UFC Gdansk Preview: The Octagon Returns to Poland

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UFC Gdansk Donald Cerrone - off UFC 213
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

The UFC returns to Poland without Joanna Champion, but there’s still plenty to watch for with Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Karolina Kowalkiewicz in action.

When it was announced that the UFC was returning to Poland, there was speculation that the card could be headlined by strawweight queen Joanna Jędrzejczyk. A card in Poland headlined by their popular champion would have been a guaranteed sell-out and would have been the perfect opportunity to gauge her level of popularity in terms of being a pay-per-view headliner in 2018.

Jędrzejczyk instead opted to compete at Madison Square Garden for the second year in a row, and Poland will instead see a welterweight collision between Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone and Darren Till. The bout itself looks to be a mismatch. Despite having competed in the Octagon only since 2010, Cerrone is one of it’s most experienced veterans with over 20 fights in the UFC. He comes off a competitive performance against former champion Robbie Lawler in July and was surging towards a title shot before encountering Jorge Masvidal earlier this year.

Till, by comparison, is only four fights into his own UFC career. His current run doesn’t leap out from the page: A knockout, two decisions, and a draw to his credit. Earlier this year, he also missed weight by a wide margin at 176 after a two-year layoff. However, it’s his history that should perk the attention of casual fans. He has finished 10 of his 16 fights, the majority by knockout or TKO.

For Cerrone, the bout is a critical one for his future.  At 34 years old, the prospect of another title run becomes less likely. Due to his level of activity, Cowboy has given the appearance that he’s perennially been at the top of his game for nearly all of his UFC career. The reality is that he’s been in his prime for several years and the inevitable plateau is likely approaching. It should be noted, the loss to Lawler marks the first time he’s dropped two straight fights in his entire career. Even if he were to put together an impressive campaign in 2018, he could still more than a year away from a title shot in the crowded welterweight division.

In the co-main event, Polish fan-favorite Karolina Kowalkiewicz will be facing UFC newcomer Jodie Esquibel. The Pole will need the support of her native crowd as she looks to snap a two-fight losing streak, dropping fights to Jędrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha. While the losses were to elite competition, the run is a far cry from when she earned a title shot by defeating upcoming title challenger Rose Namajunas.

Esquibel has competed under the Invicta banner since 2013 where she faced several current UFC fighters like Alex Chambers, Alexa Grasso, and Deanna Bennett (current TUF contestant). Notably, most of her fights have been in the atomweight division. Going into the fight in Poland, it will be seen if she is giving up a significant advantage in size when she faces Kowalkiewicz.

It is worth noting that Gdansk will be the final stop by the UFC in Europe in 2017.  While the events did not live up to the same level seen last year, there nonetheless were several impressive contests waged across the pond.  For the touchdown in Gdansk, “Cowboy” and “The Gorilla” have all the ingredients to add to the collection and even the ladies in the co-headliner have the potential to steal the show.

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