huge market like Los Angeles, an all female MMA promotion and a UFC Pay Per View headlined & co-headlined by females. And speaking of Women’s MMA, Ronda Rousey, yes she’s a superstar, yes she’s the biggest thing in MMA rite now, yes she looks unbeatable, and yes, she is undoubtedly the greatest female athlete to ever strap on a pair of 4oz. gloves. Rousey has no equal on virtually any front, but one thing the 184 event showed was Women’s MMA is here to stay, and it sells.

The Women’s Strawweight division is supposed to be what the Bantamweight division couldn’t be. It is the mirror image of what the 155lbs. weight is to the guys; exciting, deep in talent, excellent in skill sets, and a feeling that any top contender can win the belt on any given night. The performance that Jedrzejyczyk showcased at UFC 185 was a terrifying one. A performance which leaves an insatiable desire to endlessly question “Who can beat this girl?” and that’s a good mystery to have linger in such a fun and dynamic weight class. The odds that any female can keep the strap at a weight class this steep are relatively slim, but if Jedrzejyczyk can defend the title consistently and impressively she will climb to great heights of accolades and stardom. The common wisdom, that a long reigning champion draws the highest numbers is, for the most part, true. Yet, Jedrzejyczyk does not need to meet this standard to be a draw or a star.

Joanna has many qualities that lend her to being a potential attention getter, she is exciting, well-rounded, has a high potential for violent finishes. But, if the blood and concussive potential of mixed martial arts isn’t enough to quench your thirst, Joanna Jedrzejyczyk is a character, and I mean that in the most positive way possible. Jedrzejyczyk is full of odd charisma, she can be as endearing as she is frightening, she’s as humble and respectful as she is crazy and brash. She has a strange fashion sense that is uniquely hers. Moreover, Jedrzejyczyk’s martial arts acumen is in no dire need of further knowledge, her striking is virtually unparalleled, her takedown defense is the best in all of Women’s MMA, she’s undefeated, she trains hard, she hits hard and has an almost incomprehensible desire for victory and a dark endless desire to put fists to girls’ faces. The newly crowned Women’s Strawweight Champion is part Conor McGregor, part Chuck Liddell, but she’s more importantly a great fighter with strange quirks that are undeniably charming, equally confusing and a set of skills that will leave you feeling extremely satisfied after you see her bout and leave you saying, “I’m so glad I saw that crazy Polish girl’s fight. I just wish I knew how to spell her name, so I can give her her props on Twitter”