Every fighter has a game plan, but not many have a plan that extends beyond the fight itself. And if they do, fewer still are able to pull it off as well as UFC rookie Maryna “Iron Lady” Moroz did in Krakow on Saturday.
Moroz, the 23-year-old boxer and armbar specialist from Ukraine was the underdog going into her fight against Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood at UFC’s first ever event in Poland, Fight Night 64, and almost no one expected her to make much of an impact at all. In the weeks leading up the event, reporters asked Calderwood, ranked sixth in the division with a 9-0 record, about getting a shot at the women’s Strawweight Championship, already looking past whatever ostensibly meagre challenge Moroz might pose. Vegas oddsmakers pegged her chances at winning at a rather unflattering +550. Bloody Elbow’s Zane Simon went so far as to dismiss her as a one-trick pony. Even the video package that kicked off the broadcast of the night’s main card referred to her as little more than Calderwood’s next step on her way to a shot at the title.
This wasn’t an entirely unfair assessment. Moroz was undefeated going into the fight, but her flawless, decision-free record (3 armbars, 1 straight armbar, 1 TKO) was earned against opponents in smaller organizations who were almost uniformly less seasoned and skilled than Calderwood. She was a completely unproven commodity when it came to UFC-calibre combat and her previous bouts only hinted at the striking skills that landed the lifelong fighter a spot on the Ukrainian National Boxing Team.
Moroz promised that she had a few surprises for Calderwood in the press events leading up the fight, though. As it turns out, she had a few for the rest of us as well.
Moroz quite literally came out swinging against Calderwood, a smart move given the Scot’s well-known fondness for starting on a more methodical note. Effectively shutting down any chance that JoJo had for sizing her up or settling into a rhythm, Moroz attacked with a series of punches and low kicks. Calderwood landed the first significant strike of the fight, a hard hook that immediately exploded into a welt along Moroz’s razor-sharp cheekbones (to paraphrase Irene Adler, you could cut yourself trying to strike that face). But it was also her last significant strike of the fight. After that, it was all Iron Lady, who landed a series of flurries and combos that both stunned Calderwood and backed her up against the cage. And as Calderwood tried to defend herself, she exposed her arm. Smelling blood, Moroz grabbed the arm and pulled guard – a trademark move in her arsenal, but still gutsy against someone with hands as notoriously dangerous as JoJo’s. With a beautiful shift of the hips, she had the armbar in place. Calderwood did her best to protect her elbow, stacking Moroz and trying to pull herself free, but it was too late. The Ukrainian extended her hips and JoJo had no choice to tap out and accept her first defeat in the Octagon just 1:30 into the first round of the fight.
With another win and another armbar in the books, not to mention a 50k performance bonus on the way, Moroz moved on to the next phase of her plot for world domination. Perhaps taking a page from one of her favorite fighters, Conor McGregor, she spotted the new Strawweight champ, Poland’s own Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in the front row, scaled the cage and let her mouth fly even faster than her fists as she made the universal sign of the belt across her waist. Joanna Champion, a noted fan and master of the psychological side of the sport responded in kind, whipping both the crowd and Moroz into such a frenzy that it took the Iron Lady’s camp a good three or four tries to get her attention and pull her down from the top of the cage for the final decision.
In the post-fight interview, fighter and announcer Dan Hardy congratulated her on her fight and asked her a chatty softball question. After her translator posed the question to her, she responded with a few brief, stern words. The translator paused for a minute, as if waiting for her to elaborate, and then spoke to her again. With the same focus, she repeated herself.
“I want to be the champion,” the translator finally said.
After thanking her family, her husband/coach, and her friends, Moroz went back on the attack. “She is scared. I will show her,” she goaded Jedrzejczyk and the entire arena of Polish fans through her translator before finishing by praising the champ’s skills and saying that’s why she wants to fight her.
Although there are many deserving fighters waiting in the wings for their shot at Jedrzejczyk and her freshly-acquired belt in the UFC’s impressively robust Strawweight division, including Claudia Gadelha and TUF 20 runner-up Rose Namajunas, among others, Moroz successfully made herself a contender with her performance. Firmly establishing herself as both a fighter and personality with just 13 minutes of total screen time, she stole the show and potentially gave her division its first great rivalry.
If Dan Hardy hadn’t been holding the mic so tightly, she probably would have gone ahead and dropped it.
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