Jan Blachowicz Talks Polish Pride, Facing Jimi Manuwa, and UFC Krakow

Fightland Blog

By James Goyder

Photos by Adam Nurkiewicz/Zuffa LLC

Poland is the country where the dubious concept of five on five MMA fights was pioneered, but the scene there is very serious. The sport is going from strength to strength and on Saturday night a major milestone will be reached when the UFC comes to town for the very first time.

UFC Fight Night 64 is set for the Krakow Arena and will feature no fewer than nine Polish fighters. All will be looking to prove that there is much more to their country’s MMA scene than group fighting gimmicks and no one has more to gain than light heavyweight Jan Blachowicz, who is fighting in the co-main event.

Blachowicz destroyed Ilir Latifi in under two minutes on his UFC debut last October and has been rewarded with a step up in opposition as he takes on #9 ranked 205-pounder Jimi Manuwa. The presence of the Octagon in Poland for the first time might be a dream come true for the fans but it brings with it some serious pressure to the local fighters. No one wants to be beaten on their home soil but Blachowicz plans to put all that to the back of his mind and just enjoy the occasion.

“It is awesome, just perfect. I realized that I have finally reached the place where I wanted to be my whole life,” he told Fightland.

From an international perspective Polish MMA remains relatively obscure, but that is changing fast. Joanna Jedrzejczyk recently made a small piece of history when she claimed the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight strap. It’s an achievement which Blachowicz hopes to eventually emulate and he says the sport has become well and truly mainstream in his homeland.

“It is very popular here and in 2014 there was research that showed that MMA is the fastest growing sport in Poland. Now it is even more popular than boxing so it is developing really fast.”

The country’s flagship promotion is Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki, which roughly translates as “martial arts confrontation”. More conveniently referred to as ‘KSW’, it’s been around since 2004 and is very well established in Poland with an event at Krakow Arena already in the books. Wembley Arena is set to hold a KSW card later this year and Blachowicz is indebted to the organization for helping him achieve his UFC dreams.

“It is really popular, it is the biggest sporting event in Poland and people love watching the fights there. It is one of the best organizations in Europe and it will definitely be developing more and more. I'm really happy that I could be a part of this organization.”

He was the organization’s reigning light heavyweight champion and won three separate 205 lbs tournaments during his time with KSW. Blachowicz fought 18 times for the promotion from 2007 until 2013 and has fond memories of that period, but believes that the UFC will bring a different type of boost to the country’s burgeoning fight scene.

“People in Poland who only knew KSW now have a chance to develop their knowledge about MMA from the biggest organization in the world, the champion league of MMA, the UFC. What's more, fighters that only fought in small organizations and earned bad money can finally experience the real deal.”

The 32year-old boasts an impressive record of 18-3 but statistics alone do not tell the whole story behind his career. A 2009 training trip to San Diego ended in disaster when he suffered serious damage to his anterior cruciate ligament during a training session. A lesser man might have walked away from the sport altogether but this setback lit a fire inside Blachowicz.

“After the injury I was extremely angry, because it eliminated me for some time but it has never crossed my mind to finish the career. There were also positive sides from this injury because I could focus on other parts of my physique such as deep muscles and increasing my physicality what I could later use in my regular training sessions.”

The rehabilitation was a success and Blachowicz bounced back to win four fights out of four in 2010 claiming the KSW light heavyweight tournament in the process. He had originally travelled to the US to train with Poland’s first ever UFC fighter Tomasz Drwa. After the calamitous conclusion to that trip these days he prefers to stay closer to home.

“I train in Ankos Zapasy Poznan, one of the best clubs in Europe. There are many great fighters from every weight division and they help me to be better and better every day. Our head coach is Andrzej Kościelski and I train with fighters such as Borys Mańkowski, Mateusz Gamrot, Artur Głuchowski, Karol Bedorf, Jędrzej Maćkowiak, Michał Andryszak, Daniel Omielańczuk, Mateusz Gucman and Arek Kordus.”

Any man currently in his 30s can reel off a list of action movie stars that they watched when they were growing up and Blachowicz is no exception. Recent generations of aspiring martial artists have actual UFC fighters to look up to but back then it was all about the actors. Blachowicz first started to train because he was inspired by scenes from classics of the genre like Bloodsport and Enter the Dragon.

“I started training Judo when I was 10 because everybody from my neighborhood was watching films with Bruce Lee and Van Damme and everybody was training something so I wanted to do that too.”

Blachowicz did not stick to a single discipline but began training in both grappling and striking. It was only a matter of time until he discovered MMA.

“I was training different sports like boxing, Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu and I was taking part in amateur competitions in these disciplines. I took part in an MMA competition once and it was great, I liked it right away and I wanted to train that because MMA is the king of martial arts, it is the most complete and it is the closest to the real fight formula.”

Blachowicz has discovered a formula of his own for winning MMA fights and so far it has proved extremely effective. The majority of his fights finish inside the distance and you would get long odds on his matchup with Manuwa going the full 15 minutes. The English fighter has never even made it as far as the third round, he has 14 stoppage wins. It’s an incredible record but Blachowicz believes that numbers will not dictate the outcome of their fight in Poland.

“Based on statistics he is the best fighter that I have ever faced but we will see how it will be in Octagon on 11th of April in Kraków Arena.”

There is always a special buzz when the UFC puts on its first event in a new territory and April 11th will be a pivotal moment for Polish MMA. Blachowicz knows he will have the audience in the arena firmly behind him and it’s likely to be an intimidating atmosphere for any opponents going up against local fighters. It’s the sort of environment in which anything is possible and for anyone who doesn’t already know what Polish fighters are all about Blachowicz breaks it down in layman’s terms.

“We Polish fighters are tough and have a huge heart to fight. Simply speaking, we are bad motherfuckers.”

 

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