The UFC returns this weekend with a Saturday afternoon crowd that marks the first UFC card in Poland since the Cro Crop—Gonzaga rematch in March of 2015. This time, the cage will be setup in the port city of Gdansk, on the Baltic sea, for only the second UFC event ever in a country that broke the record for the largest crowd ever to see an MMA event. The KSW 39 event this May drew over 58,000, breaking the record set at UFC 193 in Australia in November 2015, where 56, 913 fans witnessed Holly Holm upset Ronda Rousey. The UFC will only try to draw a fraction of that to Gdansk this Saturday for this Saturday’s UFC Fight Pass card. The four-fight main card starts at 3pm Eastern, while the eight fight prelims begin at 11:45 am.
Oskar Piechota (9-0-1) vs. Jonathan Wilson (7-2, 1-2 UFC)
The Polish middleweight Piechota will be making his UFC debut in his home country to kick off the main card this Saturday, hoping to build on the momentum of the biggest win of his career. After going 8-0-1 fighting on smaller shows in Poland, Piechota emerged on the world stage at Cage Warriors 82 in the United Kingdom, destroying London’s Jason Radcliffe in just 32 seconds to win the vacant Cage Warriors Middleweight title.
Piechota is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who also has five wins by knockout and has stopped every single one of his wins inside the distance. Welcoming him to the UFC will be Wilson, who coming off two straight losses will be dropping down to middleweight for the first time in his career. Best known as the training partner of Lorenz Larkin, Wilson had a smashing UFC debut, stopping Chris Dempsey in just fifty seconds in August 2015, but has lost has last two fights to Henrique da Silva and Ion Cutebala, both fights where he seemed outsized. Middleweight looks to be the right weight class for him for sure.
This is a fight that seems to be up in the air, do to the unknown nature of both fighters. Both men have a lot of early finishes on their record and no one can be sure how Wilson will perform as a middleweight. Piechota will be probably looking for a spectacular finish in his home country and if Wilson can endure the early storm and get to the final round, things could be very interesting.
Light Heavyweight Bout
Devin Clark (8-1, 2-1 UFC) vs. Jan Blachowicz (19-7, 2-4 UFC)
On paper, this looks like a fight between fighters going in different directions. The former RFA light heavyweight Champion Clark has won two in a row since losing his UFC debut in July 2016, while Blachowicz has lost last two straight fights and four out of his last five. But Blachowicz, who knocked out Ilir Latifi in the first round of his UFC debut in July 2014, has fought the much better competition, having gone the distance with the likes of Jimi Manuwa, Corey Anderson, and Alexander Gustafsson.
Blachowicz, who was a standout for many years in Poland’s KSW, is a big light heavyweight with a deep Muay Thai background, so he probably has the advantage standing, but most of his problems in the UFC have come against wrestlers, which is music to the ears of the former national junior college champion Clark. Blachowicz has also had cardio issues. All of this adds to look like an excellent opportunity for Clark to get a win over a much more experienced opponent, and start to move up the ladder of a wide open light heavyweight decision.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (10-2, 3-2 UFC) vs Jodie Esquibel (6-2)
The co main event sees one of the most popular female fighters in the UFC return to fight in her home country for the first time in two and a half years. A former KSW flyweight champion, Karolina rode a ten-fight winning streak into all Polish female battle with UFC Strawweight Champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 205 last November. And even though she BADLY rocked the champion with a right hand late in the fourth round, she was unable to finish and Joanna Champion had done enough early to score a clear unanimous decision. It was then right from the firing pan into the fire for Karolina, who next went to Rio De Janerio to fight then number one strawweight contender Claudia Gadelha in her hometown. She got stuck on the ground with probably the top jiu-jitsu fighter in her division and was submitted in the first round. Now then third ranked strawweight contender gets a chance to right the ship against Esquibel, who finally will make her official UFC debut.
A former pro boxer and a longtime Invicta FC veteran, Esquibel trains out of the Jackson Wink Camp in New Mexico and is the longtime romantic partner of former UFC light heavyweight Champion Keith Jardine. She tried out for Season 23 of the Ultimate Fighter, but lost a narrow decision to current UFC strawweight Ashley Yoder for her chance to get in the house. She then fought then undefeated Alexa Grasso and was dominated for three rounds last September, but rebounded nicely with a hard-fought decision win over current TUF contestant Deanna Bennett in March. She was scheduled to fight for the Invicta Strawweight Title in August, but was forced to pull out with an injury. But now she finally gets her long-awaited shot in the UFC and will need to overcome one of the most versatile fighters in the division. Given the trouble Karolina had on the ground against Gadelha, Esquibel will probably look to take the fight to the mat, but Karolina has shown good takedown defense and a very strong clinch, what happened with Gadelha notwithstanding. It will be a difficult challenge for Esquibel in her UFC debut for sure.
Welterweight Main Event
Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (32-9, 19-6 UFC) vs. Darren Till (15-0-1, 3-0-1 UFC)
The enigma that is Donald Cowboy Cerrone comes to Poland for his fourth ever UFC main event, facing British kickboxing specialist Till, who will be fighting in what is far and away the most high-profile spot of his entire career. Even though Cowboy is coming off two straight losses, he still had the best year of his career in 2016 and fought well in his razor-thin decision loss to Robbie Lawler in July. Logic tells you that he has more tools and far more experience than Till, a man who is largely unknown to fight fans here in America. But Till is undefeated, younger, faster, and hungry, coming off a big win of Bojan Velickovic just five weeks ago in the Netherlands.
What this fight really comes down to the mental game. How will Till perform in his first UFC main event and his first time going the five-round distance? Is he ready for a fighter the caliber of Cowboy? Is this fight do or die for Cerrone? A loss here may mean the end for him as a top-flight championship contender, and Cerrone has generally folded when all eyes are on him. Or is this fight on a Saturday afternoon out in Poland on Fight Pass just what the doctor ordered for Cowboy? I guess we’ll see Saturday in Gdansk.
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