Rivalries: Karolina Kowalkiewicz

By: Brian Knapp
Aug 6, 2021


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Karolina Kowalkiewicz was once a primetime player in the Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight division. Times have changed.

The 35-year-old Polish standout will try to nail down her first win in more than three years when she meets former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder Jessica Penne on the UFC 265 undercard this Saturday at the Toyota Center in Houston. Kowalkiewicz enters the Octagon on a career-worst four-fight losing streak. She last competed at UFC Fight Night 168 on Feb. 23, 2020, when she dropped a three-round unanimous decision to surging Chinese contender Xiaonan Yan.

As Kowalkiewicz approaches her confrontation with Penne, a look at some of the rivalries that have helped chart her mixed martial arts course:

Rose Namajunas


The then-unbeaten Kowalkiewicz cemented her place as the No. 1 contender in the women’s strawweight division with a split decision over “The Ultimate Fighter 20” finalist in the UFC 201 co-main event on July 30, 2016 at Philips Arena in Atlanta. All three cageside judges struck 29-28 scorecards: Chris Lee for Namajunas, Ken Coffey and Jeff Mullen for Kowalkiewicz. Namajunas countered beautifully in the first round, cutting off the KSW and Invicta veteran with both hands. Kowalkiewicz made the necessary adjustment in the second, lured “Thug Rose” into the clinch and battered her with knees to the body and standing elbows to the head. The work paid dividends, as Namajunas’ movements became slower, her breathing more labored. Kowalkiewicz not surprisingly closed the distance again in Round 3. There, she uncorked more knees to the body, tagged Namajunas with a right uppercut and drove her to the mat, settling in guard. Kowalkiewicz then piled up points with ground-and-pound, avoiding armbar, heel hook and omoplata attempts from the Milwaukee native. Her stock was at an all-time high.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk


A violent whirlwind of skill, speed and technique, Jedrzejczyk turned away another would-be successor, as she claimed a unanimous decision from Kowalkiewicz and retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight crown in their UFC 205 co-feature on Nov. 12, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The undefeated champion battered Kowalkiewicz with leg kicks, crisp punching combinations and standing elbows in the clinch. Jedrzejczyk was briefly dazed in the fourth round, where a clean right hand to the face buckled her knees. She withstood Kowalkiewicz’s bid to finish, cleared her head and picked up where she left off, outlanding the challenger by an absurd 43-5 margin in Round 5 and leaving no doubt about her superiority.

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Claudia Gadelha


The three-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion submitted Kowalkiewicz with a rear-naked choke in the first round of their UFC 212 co-main event on June 3, 2017 at the HSBC Arena in Rio de Janeiro. Finished for the first time as a professional, Kowalkiewicz bowed out 3:03 into Round 1. Gadelha delivered a takedown midway through the first round, slid to the back and set her hooks when the Polish star tried to return to her feet. Kowalkiewicz fought to free herself but left her neck exposed in the process. In an instant, Gadelha had the choke in place and let her squeeze do the rest.

Jessica Andrade


The Parana Vale Tudo cornerstone knocked out Kowalkiewicz with a crushing right hook in the first round of their UFC 228 co-headliner on Sept. 8, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, capping a career-defining performance with the ultimate exclamation point. A semi-conscious Kowalkiewicz hit the deck 1:58 into Round 1, and it was immediately clear that she was in no condition to continue. No follow-up shots were necessary, as referee Karry Hatley swooped in to rescue the Pole from further damage. Kowalkiewicz was reduced to tears once the fog cleared, perhaps sensing her time as a true contender was at an end. Advertisement
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