clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Karolina Kowalkiewicz the latest to shake up some title plans

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

It could be said that the path to a title goes through the FOX studios in Los Angeles, as that panel of analysts has surged into a well-groomed Pantheon of Champions. Dominick Cruz, Daniel Cormier, Michael Bisping and now, after Saturday night’s lucid knockout of Robbie Lawler at UFC 201, Tyron Woodley — all of those talking heads can be discovered wearing gold belts under the table. Perhaps it was portentous, then, that Stephen "Wonderboy" Thompson made a cameo this weekend on that very set. He’s likely to get Woodley next. In the FS1 family, things are about to get a little incestuous up in the avocado room.

Which is a certain kind of fun.

As for the women’s divisions, though, it’s the Eastern European/Central Asian theater that has emerged as the hot bed for talent in 2016. Polish strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk came from Olsztyn as an imposing tower of consonants and electric hiss, and she immediately began taking people out starting with Carla Esparza for the belt. She’s one of the most dominant champions going, having proven that yet again against Claudia Gadelha in early July. Jedrzejczyk, all sinews and snipe, personally put her country on the map for the UFC.

Fast-forward a month later, and she has company.

First it was Valentina Shevchenko, who hails from Kyrgyzstan. Using the FOX platform in a different way, Shevchenko cashed in big with an eye-popping decision over Holly Holm to emerge as a contender in the bantamweight division. Next it was Polish fighter Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who schooled Rose Namajunas in the co-main event at UFC 201. All the potential title-like narratives in play heading into the month of July — Holm versus Miesha Tate II, Namajunas versus Jedrzejczyk, Rousey versus Holm II, Rousey versus Tate III — have been abruptly reimagined. Now it’s Shevchenko versus Amanda Nunes, possibly, and Kowalkiewicz versus Jedrzejczyk.

As of Saturday night they UFC was talking about doing the latter in Poland. How’s that for your global whims? All it took was the opportunity to shine for Jedrzejczyk, Shevchenko and Kowalkiewicz to make their name off of the more known names, and boom, the power shifts to the back of the alphabet. And in every one of these cases, the foreign name was booked into the fight against popular understanding. Jedrzejczyk was an odd pairing for Esparza at UFC 185, just as Shevchenko appeared to a be ledge drop for Holm, just as Kowalkiewicz felt like an obstacle for Namajunas on her road to a title shot.

All ended up being more than bargained for.

What does that say about the new UFC, in which belts are changing hands every other week? That we don’t know much, for one thing. That we are forever being sidetracked.

(And that it might be best not to sleep on Jan Blachowicz when he fights Alexander Gustafsson come September. The "wicz’s" are the new "ov’s" in the techniques. It used to be that you could randomly pick a name that ended with "ov" and feel safe with your selection, because, hey, cold muscle from Dagestan or some smile-free zone out on the Caspian Sea was rarely wrong. That was just science. Now the "cyzk’s" and "wicz’s" and "chenko’s" are making moves. These phonetic shifts are something to keep an eye on).

But it also means that in mixed martial arts the process of discovery is a never-ending one. We knew that Shevchenko defeated Jedrzejczyk three times in Muay Thai bouts before her broadcast bout with Holm, yet we knew the boxer Holm took out the judoka Ronda Rousey who took out the high school wrestler Tate (twice) who overcame the boxer Holm. That gave us the impression that Holm would beat Shevchenko, somehow, though it was a dangerous feeling to day that. Just as it felt careless to superimpose Namajunas against Jedrzejczyk when Kowalkiewicz was standing in her way. All it took was one glimpse at Kowalkiewicz’s psychotic calm during Bruce Buffer’s introductions to know that she was in on a secret -- that, in fact, all of Poland was in on a secret -- and was about to dish.

Now we know. Poland has the best strawweights in the world right now, just as the FOX Sports 1 studios has the best collection of belts. The "wicz’s" are the new "ov’s," and fights are where our best-laid plans go to die. Also, the alphabet is the new betabet, or something. In other words, I have no idea what the hell’s going on, and that’s just how things are in the UFC in the summer of 2016.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting