Two of the UFC’s top strawweights, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Michelle Waterson, faced each other tonight (Saturday, March 30, 2019) live on ESPN from inside Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 9th-ranked Waterson had won two straight, while 6th-ranked Karolina was coming off a momentum-breaking loss to Claudia Gadelha.
They opened by trading leg kicks, Waterson doing a lot of lateral movement. Waterson threw up a side kick to the face. Karolina fended off a takedown attempt and began to do the circling, looking for an opening. Waterson landed a right hand as Karolina stepped in; Karolina threw a combination that ended with a low kick that landed. Karolina broke out her own sidekick to ward off a Waterson rush. Waterson was trying to sit down behind a jab and her long straight kicks; when Karoline stepped in again she landed a quick uppercut. Waterson landed a glancing lead head kick, Kowalkiewicz tried to return but missed. They exchanged in the pocket. Karolina pushed Michelle to the cage and tried to get her clinch game going, but Michelle turned her and broke away. Waterson missed a spin kick and landed a right hand. They traded knees in a frenetic clinch exchange, and Waterson landed a nice elbow before the first round ended.
Waterson opened the second round with a jab and a combination into a body kick. Karolina began to walk her down, looking for kicks that Michelle checked or blocked. Waterson was throwing the side kick to the knee. Karolina landed a big one-two, and Waterson landed a solid right hand a few moments later. They exchanged low kicks. Karolina kept trying to chese Waterson down. She clinched, and Waterson landed a throw straight into side control! Karolina used her flexibility to try a reverse triangle, but Waterson defended and stayed in side control. Waterson tried to isolate an arm, dropping occasional short forearms to the body and head. Karolina threw knees to the body from the bottom. Waterson finally dropped back for a deep armbar, but Kowalkiewicz survived somehow, spinning to a safe angle. Waterson maintained a hold on the arm until the round ended, but the danger was over.
Karolina’s corner told her she was down two rounds, and she came out looking for exchanges in the pocket. Waterson tried a shot and came up with an uppercut, but ate a check hook as she did so. Karolina avoided another headlock throw from Michelle, eating a knee and elbow on the break, but sneaking a punch in. Karolina threw a jumping switch kick. Waterson ate a hook and Karolina pushed her to the cage. Waterson landed knees with her back to the cage, then a knee upstairs, and Waterson turned her against the cage, landing a couple elbows before breaking away. Waterson landed a right hand and circled, shot in, took Karolina down with a single-leg. Kowalkiewicz threw an upkick when Waterson postured up, and got to her feet. Waterson threw a jumping side kick to the knee. She pushed Karolina to the cage and landed a big elbow. Karolina stepped forward with a rushing combination but Waterson glided away from it. Waterson just missed a wheel kick, then another. She threw a high front kick, karate style, then a jab behind to close out the fight.
Waterson was emotional after the fight. She thanked Karolina, saying she feels like a sister. She said she feels like she’s on the next level in terms of her skill growth now. She said Karolina’s grappling is underrated, and “exactly what I needed to ask for the gold next.” Then her adorable daughter jumped into her arms, and it was hard not feel good about the family-friendly moment. Waterson did a goofy dance to exit the cage. She may or may not get a title shot next, but she has certainly made her case with the best win of her career.
Official result: Michelle Waterson def. Karolina Kowalkiewicz via unanimous decision (30-27x3)
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