Joanna "Violence" defends her title against fellow Polish pugilist this November 12, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Consonants go to war in Mike Goldberg's greatest announcing nightmare.
David: Damn. You took my consonant joke.
Record: Joanna Jędrzejczyk (c) 12-0 vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz 10-0
Odds: Joanna Jędrzejczyk (c) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
David: While the nicknaming conventions for Joanna keep changing (Joanna Violence? Really, MMA? Was Joanna Fistinface taken or something?), her demeanor has not. She is starting to remind me most of Demetrious Johnson: here on this Earth to mix the pugilism poetry in with the pugilism pop. The sport seems to excite her in a way that is at once informed by competition, but also by professionalism. She's not cordial. But like DJ, she competes with a purpose opponents will find it challenging to match.
Phil: The delineations between Adorable Joanna outside the cage and the Sadistic Destroyer in it are probably a bit more permeable than the besotted MMA public would like. Not that she isn't a wonderfully entertaining and magnetic personality, but this is also someone who will constantly start shit with her opponents and then say how "everybody just talks." Sure, JJ. Still, who cares really. It's all tangential to the technical, razor sharp viciousness and pace she brings to the cage every time.
David: Kowalkiewicz is that contender you saw coming under the assumption that the division was dreadful, and thin. Except to her credit, strawweight, while not deep, is top heavy with a talented group of young contenders. I wasn't surprised that she beat Namajunas, but I certainly underestimated her composure.
Phil: Despite being relatively young in the game, Kowalkiewicz seems somehow akin to some of the "journeymen" who have had surprising UFC success of late. Not jump-off-the-page dynamic or even particularly devastating in any area, but with an unwavering self-belief and the ability to pounce on a weakness and keep hammering away at it relentlessly.
What are the stakes?
David: None other than the soul of Poland itself. Well, I don't know if Joanna shuts down all of Poland so they can watch her fight the way Conor gathers all of Ireland, but there's more at stake than the usual "gold or no gold" dilemma.
Phil: As you mentioned above in the intro, Joanna is one of the few bastions of consistency in the UFC alongside Demetrious Johnson. This is another chance to cement herself as someone who'll be around for a while. Also, with it looking like Rousey isn't long for the MMA world, Joanna (together with Cyborg, maybe) is on the shortlist for being the next face of WMMA.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Joanna is essentially a volume outfighter. She works behind a long and efficient jab, which bleeds into a right hand, a teep and a leg kick. Her essential position is to be standing at the limit of range, where she can pour long multi-strike combinations in with minimal effort. Her footwork is very good, and enables her takedown defense, where she pivots, frames, and pushes to escape from the clinch. The frame is also used to land slapping elbows, which are Joanna's primary clinch offense, which I suspect will get a lot of play in this fight. Her primary weakness is increasingly not her defensive grappling, but simply that she doesn't move her head a whole lot, which meant that she got tagged a few times by Gadelha early. .
David: Joanna has always excelled by striking with more than just sheer mechanics. She doesn't just switch combinations, but she switches ‘paradigms'; hooking her punches to get around the earmuff defense, streamlining her boxing down the middle for opponents who attack her with looping punches. And she does it with speed, and tenacity. All of this would be for nought (Lorenz Larkin anyone?) if it wasn't for her takedown defense, which I honestly thought Claudia Gadelha would not exploit, but at least penetrate over five rounds. That obviously didn't happen. Joanna does more than just keep a low base, and proper underhooks to stay balanced. She slips in violence through the cracks, slicing opportunistic elbows inside the clinch, cracking the sternum with those jagged patellas of her. Like a scary movie, she knows how to create a sense of terror even with the unseen.
Phil: Kowalkiewicz is more of an all-rounder than the champion, both in terms of her preferred operating spaces and even in her skillset. This doesn't mean that she's more skilled, but it does give her a slightly wider options for approach. In odd ways, the way these two interplay isn't actually that dissimilar to McGregor and Alvarez: Karolina likes to circle on the outside, then attack with shifting, angled entries (much like Alvarez does); like Alvarez she'll have to navigate the long, straight strikes of a high-pace striker as she comes in. She's excellent in the clinch, which likely represents her best chance in this fight, but just getting it there will be a tough ask against the champion, and even if she gets in there Jedrzejczyk will be immediately working to force her back out again. So, a big question is: can Kowalkiewicz angle in enough to get around the jab and the teep (which are relatively linear) and can she land enough offense to make it worthwhile? Because she just does not hit hard, relying instead on attrition.
David: There's something wonderfully trivial about Karolina's offense. No great big nuclear fission type weapons, but all of that understatement simmers just enough to make for some violent efficiency. Her boxing for example, is a little unusual. She shuffles and scuttles around to set up various strikes but without the "athletic and explosive" shifts that characterize elite athletes. There are no exclamation marks to her strikes, but that doesn't mean she's illiterate. On the contrary, her movement sets up her punches well, and she showed against Namajunas that she won't be bullied on the ground or in the clinch. Part of her challenge is keeping that movement from walking into any counter right hands. But thus far she's shown a defensive radar that's keen on minimizing punch absorption (though perhaps not in this fight).
Insight from past fights?
Phil: The Namajunas fight did not bode well for Karolina's chances against Joanna. Essentially, many thought that the story would be that Namajunas would own the clinch with her offensive wrestling and superior athleticism, and that Kowalkiewicz would have the technical advantage standing. However... the fight played backwards. Just how strong KK was in the clinch was a pleasant surprise... but how easily Namajunas hit her with clean strikes from the outside was concerning. Namajunas is not the technical striker that the champion is, and Jedrzejczyk is extraordinarily difficult to throw off her game in the manner that Kowalkiewicz managed to do to Rose.
David: Well, yes and no. Okay, yes and not no. But one of the things I liked that I'd expect KK to continue doing is attacking that inside leg. Her boxing defense isn't great, but she does a lot of little things offensively that keep her from requiring technical defense, such as her movement, clinchwork, and leg attack. It's very hockey like: the best defensemen aren't great in their own zone because they spend more time attacking in their opponent's zone with puck movement and possession. KK fights with a similar principle: pressuring so that defensive need not apply. Obviously, her lack of real head movement will be one thing to watch out for. But KK tends to be exposed most by strikes coming from the left side (Rose seemed to land that left jab and hook when she wanted), and Joanna's fight ending power tends to come from the right. Nitpicking? Probably. But I've gotta make this fight sound sort of competitive, right?
Phil: Joanna training with ATT? I'd assume it'll make her look even better, but it wouldn't be the first time a fighter went to train with an elite camp and ended up being awkward and stuck halfway between phases when they had their next fight.
David: ATT doesn't have the reputation of reinventing styles though. I agree, however. It's just that a disruption in rhythm would be the bit of fight minutiae having an effect at the highest levels of combatants. KK isn't that truly elite, IMO.
Phil: Very tough to see Karolina winning this one. She needs to negotiate a minefield to get the fight to her best area. However, she's tough as boots and mentally near-unbreakable, so I think she'll stay in the fight, and perhaps even force the champ to the final bell. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.
David: KK has ways to make this technically competitive: knees in the clinch, attacking that inside leg, and going high with that left leg of hers. But she'd need to add a lot more to make it collectively competitive. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by TKO, round 4.