11/12/2015 13:44 EST | Updated 11/12/2016 00:12 EST

Canadian Valerie Letourneau a heavy underdog in UFC title bout in Australia

After carving open Jessica Penne's face in June, UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk climbed the Octagon fence, looked at the camera and asked "Who's next?"

Canadian Valerie (Trouble) Letourneau answered the call.

On Saturday, the 115-pounder from Montreal enters the cage a 20-1 underdog against the hard-hitting Polish title-holder in the co-main event of UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia.

(Rowdy) Ronda Rousey defends her bantamweight (135-pound) crown against former champion boxer Holly Holm in the Etihad Stadium main event. The pay-per-view show could set an attendance record for the UFC, surpassing the 55,724 who took in UFC 129 in April 2011 at Toronto's Rogers Centre.

Rousey (12-0) is also a 20-1 favourite to dispatch Holm (9-0), who is ranked seventh among bantamweight contenders. It's the sixth title defence for Rousey, a former Olympic judo bronze medallist who has become the face of the UFC.

Letourneau (8-3) is unfazed by her heavy underdog status.

"Most of the people won't even know who I am and (also) haven't seen my fights," she said. "I always feel like the public doesn't see fights like the fighters look at it.

"I'm not so surprised but I feel like I have the respect of Joanna. She knows what I'm capable of." 

While Letourneau may not be a household name, she has been fighting professionally since 2007 and was a trailblazer among Quebec female fighters. She is ranked eighth among strawweights after winning all three of her previous UFC bouts.

"Finally the hard work paid off," she said after getting the title bid.

Some might say be careful what you wish for when it comes to fighting Jedrzejczyk, a former Muay Thai champion with world-class striking. After less than three rounds with the champion, a bloody Penne looked like someone had taken a box-cutter to her face.

Jedrzejczyk (10-0) registered 126 significant strikes to Penne's 25. When she dethroned inaugural champion Carla Esparza at UFC 185 in March, she held a 53-4 edge.

The predatory Polish fighter also stuffed 27 of 28 takedown attempts in those two fights.

Still the 32-year-old Letourneau says her preparations have been ideal and that she feels no more pressure than any other fight.

Letourneau is coming off an upset decision win over Maryna (Iron Lady) Moroz in August in Saskatoon. She floored the Ukrainian fighter in the first round, was wobbled in the second but survived and took the fight to the ground in the third in a gritty performance.

The Canadian was unranked while the previously unbeaten Moroz was ranked eighth going into the fight.

Injuries have interrupted Letourneau's career in the past.

After a December 2007 loss to fellow Canadian Alexis Davis, she fought just once in 40 months due to a broken hand, concussion and two shoulder surgeries.

Still Letourneau has won seven of her last eight — she was beaten by Claudia Gadelha in 2012 — after losing two of her first three pro fights (against Davis and fellow Canadian Sarah Kaufman).

A former bantamweight, the five-foot-seven Quebecer has a one-inch height and three-inch reach advantage over Jedrzejczyk.

Letourneau and daughter Gabrielle headed south two years ago to train at American Top Team in Florida. She had spent 10 years training at Montreal's Tristar Gym, eventually leaving because she was the only female pro fighter there and thought she needed new surroundings.

Letourneau is the second Canadian woman to go after a UFC title. Rousey made short work of Davis at UFC 175 in July 2014.

The Australian stadium show originally was to have featured welterweight champion (Ruthless) Robbie Lawler and Carlos (The Natural Born Killer) Condit. The UFC shifted Rousey-Holm to the main event when Lawler was injured.

Lawler and Condit are now the main event of UFC 195 on Jan. 2 in Las Vegas.

Jedrzejczyk was originally slated to fight Gadelha, then the No. 1 contender, at UFC 195 but Letourneau was summoned after Gadelha injured her hand and their fight was added to the Australian show.

The Melbourne card actually takes place Sunday in Australia but will air live Saturday night in North America due to the time difference.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press