Four years ago, women weren’t even fighting in the UFC. But in Poland, two young ladies - Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Karolina Kowalkiewicz – had dreams of the big time in mixed martial arts as they got ready to fight in an amateur bout in 2012.
Fast forward, and the pair are two days away from the first all-Polish championship bout in UFC history at Madison Square Garden, and Thursday, champion and challenger were honored at the Polish Consulate in Midtown.
“We are proud that they are here, we are proud that the Polish contenders are the best - and they are,” Katarzyna Padlo, the Consul of Poland in New York, said. “And as a woman, I'm happy that the ladies will show that they are tough contenders. We're also celebrating our independence day next week, so it's also a great symbol and it shows how strong Polish people are.”
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It’s been quite a journey for Jedrzejczyk and Kowalkiewicz, but one they’ve both embraced together, even though they will be combatants on Saturday night.
“I know that we have so many really good athletes in Poland, but I didn't expect that being a martial artist and being a fighter would bring me to the top, and this is amazing,” said Jedrzejczyk, who defeated Kowalkiewicz in that 2012 amateur contest.
Since then, the two are unbeaten as pros, with Olsztyn’s Jedrzejczyk the strawweight world champion and Lodz’ Kowalkiewicz the No. 2-ranked contender at 115 pounds. To have predicted this would have been unthinkable at one point, but not to Kowalkiewicz.
“Yeah, why not?” she said when asked if she ever pictured a day like this taking place, and the smile never left her face throughout her time at the consulate. It’s a rare thing to see from a challenger just days away from the biggest fight of her life, but Kowalkiewicz has been the picture of calm leading up to UFC 205.
“I'm never nervous,” she said. “I love my job, I love MMA, and for me, this is everything. I am happy because I can do this. So I'm not nervous.”
Not surprisingly, Jedrzejczyk has also been calm and collected in the face of the approaching battle, and while both fighters are both far from home, the buzz around the consulate was that this is quite important back in Poland.
“In Poland, I think this is the biggest fight ever,” Kowalkiewicz said. “Two girls from Poland are fighting for the UFC belt in New York, in Madison Square Garden. This is something big.”
And not just in the fight world.
“It's important to promote sport, to promote being active and to promote women to reach the skies,” said Padlo. “It's symbolic and it's great that they are here.”