Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz Would Be the Perfect New York Fight
In the mad scramble to fill the UFC 205 card with fights worthy of the return of MMA to New York and the long-awaited arrival of the sport at Madison Square Garden, matchmakers (already a harried and scrutinized lot) are at the mercy of cruel circumstance and history. It’s not enough for the Nov. 12 event to feature good fights. It has to feature huge, important, New York-sized fights that can provide the evening with the kind of cultural weight and historical significance it’s begging for. After nearly 20 years in the MMA wilderness New York’s return to the fold has to make noise. It has to resonate on a deeper frequency. It has to mean something.
The problem, of course, is that the kind of fighters whose fights resonate outside the confines of the cage are few and far between. And with Ronda Rousey still in solitary confinement and Conor McGregor’s health questionable and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones’ future very much in doubt—in other words, with the three biggest and most lucrative names in the sport off the table—UFC matchmakers must instead fill their card with fighters who matter because of their spiritual connection to New York. Long Island native and New York MMA legalization advocate Chris Weidman (whose fight with Yoel Romero at MSG is in the works) has that kind of connection. As do New Jersey native Frankie Edgar (let him stand in for Frank Sinatra: the usurper from across the Hudson who makes New York his own), Niagara Falls native and UFC fixture Rashad Evans, and adopted son Rafael “Sapo” Natal, a Brazilian who has long fought out of the Renzo Gracie Academy in Midtown Manhattan and who represents the dream of every foreigner who’s made New York City his or her second home these last few hundred years.
Today’s reports (still unconfirmed) that women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will be defending her belt against fellow Pole Karolina Kowalkiewicz at Madison Square Garden fit right into this deeper vision for UFC 205, if they prove true. Not only would it be a championship fight between two great strikers who have a history (the two met as amateurs back in 2012, a fight Jedrzejczyk won by submission) but it would also be the first all-European championship fight in UFC history. That such a significant fight wouldn’t take place at UFC 204 in Manchester, England, the biggest European card left on the 2016 calendar, or at some yet-to-be-determined future event in Poland (as UFC President Dana White was hoping) is huge in just the way New York City news should be huge. It speaks to the whole New World spirit of the city and re-establishes yet again that this is where Old World conflicts should come to either be resolved or dropped from our shoulders. It’s in New York and in America where the weight of history has always been and continues to be shaken off by immigrants from every corner of the world, so why shouldn’t the battle for Polish MMA supremacy unfold in Manhattan, far from the ghosts of Slavic past?
It helps that both fighters want it that way. After Jedrzejczyk defeated Claudia Gadelha back in July sources in her camp said the champion was “not interested” in fighting in Manchester and wanted her next fight to be at the New York premiere. As for Kowalkiewicz, she told reporters that she doesn’t think her fight with Jedrzejczyk should take place in Poland but only at Madison Square Garden, where, 80 years ago, Jim Braddock shocked the world by upsetting Max Baer to become the heavyweight boxing champion of the world. Kowalkiewicz, a huge fan of Cinderella Man, the Russell Crowe movie based on the life of Braddock, sees herself as the same kind of underdog and believes her fight with Jedrzejczyk will unfold in the same way, ready for Hollywood.
What could be more New York than that? Two great Polish fighters, one a dominant champion, the other an underdog with cinematic visions of a great upset victory at Madison Square Garden, choosing to forgo the provincial comforts and expectations of a home-country fight in the hopes of settling ancient scores in America—in the New World, free from the weight and expectations of the old. UFC matchmakers would do well to hear them and build UFC 205 in their image: When circumstance and fate have made it impossible to turn the UFC’s arrival at Madison Square Garden into a celebration of New York’s reputation for size and scope and fame and money-making, you can turn instead to New York’s other reputation as the world’s second home, as the land of liberation, freeing the world from the nightmare of history—and build your card from there.
Bring out the past, so we can bury it at last! That’s the New York way.
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