DALLAS – Sometimes in the fight game a calm demeanor is a cover-up for a maelstrom of raging nerves. In the case of Carla Esparza, who fights Tatiana Suarez on Saturday night at UFC 228, a peaceful face is a prelude to some incoming turbulence. In the case of Poland’s Karolina Kowalkiewicz, the relaxed nature she presents during fighter introductions is exactly what it is: tranquil. Pleasant. Unaffected.
One might even say…bemused.
In other words, goddamn unnerving. Especially right after she walks out to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger,” which features lyrics about a person on a car ride through the city, taking in its “ripped backsides.”
“When I am in the Octagon, I am very calm, very focused on the fight,” Kowalkiewicz told MMA Fighting on Thursday during the UFC 228 media day. “And I’m also very happy in there, because I love what I do. I love fighting in the UFC. And it’s something amazing, my dreams come true.”
Happiness can be an occupational hazard when somebody is getting set to punch you in the face. But Kowalkiewicz tries not to overthink it. Even when she was fighting Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the women’s strawweight title back at UFC 205 — at no less a venue than Madison Square Garden — Kowalkiewicz reclined on the cage links like she was admiring a newborn gorilla at the zoo. Ditto when she fought Rose Namajunas at UFC 201 in Atlanta. Her serene nature juxtaposes at the sound of the horn, but in the moments leading up she has ice running through her veins.
Or sunshine, it’s hard to tell.
When asked if she ever gets nervous during those moments of calm before the storm, she finds the question somewhat outlandish.
“I’m not nervous,” she says. “Are you nervous when you do what you love?”
The thing that’s not making Kowalkiewicz nervous currently is Jessica Andrade, her opponent on Saturday night. Andrade has given the strawweight division fits since early-2016, when she blasted through Jessica Penne via a second-round TKO. Since then she has won every fight except for a title bid against then-champion Jedrzejczyk at UFC 211. In her last couple of fights she has taken out Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres, an imposing duo. One might think that stepping into a cage to swap punches with somebody like that might be intimidating.
And Andrade isn’t the type to try and intimidate, either. In fact, even if Andrade wanted to intimidate Kowalkiewicz during the face-off (which she didn’t), it’s doubtful she could. The pride of Lodz is an impenetrable force of tranquility, which can come off as completely disturbing depending on how you look at it.
“I’m happy,” she says again, as if even these daydreams are silly.
So with no obvious stakes, but presumptions swirling around that a win could be enough to catapult her to a title fight, does she believe a good showing in Dallas might be enough to challenge Namajunas…the very same Namajunas that she beat back at UFC 201?
“I hope so,” she says. “But first I have to win my fight with Jessica, and she’s a very tough opponent. I think it will be the toughest fight of my whole career.”
That being the case, surely there are some nerves buried deep down in there somewhere, right? Not for this #CultClassic.
“I like facing good fighters,” Kowalkiewicz says, flashing that familiar smile.