As counterintuitive as this may sound, sometimes the best thing that can happen to an ascending fighter is for them to suffer a loss.
Even though mixed martial arts doesn’t have the same infatuation with undefeated records as you see in boxing, and many of the sport’s luminaries have dealt with a setback or two, there is still pressure that comes with rising through the ranks sporting a zero in the loss column. The further along you go without any blemishes, the greater the pressure becomes, and shouldering that burden can quickly become a lot.
“It eased off a lot of pressure, losing that 0,” Mariusz Ksiazkiewicz said when we spoke ahead of his middleweight matchup with Eli Aronov this week at Unified 45. The Winnipeg-based fighter suffered the lone loss of his career on Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) not quite two years ago, dropping a unanimous decision Brazilian Mario Sousa, and has since rebounded with consecutive first-round stoppage wins, including a quick finish over Graham Park at Unified 42 to claim the super middleweight title. “You lose and you realize it’s not the end of the world; you still have your health, you can still compete.
“It took a lot of stress off because when you’re undefeated and you keep winning, the expectation from other people is that you’re going to keep that unblemished record, and the stress keeps adding up. Losing took all that stress away.
“I’ve experienced it, I’ve learned from it, and I’ve been on a tear since.”
Ksiazkiewicz wasn’t able to hustle right back into action following his loss to Sousa, in part because it came in the midst of the first year of the global COVID-19 pandemic, but also because he suffered a broken hand and was forced to undergo surgery to get things put back where they belong.
After the surgery, the 32-year-old dealt with serious nerve damage. Doctors warned him that it may linger for up to 18 months, but thankfully for the middleweight standout, he was able to get back in the swing of things last summer.
Order UFC 275: Teixeira vs. Prochazka
“It was so bad,” he said of the lingering issues with his left hand. “I’d hit the bag and my hand would go dead. I couldn’t move my fingers — they felt like they were on fire — and I lost all function of my hand.
“It wasn’t until July that the nerve damage started to fade away,” continued Ksiazkiewicz, who was 8-0 heading into his DWCS appearance and carries an 10-1 record into his clash with Aronov on Friday. “The whole time, we were working on strength and conditioning, cardio — we were able to do everything, but we had to be more careful because of the hand.
“We still developed the skills, we made strides in areas that we thought we needed to work on, and we worked around the injury. I didn’t take much time off, and once we started accepting fights, a couple cancelled, a couple fell through, and then once the opportunity with Graham Park came up, we were all for it.”
Park rolled into the bout on a five-fight winning streak, with each of those contests ending inside the opening round, but it was Ksiazkiewicz who dominated.
From the outset, he marched down Park, backing him into the fence. Less than 90 seconds into the contest, Ksiazkiewicz ripped off a clean left hand down the pipe that landed flush and sent Park crumbling to the canvas and put “The Iron Pol” back in the win column. Last month, the Winnipeg resident made it two straight with a second consecutive first-round stoppage win in a main event assignment, this one coming against Alessandro Gambulino at LFA 130 in New Town, North Dakota.
In the span of four months, Ksiazkewicz went from looking to rebound from his first career setback to sitting on back-to-back dominant finishes, sending him into Friday’s contest riding a wave of momentum.
Watch Friday Only On UFC FIGHT PASS
“The momentum definitely helps,” he said. “I don’t care what anyone says — some people say ring rust isn’t a thing, but it does affect you to some point. Training in the gym isn’t the same as competing; they’re two completely different things.
“I’m super-happy that I’m able to compete super-often — that’s always what I wanted, but have never really had a chance to do — and we’re putting everything together now. I feel like the more often you fight, the more you grow as a fighter, so I love competing a month apart; this is awesome.”
In regards to his matchup with Aronov on Friday, the talented middleweight believes his undefeated Israeli opponent will show up well-prepared and ready to compete, but acknowledged that this could be another instance where Frankie Edgar’s post-fight declaration at UFC 211 — “there are levels to this” — rings true once more.
“Not taking anything away from Eli — I’m sure he’s motivated and it’s a big opportunity for him,” he said of the unbeaten 25-year-old, who has put together a 5-0 record to start his career, competing exclusively in Israel and fighting in the 205-pound weight class. “I’m sure he’s got his bag of tricks that he’s going to bring to this fight, but the fact is I’ve been a black belt longer than he’s been training jiu jitsu.
“I train with Joe Doerksen and Joe Doerksen has 70 pro MMA fights, so I’ve seen everything,” he added with a laugh, shouting out the retired Manitoba MMA legend who ended his career with a 51-16 record and riding a four-fight winning streak. “His best opponent was 2-2 and that was a bad 2-2, so I think it’s a big step up in competition for him.
“Props to him for taking the fight, but he’s being fed to the wolves.”
With a chance to earn a third straight impressive victory on UFC FIGHT PASS on Friday night, it wouldn’t be unrealistic for Ksiazkiewicz to be looking at his fight with Aronov as an opportunity to literally punch his ticket to the UFC, but that isn’t the case.
While he would certainly welcome the chance to compete in the famed Octagon in the second half of the year (or any time, for that matter), the surging middleweight finisher is more focused on making another statement and allowing everything else to take its natural course.
“When I fought Graham Park, I won via one-punch knockout, and I told myself, ‘That’s it! That’s what the UFC wants to see — a one-punch knockout,’” said Ksiazkewicz. “UFC FIGHT PASS posted it on their Twitter, and I was like, ‘Yep, I’m gonna get that call.’ Didn’t get it and I was like, ‘Okay, let’s take another one’ and it was the same thing.
“I feel like when you start expecting these kinds of things, it doesn’t really happen. The best things happen when you least expect it, so I’m not looking past Eli. I’m going to put on my best performance, I expect the same from him, and we’ll go from there.
“I see myself finishing Eli via knockout in the first round, to be honest,” he added. “It’ll be super-nice having three first-round knockouts in a row; the last two were against extremely high-level opponents, so having another one against Eli will be the icing on the cake.”