The Explosion Of Polish MMA

Photo: Yahoo

When folks in the MMA bubble think about strongholds for the sport, a few places always come to mind. The United States, of course, leads the way. Canada and Brazil follow close behind while the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and Sweden might also be in the discussion. And although all of those countries have huge fanbases, there’s arguably one leading the way in terms of recent organic growth; and that’s Poland.

Seemingly out of nowhere, the scene has absolutely exploded in the Eastern European stronghold lead by local promotion KSW who have been putting on huge shows and showcasing the sport to a massive audience throughout the country while building stars like Mateusz Gamrot and Mamed Khadilov who can even turn down the UFC because of the success domestically. The promotion has grown so much that it has even put on arena shows outside of Poland while at the same time selling 16,000+ tickets in their home country.

On October 22nd, KSW visit Ireland for the first time with a card that looks extremely strong indeed. Norman Parke and Mateusz Gamrot rematch after a hotly disputed first encounter, Dubliners Paul Redmond and Chris Fields make their respective KSW debuts while hot prospect Michał Materla joins the likes of veterans Mariusz Pudzianowski and James McSweeney on the main card.

Photo: KSW

That growth has been pretty widespread on the worldwide scene outside of KSW too. As we know, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has been setting the world alight with her performances but the likes of Marcin Tybura, Krzysztof Jotko and Karolina Kowalkiewicz have shown that Poland isn’t a one hit wonder of terms of top quality fighters.

That huge increase in UFC calibre fighters, coupled with KSW’s massive success, has almost forced the UFC into breaking their mould as they bring a really interesting card to Gdansk this Saturday night. Usually, European cards have a local star topping the event with fighters from neighbouring countries filling the undercard. And although UFC Gdansk has plenty of local talent, it also has the rarely seen top-ranked star from abroad.

The man filling that spot in Gdansk is Donald Cerrone who will be fighting in Europe for the first time ever as he takes on Darren Till in what is an extremely important fight in a wide open welterweight division. Currently ranked at number six in the official UFC 170 lbs rankings, Cerrone is in desperate need of a win following two losses in a row against Robbie Lawler and Jorge Masvidal. Even though those two losses came on the back four consecutive wins at welterweight after moving up a division, it stung a little bit more than normal for Cerrone who had failed in two title fights at his original weight class. The move up was to breath new life into his career and although it did that initially, a loss here against Till could put him right back down into that no-mans-land outside of any title consideration.

Then, add the fact that Darren Till is currently unranked and you have a real seesaw match-up here. The veteran will either keep his spot, or he’ll be overtaken by the new kid on the block.

On this occasion, it really could go either way. Unlike many up-and-coming new prospects these days, Darren Till has really worked his way up to where he is today, despite jumping up so far in terms of opponent level. The Liverpudlian, now based in Brazil, [CORRECTION: Till is now back in Liverpool having been based in Brazil in recent times] entered the UFC with an unbroken 12-0 record, fighting mostly on the Brazilian scene. His debut inside the Octagon came against former Cage Warriors welterweight champion Nicolas Dalby and although he fought to a draw, Till made many fans with his exciting display. That was exacerbated by two decision wins against Jessin Ayari and Bojan Veličković which showed Till, now 15 fights deep in his career, is due a step up in opponent. Although most people wouldn’t have expected it to come against someone this highly ranked, this early, in this venue; it’s not uncommon for the UFC to propel a well schooled prospect like this towards the top. That’s good for Till, and great for the Polish fans.

Also great for the Polish fans is the addition of local hero Karolina Kowalkiewicz who takes on 6-2 Jodie Esquibel. Like Cerrone, Kowalkiewicz is on a two fight skid and will be looking to get back to winning ways in front of her home fans. Because of those two losses coming against the, at the time at least, consensus numbers one and two at strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha, this fight could be a real turning point for her. Win, and she’s back in the hunt. Lose, and she’s down the pecking order and may be forced to move up to the newly established women’s flyweight division.

Big fights are on deck for Artem Lobov and Andre Fili too as they face each other after recent defeats while Poland’s Jan Błachowicz, Damian Stasiak and former Bellator lightweight title challenger Marcin Held provide more local drawing power for what should be a more than content Polish MMA public. And that’s not just content on the night, that’s content because of the utter success the sport has had and continues to have inside and outside of the country.

Lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Co-host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Tuesday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook