The Steps Claudia Gadelha Has to Take to Beat Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Saturday night on June 3rd, 2017 the Ultimate Fighting Championship caps off a trio of fights between elite Strawweights as, this time, the fight is between two of the last three title challengers, Claudia Gadhela and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

As important as this fight is for the division, it is especially important for Gadelha who has been the only fighter to be competitive with Jedrzejczyk before and during her title reign. But two losses to the champion have her on the outside looking in regarding her place as a contender. An impressive win might create a legitimate discussion for her getting a third shot at Jedrzejczyk or even a less than impressive win, which allows her to be one fight away from another rematch, would suffice. 

Today I’m taking a look at the four things Claudia has to do to get the win she needs to keep her championship aspirations alive.

Kowalkiewicz is a relative neophyte in the sport of mixed martial arts, one who is fairly pedestrian in regards to the range of her technical skills and her ability to apply them in a diverse and efficient manner within the context of a fight.

On top of that Karolina is not blessed with an abundance of natural physical talent in the areas of speed, explosiveness, coordination and/or fluidity. What Karolina is, is an aggressive, physical, durable and constantly improving young fighter who manages these limitations, physical and technical, by relying on a game based on constant movement, physicality and offensive output.

The main tools in her game are a fairly wide array of strikes used in combination to overwhelm an opponent and break them down by using a high amount of strikes aimed at different targets. This is all set up off her jab, which essentially sets the table for huge bursts of offense, by controlling an opponent’s movement, gauging distance, and acting as a line of defense. The supplementary tool that helps her get her offense off is her constant movement and circling, which allows her to get her opponents out of position making them vulnerable to her when she crashes the pocket with a variety of kicks and punches.

The effect of this approach is threefold. It tires opponents by forcing them to read and react to her movement. It creates opportunities to apply huge amounts of pressure when she feels comfortable and last but not least it allows her to work her way into the clinch, which allows her to use an array of techniques to chop up an opponent in close and suck the life out of them with her strength and physicality.

These are all the things she did in decisive wins versus Randa Markos, Heather Jo Clark and Rose Namajunas, things that weren’t able to be done in her losing challenge for the title.

Now that we have clearly established what she does well, and clearly established that she has been able to do it against a variety of opponents, we are going to discuss the four things Claudia Gadelha HAS to do to beat Karolina.

4) She has to be willing to initiate clinches, as good as Kowalkiewicz is in the clinch, half of her success has come due to the fact that most fighters let her dictate when and where a clinch will occur, essentially allowing her to be the aggressor, setting the tone, time, and terrain of when clinches will happen.

To limit the effectiveness of Karolina in the clinch, you have to be willing and able to initiate clinches and to challenge her in them (make her work) so that she doesn’t have any area that she feels is a safety zone or a place where she won’t be required to fight (initiating the clinch increases opportunities for takedowns and strikes).

Gadelha can’t concede any range or weapon in fighting Kowalkiewicz, nor can she be purely reactionary or defensive in regards to said weapons or ranges.

In the fight with Rose Namajunas, her opponent’s inability to engage in the clinch and unwillingness to initiate clinches on her terms allowed Kowalkiewicz to take over the fight by breaking Rose down under a fusillade of punches, knees and elbows. It also made Namajunas hesitant to use meaningful takedowns or takedown attempts, as her earlier attempts resulted in her getting chopped up in the clinch. In one fell swoop Karolina turned Rose from a multi range fighter to a single range fighter.

3) Punch (strike) with Kowalkiewicz. You can’t let her dictate the terms of the fight. When facing a volume fighter you don’t want to get into a battle of volume and pace, but you can’t allow said fighter to dictate when you engage with them and how you engage with them.

In the case of Karolina when she gets going fighters tend to back straight up or worse yet they tend to go on the defensive, waiting until she has finished a combination or is about to finish before they fire back. Which is problematic because she often exits on angles, meaning that she isn’t there for the return and you have probably opened yourself up to at best a stiff counter or at worst another series of strikes that drown you as a result of the sheer numbers.

Karolina may exit on angles but she comes in on straight lines and while her footwork and defense is competent at range and when she is on the move, the minute she becomes offensive her angles go and her defense falls apart.

Claudia must take full advantage of that by striking with Karolina and attacking multiple targets (head and body).

So if you are willing to punch with her you can disrupt the flow of her offense and land big shots as the easiest time to land clean is while someone is trying to land on you and you can possibly move her back and make her less effective as well as create opportunities to set up takedowns (trips, body locks and double leg take downs). Joanna did one of these effectively and consistently dissuading Karolina’s bullrushes and exposing the limitations of her footwork.

2) Jab, volume and pace fighters are all about momentum. Once they get going it’s hard to get them to stop especially if you’re giving up ground.

How do you stop them from generating that avalanche of offense? You stop them before they get going and that requires a jab. The jab has to be used regularly, has to be varied (power jab, flicker jab, feint jab, piercing jab) and has to have a variety of targets (head, chest and body).

The jab will act as a line of defense for Claudia as Karolina will have to get past it to get here game rolling. It also will break her rhythm, disrupt her forward pressure (offensive footwork) and make her hesitate (which means she isn’t attacking and is instead circling away or backing up).

Another benefit is the jab can create lanes for the takedown or clinch attempts and it sets the table for Claudia’s offense.

In her bout with Karolina, Heather Jo Clark was able to dissipate pressure, back Karolina up and land effectively off her jab, as well as get clean entries for takedown attempts. Once she abandoned it, she got pushed to the cage, trapped there and beaten up. In her bout with Randa Markos, Markos’ lack of a real jab essentially cost her fight as well.

1) Move your feet. You can’t make it easy for Kowalkiewicz to find you.

Volume fighters like to attack and put together long chains of offense but that can’t happen if you don’t stay on the center line, if you exit on angles, if you keep turning her and forcing her to reset. This will also create openings for Claudia’s own offense.

Attacking quickly on an angle, whether it be with strikes, the clinch or takedowns, greatly increases the chances of landing said attacks and by attacking and then stepping off Gadelha should be able to get off numerous clean hard shots without being present for the return. And the constant resetting takes away any real power Karolina may have. Both Namajunas and Joanna did this but when they got away from it they both paid a price, the champion was dropped and Rose was essentially buried under a tidal wave of punches, kicks, knees and elbows.

Saturday night we get a match up of elite fighters striving to remain relevant in the suddenly piping hot strawweight division.

Both fighters are a stone’s throw from a possible rematch with the current champion or first in line to compete with a newly crowned one.

I favor Claudia, she is the better athlete, better all-round fighter, has the higher level of experience and coaching in my opinion. But to pull out a win, much less put a stamp on one, she would be wise to follow these steps to victory and yet another shot at being a Ultimate Fighting Championship Champion.

Photos: Zuffa