Rose Namajunas and Karolina Kowalkiewicz settle the score to potentially fight Joanna Jedrzejzcyk this July 30, 2016 at the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia.
One sentence summary:
Phil: Furiosa fights a pole cat.
David: Strawweight's war of the roses now has its own Rose of war.
Record: Rose Namajunas 5-2 Karolina Kowalkiewicz 9-0
Odds: Rose Namajunas -210 Karolina Kowalkiewicz +175
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Namajunas began her career with a lot of potential, but no polish. When she lost to Carla Esparza, I was skeptical she'd get far in the division because her offense, while versatile, was aimless. I don't remember my exact words, but I always fall back on my prior description, of Rose fighting like a 12 year old playing a Street Fighter hooked up intravenously to Red Bull. Since then she's ditched the Red Bull but not the Street Fighter. With a more measured, but still violent attack, Furiosa is looking very much like a contender.
Phil: What kept me a bit down on Rose long-term was that she fitted so neatly into a style archetype which always runs into problems, namely the dreaded kick-grappler. It tends to cap out just late enough that the fighter is set in their ways, and unable to make a significant shift. Instead, after getting handled by Carla Esparza, Namajunas has transformed into a stone-cold killer. The wild child who flipped out after her flying armbar win in Invicta is gone, at least in the cage.
David: Finally a Polish fighter with elegantly placed vowels. Kowalkiewicz is a pleasant surprise. I don't think we really expected her to exit the KSW and enter the UFC with much success, but she's maintained a spotless record while raising the Polish fighting scene's awareness.
Phil: One of the things which makes 115 fun is the variety of styles represented. As an approximate analogue on the men's side, 135 is extremely fun but also massively over-loaded with the style of "reasonably tall power punchers." Kowalkiewicz' place in the division seems almost guaranteed already - she slots into an available niche as the likable, tough Bisping. No massive technical flaws, keeps a great pace, but her lack of power and athleticism will likely keep her out of the top spot.
What's at stake?
David: I mean, this is pretty much a showcase fight. I think Tecia Torres is better than Karolina (though she offers a different threat/dimension), and stylistically, it favors Rose in a big way. And that's what the UFC wants: Rose against Jedrzejczyk.
Phil: I think it's a tough fight to be honest. If they wanted to give Namajunas a layup they'd be giving her one of the grapplers in the division, but Kowalkiewicz is going to test Rose's boxing game, which has only recently matured.
Where do they want it?
David: Rose has a veritable treasure trove of flesh weapons. Wait, that sounds weird. Rose has a veritable treasure trove of epidermal siege weapons. Still sounds weird, but between knees you could spike asphalt with, and a straight right with a left that can run as fast as her right, the whole MMA world awaits with bated breath what she can offer Joanna Champion. Still, she does have a moderately tough opponent to get through first. To me the biggest improvement from Rose's fight with Carla to her bout with Paige VanZant is that thin sliver of discretion: not overloading on her combinations, being just a bit more economical. It helps that she's no longer "desperate" (she never really was, but the ground wasn't a priority either) to fight away from the ground. Keeping her phase shifts on the mind of the opponent just emphasizes her striking advantage.
Phil: Trevor Wittman is always a coach who has done well packing power with economy. From Carwin's short, clubbing shots to Marquardt's occasional thundering knockouts, Wittman's charges are historically underrated in terms of pure punching mechanics. It's these which I think we've seen the most of recently, coupled with Rose's new cold-eyed focus on high-percentage fundamentals. The boxing is the vital connective tissue between the headkicks and the physically overwhelming clinch game. The clinch game leads to all the joint lock and choke submissions, and Namajunas' physicality advantage over most other strawweights is most apparent when she's cranking power subs like the kimura. The major concern is that this version of Rose is still a bit young, and can therefore be stripped away under duress, leaving her as the disconnected talent she was before.
David: Karolina is an interesting fighter. And I mean that in all the vague, positive, and negative ways the word "interesting" connotes. One of the things she does "interestingly" is shuffle. Watch her footwork. It's in service of her offense (but not her defense: I'll get to that in the insight from past fights section). Fighters that generate offense mid-range, or in close need to be able to move left to right, right to left. They need to be able to bob and weave. If they can't, see Holm vs. Shevchenko. Kowalkiewicz clearly has some understanding of this inside rhythm concept. As such, she lands with an authority you wouldn't expect from her sinewy frame. Her right hand is her best punch. It's not blazingly fast, but she lands that right before you know it. Her game is aided by stable grappling: she doesn't use it much offensively, but she's excellent at counter grappling. I don't know how it will hold up against elite fighters, but she clearly understands this portion of MMA.
Phil: The straw that stirs the drink for Kowalkiewicz is pace. She throws at a ridiculous clip, even by the standards of divisional champ Jedrzejczyk. This presents a unique threat for some fighters- many are able to fight back after taking a big punch, but getting drowned under boxing volume is a whole different kind of frustrating. Technically perhaps her real analogue isn't Bisping, but Eddie Alvarez, considering the way she shifts and plays off the distance and timing of her right hand? That said, she definitely has to keep the fight in the striking phase. While she has a serviceable defensive clinch and grappling game, she doesn't have remotely the offensive arsenal that Namajunas can bring to bear in those areas. So, boxing range represents a bit of a tightrope here.
Insight from past fights?
David: Markos vs. Kowalkiewicz. My issue with Karolina is that even though she moves in service of her punches, she doesn't really move in service of defending punches. She shuffles correctly, but she doesn't weave correctly. That lack of head movement, and wrong direction circling allowed Randa Markos that land a few crushing right hands. Rose is a considerably more accurate puncher. If she's caught circling left into that right hand of Rose. Lights out. Guerrilla Radio.
Phil: Turn that shit up indeed. I think Markos is a reasonable analogue for the "old" Rose - a fantastic athlete who can have sporadic success due to that athleticism - if this was pre-Esparza Namajunas I would favour Jowalkiewicz heavily.
David: This section is so vital, but maybe because I'm exhausted by the time I get to this part, and I'm never aware of any TMZ level drama surrounding MMA fighters, that I'd rather use this as an excuse to talk about something else. What comic con trailers did we like? Am I the only one who doesn't really like DC's stuff, isn't a Marvel fanboy, but thinks Suicide Squad looks fantastic? Watching the Doctor Strange trailer, why do British actors doing American accents all sound like Steve McQueen? What's the comic back story behind Mads Mikkelson's eyes in that movie? Was his character teabagged by a rhinoceros?
Phil: The latest DC trailers show that they're abandoning their most irritating feature- the sheer po-faced joylessness of their recent outings. Being Superman doesn't have to suck the whole time, guys. I'm down for a more irreverent Suicide Squad, and a Batfleck who works as contrast more than camouflage for the Justice League.
David: Pretty basic here. Kowalkiewicz' movement will play directly into Rose's offense. Her Bisping-as-contender-level circling into punches will add to the dramatic mismatch. Well, calling this fight a mismatch is unfair. But Kowalkiewicz needs to improve a few things before I'm comfortable picking her. Rose Namajunas by TKO, round 3.
Phil: Kowalkiewicz' first problem is her slow starting. If she makes it out I think she has a reasonable chance of burying Rose under punches until she shakes Namajunas' cool. However, a first round submission is a possibility, and the offensive capabilities on the ground and the power and reach differentials are too lopsided. Rose Namajunas by submission, round 3.