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UFC on ESPN 2 card: Karolina Kowalkiewicz vs Michelle Waterson full fight preview

MMA: UFC 229-Waterson vs Herrig Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight talents Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Michelle Waterson will battle this Saturday (March 30, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 2 from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

After her failed title bid to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Kowalkiewicz’s stock did not fall much, as it was a competitive fight and she was unbeaten otherwise. In less than three years since that defeat, however, Kowalkiewicz has fallen on hard times: her two wins in that period were somewhat lackluster, whereas her pair of losses were brutally fast. Meanwhile, Waterson has performed very admirable despite facing a significant size and strength disadvantage in just about every one of her fights. That size disparity has kept her from the title mix thus far, but “The Karate Hottie’s” craftiness has still seen her carve out a position in the Top 10.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Record: 12-3
Key Wins: Rose Namajunas (UFC 201), Felice Herrig (UFC 223), Randa Markos (UFC on FOX 17), Heather Jo Clark (UFC Fight Night 87)
Key Losses: Jessica Andrade (UFC 228), Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 205), Claudia Gadelha (UFC 212)
Keys to Victory: Kowalkiewicz has some professional Muay Thai fights on her record, but she’s one of those tall-and-strong fighters who never quite mastered distance kickboxing. Instead, Kowalkiewicz thrives in the clinch, where she can muscle around opponents and slam knees and elbows into opponents struggling to escape.

Sounds like an amazing plan against a smaller fighter.

As a fan of smart fighting, it genuinely pains me to watch a majority of Michelle Waterson’s opponents fail to even try taking advantage of their size. Credit to Waterson for finding ways to win, but her fights would be much more difficult if past opponents were more willing to push the issue.

Kowalkiewicz should not have this issue. The Polish athlete is aggressive, high-volume and loves the clinch. So long as she remains true to her style and forces the fight, her size and brutal knees from close distance should quickly wear down Waterson.

Michelle Waterson

Record: 16-6
Key Wins: Cortney Casey (UFC on FOX 29), Felica Herrig (UFC 229) Paige VanZant (UFC on FOX 22), Jessica Penne (Invicta FC 5)
Key Losses: Rose Namajunas (UFC on FOX 24), Tecia Torres (UFC 218), Herica Tiburcio (Invicta FC 10)
Keys to Victory: At this point, Waterson’s strategy is clear enough. She only wants to fight from two ranges: the clinch and kicking distance. In the clinch, her hip tosses and takedowns are surprisingly powerful and technical, and her Karate background and quickness helps quite a bit at distance.

In this bout, the clinch is not such a safe place for Waterson, as it’s also Kowalkiewicz’ strongest area. That does not mean it must be avoided completely, only utilized briefly. Waterson should attempt her favorite takedowns — getting on top once or twice will likely be key in swaying the decision to her corner — but if the attempt fails, get out of there!

At distance, Waterson does have an advantage. Kowalkiewicz is the heavier puncher, but she tends to be a bit clunky with her movement. If Waterson is moving fast and throwing lateral kicks, Kowalkiewicz will have a hard time tracking her down.

Evasive movement, side kicks some quick combinations, and a takedown or two sounds like a winning recipe for the former Atomweight queen.

Bottom Line: It’s a fun match up between two women looking to advance up the ladder.

The aforementioned losses to Gadelha and Andrade dropped Kowalkiewicz from the Top 5, and the latter was one of the most brutal knockouts (watch it) in the history of women’s mixed martial arts (MMA). It’s safe to say Kowalkiewicz is in need of some wins to distance herself from those defeats and rebuild momentum toward the top of the division. The pressure is definitely on though, as a defeat to Waterson would likely eliminate Kowalkiewicz from the Top 10 entirely and be quite the fall from grace.

There’s a lot of push behind Waterson from UFC. She’s been given a main event slot previously, shared a main card with Conor McGregor, worked the front desk on FOX, and just yesterday, a short documentary on her career as a mother and fighter aired on ESPN (watch it). Simply put, UFC would really love to see her win this bout and advance into the title picture.

Significant investment from UFC or not, this remains a tough task for “Karate Hottie.”

At UFC on ESPN 2, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Michelle Waterson will square off. Which woman will have her hand raised?

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