UFC 205: 5 keys to victory for Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Karolina Kowalkiewicz has a tall order in order to become the third strawweight champion in UFC history. To do so, here are five keys to help her defeat Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

UFC 205 is expected to be a massive moment in mixed martial arts history. The first UFC event in Madison Square Garden is capped off with three important title bouts. Each of these bouts deserves their moment in the spotlight and leading up to the event, the UFC has placed a fantastic level of attention to each. The strawweight affair between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz features an intriguing matchup between two high-level strikers that have transitioned to the world of MMA successfully.

Coming into the fight Jedrzejczyk is the favorite; which is understandable when looking at her track record of dominance. Kowalkiewicz took a slow climb to earn this title shot since joining the UFC in 2015. What’s even more compelling is that these women have a history together, starting their MMA journey competing against each other in an amateur event back in 2012. While Joanna “Champion” has that victory in her back pocket, a lot has changed in the four years that can directly impact the outcome of this bout at UFC 205.

Looking at the two competitors, these are five keys to victory that Karolina Kowalkiewicz must leverage if she’s going to become the first woman to defeat Joanna Jedrzejczyk and become the third UFC strawweight champion.

May 8, 2016; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Karolina Kowalkiewicz moves in with a punch against Heather Jo Clark during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Rotterdam. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

5. Pacing

At the top of the preparation list for any opponent set to face off against Joanna Jedrzejczyk is pacing. The current women’s 115-pound champion sets a pace that would make any other athlete cringe. When other fighters are huffing for air, Jedrzejczyk steps on the gas in an effort to overwhelm her opponent. Looking back to Joanna’s last two title defenses against Claudia Gadelha and Valerie Letourneau, there is an interesting trend: in both of these fights, some of Joanna’s most productive rounds came in the fourth and fifth stanzas when her opponent was depleted.

With that information readily available, Karolina needs to set a pace that allows her to stay active late in the fight. This is the first time in her career in which she’s scheduled to fight for 25 minutes. When coupled with the fact that she’s more prone to decision victories; one could expect that this fight will go the whole time limit. That means that Karolina cannot find herself in a position in which she’s trying to cling onto early success or fighting from behind against her opponent who thrives in the late-fight moments. There isn’t any evidence that Kowalkiewicz doesn’t have the gas tank to push forward in the championship rounds, but this fight sets the stage for that ability to be a major key in her potential victory.

December 19, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Karolina Kowalkiewicz fights against Randa Markos during UFC Fight Night at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

4. Get Started Early

With this being a five-round fight, Kowalkiewicz needs to take advantage of the early rounds. If there’s one major knock against Joanna it’s that she is a slow starter. As previously mentioned she has shown the ability to make up for those slow starts; even though she’s rarely in trouble early in a fight. Kowalkiewicz must take advantage of Joanna’s slow starts and put the pressure on her early in the fight.

At this point in her UFC run, Kowalkiewicz is rarely out performed. In the nine rounds of Octagon competition, she’s only been out struck in one round: in the first round of her UFC 201 fight against Rose Namajunas. Other than this anomaly, she is consistently the most active fighter in the cage and that activity starts early. This is vital against Jedrzejczyk because if she can get the champion behind on the scorecards early, she can shift her game plan late in the contest. That doesn’t mean go into a shell and play the prevent defense style of fighting; but getting success early in the fight prevents Joanna from building that momentum which has turned into a downward spiral for her opponents. Kowalkiewicz has shown an ability to get an early jump on her opponents and keep that lead throughout a bout. Now is the time for her to use that skill in an attempt to clinch a title.

May 8, 2016; Rotterdam, Netherlands; Karolina Kowalkiewicz moves in with a hit as Heather Jo Clark defends during UFC Fight Night at Ahoy Rotterdam. Mandatory Credit: Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

3. Combinations & Volume

Counter striking is a key element to Kowalkiewicz’s game, but in order to become the new strawweight champion, she cannot wait on her opponent to go first. Instead, she needs to lean on landing combinations and do so in volume in order to keep Jedrzejczyk off of her track throughout the fight. As we’ve seen in the past, Jedrzejczyk excels in overwhelming her opponents. What seems to be a slow build grows into an avalanche of combinations that racks up points and violence. To avoid that situation Kowalkiewicz needs to match that ability with combinations of her own.

Look back to her bout against Heather Jo Clark. In each of those three rounds, Kowalkiewicz pummeled her opponent with combination after combination to build a big lead and never look back. She threw nearly 90 strikes per round and landed more than 40 percent of them each time. She’s going to have to be this active against Jedrzejczyk; especially in those early rounds. Throwing combinations keeps her opponent from being able to effectively counter, while exceeding and potentially matching the output that has become Joanna Champion’s claim to fame.

December 19, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Randa Markos moves in with a punch against Karolina Kowalkiewicz during UFC Fight Night at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

2.  Movement

Footwork is yet another important aspect of this title affair. What makes Jedrzejczyk dangerous is that she continues to push forward while cutting angles at key times to line up her strikes. An error that her opponents tend to make is to either move straight forward or straight back; allowing Joanna Champion to dictate their positioning in relation to her striking. Kowalkiewicz has the striking abilities to know not to make such a critical error and in doing so she improves her opportunity to win this fight.

Using Kowalkiewicz’s past contests as examples, she’s shown the ability to move effectively to line up her own strikes while negating the movement of her opponent. She’s yet to face someone with such a high skill level as the current champion, but that doesn’t mean she will not be able to effectively match Jedrzejczyk’s movement in this fight. When two high-level strikers are put together in the Octagon, one of the most compelling aspects of the fight is how their footwork plays off of each other. That is another aspect that where Kowalkiewicz needs to excel if she’s going to find a way to overcome the odds in this fight and take the title.

December 19, 2015; Orlando, FL, USA; Randa Markos fights against Karolina Kowalkiewicz during UFC Fight Night at Amway Center. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

1.  Controlling the Center

Along with using effective movement, Kowalkiewicz needs to control the center of the Octagon. In both of her fights against Gadelha, Jedrzejczyk was behind early due to the Brazilian’s ability to push the champion against the cage and secure takedowns. While Kowalkiewicz isn’t as effective of a grappler, she needs to keep Jedrzejczyk’s back facing the cage, even if she can’t keep her pushed up against the fence. Doing so negates Joanna’s movement and keeps her from cutting a sharp angle to counter and push forward. If Kowalkiewicz finds herself up against the cage or with her back being pushed against it, she’s going to be in danger of absorbing the never-ending volume that Jedrzejczyk brings.

Think back to when Rory MacDonald faced Tyron Woodley. MacDonald was able to limit much of Woodley’s offense by pressuring him against the cage with range and footwork. While the same size advantage isn’t present in this matchup between Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz, the challenger needs to find a way to keep the champion from controlling the center of the Octagon as she’s done so well in the past.  Just like every other aspect of this fight, doing so is a tall order but gives Kowalkiewicz a clearer path towards the title.

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