Saturday in Poland, Europe's preeminent MMA promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki made history, putting over an estimated 58,000 fight fans inside PGE Narodowy Stadium. Yet, while KSW 39 was an instant and unique landmark in combat sports history, there was something strangely, perhaps unsettlingly, familiar about the main event.
In the headliner of KSW's milestone “Colosseum” card, the company's middleweight champion and promotional ace Mamed Khalidov earned a questionable unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) over KSW's reigning welterweight champion Borys Mankowski in a 181-pound catch-weight affair.
KSW announced an estimated crowd of 58,000, but did not give an exact attendance figure. On May 9, KSW co-owner Maciej Kawulski announced that the promotion had sold 50,000 tickets to that point. The promotion told Sherdog.com that 56,500 tickets had already been purchased as of this past Friday.
The all-time UFC attendance record is 56,214 for Holly Holm's UFC 193 knockout of Ronda Rousey at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia, while the accepted, global MMA attendance record is over 71,000 for Pride Fighting Championship and K-1's August 2002 “Shockwave,” despite the two promotions claiming an attendance of over 91,000 at Tokyo National Stadium in Japan.
Khalidov's performance was reminiscent of past close scrapes, such as his draw with Ryuta Sakurai in 2010 and his debatable majority decision over Aziz Karaoglu 12 months ago. Early in the bout, the 36-year-old Chechen used his size and reach advantages, keeping Mankowski at bay with body punches, axe kicks and flying knees. However, the Arrachion Olsztyn MMA rep was predictable and unfocused in his attack, allowing the squattier Mankowski to begin ducking his lead hand, repeatedly countering Khalidov with clean hooks.
In the third and decisive round, Khalidov continues pressuring his smaller foe and glanced with his high-flying offense before riding out the period with a late takedown. However, Mankowski dinged Khalidov in nearly every late exchange and won Sherdog.com's scorecard 29-28. Official judges Maciej Motylewski and David Lethaby scored the contest 29-28 for Khalidov, while Cezary Wojciechowski turned in a hard-to-reason 30-27 card.
Khalidov, now 33-4-2, is unbeaten in his last 15 fights, spanning over seven years.
Gamrot, Lipski, Narkun, Rozalski and Erbst Exit ‘Colosseum’ With Gold
Undefeated Mateusz Gamrot retained his KSW lightweight title against UFC veteran Norman Parke with a trio of close 29-28 scorecards. Gamrot's biggest career victory was not without controversy: in addition to the razor-thin margin of victory, Parke claimed that while sprawling on a Gamrot takedown attempt in round two, the reigning champ bit his left index fighter and shoved his opponent during a restart by referee Tomasz Bronder. Gamrot, 26, now stands at 13-0 as a pro and may presently be Poland's finest prospect.
In a championship clash of rising 125-pound blue chippers, Brazil's Ariane Lipski became the inaugural KSW women's flyweight champion with a first-round armbar of Romanian Diana Belbita that should catch the attention of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA. The dynamic 23-year-old pressured Belbita from the outset with her heavy kicking offense then took her down, but was swept to her back. Lipski threw up an armbar and earned the tap at 4:52, giving her six stoppages over her impressive seven-fight winning streak.
Emerging light heavyweight Tomasz Narkun showed off improved striking before relying on his trademark grappling to tap fellow Pole Marcin Wojcik and retain his KSW title. The aggressive Wojcik was in Narkun's face early and often, but “Giraffe” showed off an evolution in his counterstriking, landing clean with punches and kicks. As soon as Wojcik tackled him to the mat, Narkun hipped into triangle position, climbed the ladder up “The Giant's” torso and methodically cinched up the choke. Wojcik tapped at 4:59 of the opening stanza, giving the 33-year-old Narkun, now 14-2, his fifth straight first-round stoppage.
KSW's heavyweight title picture continues to be dictated by a big-punching upsets, as Polish kickboxing bad boy Marcin Rozalski wasted Brazil's Fernando Rodrigues Jr. to take the crown in a mere 16 seconds. After opening with leg kicks, Rozalski -- who earned his title shot by beating Mariusz Pudzianowski last May after losses to Peter Graham and James McSweeney – caught the charging “Santo Forte” with a left hook to stand him up, then a right hand to destroy his target. The 38-year-old Rozalski is now 7-4 in his MMA career, all under the KSW banner.
Kleber Koike Erbst unseated UFC veteran Marcin Wrzosek via unanimous decision (29-27, 29-27, 29-28) to become KSW featherweight champion. The jiu-jitsu ace Erbst spent the second half of the first round latched on “The Polish Zombie's” back threatening for a rear-naked choke, then did the exact same in the third period for the round's duration to earn two 10-8 scores and seal the win.
Pudzianowski Rolls, Olympic Medalist Janikowski Wins MMA Debut
In the evening's co-main event, former “World's Strongest Man” and KSW star Mariusz Pudzianowski bloodied and bashed Tyberiusz Kowalczyk, forcing his fellow Polish strongman to submit to a torrent of punches and elbows at 2:50 of the round two.
Pudzianowski and Kowalczyk showed no qualms about exchanging leather in the opening round, a period that included a sustained, two-handed punching contest with 90 seconds left in the first round. However, the more experienced Pudzianowski eventually began landing his wild right hands more frequently and harder than his foe. After dropping Kowalczyk, bleeding from his scalp, for the second time just over seven minutes into the fight, “Pudzian” smashed away with punches and elbows until Kowalczyk conceded.
Pudzianowski, 40, now holds an MMA record of 11-5 (1 NC).
Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling bronze medalist Damian Janikowski made short work of American middleweight Gerardo Julio Gallegos in his pro MMA debut. The 2012 London Games standout quickly clinched and dirty boxed Gallegos, then dropped him hard to the mat with a high knee. The Warsaw native followed up with punches until referee Lukasz Bosacki rescued Gallegos in just 1:46.
After six years in retirement, trainer and sports broadcaster Lukasz Jurkowski returned to KSW and won an iffy split decision over journeyman Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. Jurkowski, who hadn't fought since losing a decision to Toni Valtonen at KSW 15 in March 2011, crisply boxed “The African Assassin” up in round three, but “Juras” was knocked down in the first frame, then beaten and bloodied in the final round. Judges David Leathaby and Lukasz Porebski had it 29-28 for Jurkowski, while Ben Cartlidge scores it 29-28 for Sokoudjou.
Polish heavyweight prospect Michal Andryszak continued his rise, putting together his fifth straight win with a deft anaconda choke on countryman Michal Kita. The 25-year-old Andryszak, who had beat his last four foes with his striking, quickly countered a Kita shot, sunk the choke and rolled for the finish in just 74 seconds.
In the evening's most unabashed freakshow, Polish gangster rapper “Popek Monster” Pawel Mikolajuw destroyed previously undefeated Lithuanian bodybuilder and viral video star Robert Burneika. Popek had his tattooed eyeballs set on a quick finish, immediately wailing on Burneika with heavy right hands from the opening bell and forcing Burneika to turtle and submit to strikes in a mere 45 seconds.