Saturday’s UFC event live from the Houston Toyota Center will kick off at 6 pm ET. In the feature bout on these early prelims, we will get to see two former title challengers in Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Jessica Penne clash to see who can resurge their career.
Jessica Penne, a former Invicta champion, first fought for the women’s strawweight strap in 2015. In a division less than a year old, few women stood out at the time. However having held a belt in the most prestigious organization in WMMA just a couple of years prior, Penne was one of the first in line to challenge for the UFC championship. Since falling short, Penne saw the lowest point of her career, losing two after champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and finding herself suspended by USADA. However, it would seem her luck would turn, after further investigation, her suspension was reduced and Penne was able to return to competition in early 2021, where she defeated Lupita Godinez by decision.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz was at one point the most promising woman among the UFC ranks. After attaining a perfect record of 9-0 she would demonstrate her potential to the world by defeating future champion and top contender Rose Namajunas. However, just as it seemed the Polish phenom was taking over the division, just like Penne, was unable to capture gold. This loss would lead Kowalkiewicz to only two wins in her next seven fights.
However, with over a year away from the sport, Kowalkiewicz returns with renewed motivation. Going into 2021 she has also made the decision to train with her former foe Jedrzejczyk to evolve her game and make the necessary adjustments. Penne looks to make it two in a row inside the octagon and make up for the lost time between 2017-2021, by securing the biggest win of her career.
Kowalkiewicz vs. Penne betting odds
Kowalkiewicz vs. Penne breakdown
In recent years some glaring habits have become painfully clear in Karolina Kowalkiewicz’s fighting style. She often neglects to move her head off the centerline in exchanges and attacks in a straight line as well. The issue stems from a longer reaction time in comparison to other women in her division and makes it very difficult for her to dodge and counter. Therefore it is imperative that her exchanges with Penne happen on her terms.
When Kowalkiewicz initiates the striking sequences, her offense is extremely solid, and given space and timing, also devastating. However, she doesn’t have the quickness to wait and move on to the end of Penne’s long punches.
The main reason that this weakness became more a prominent issue in latter years, is prior to Kowalkiewicz’s losing spell, she was much more mobile. When facing Namajunas years ago, Kowalkiewicz bounced around the octagon, which does two very important things. It hides her entries and strikes, and it allows her to react more quickly to shots. She may not have the head movement to defend punches very well, but by staying light and moving, her distance control made up for it.
In order to recapture her effectiveness, Kowalkiewicz needs to reintroduce a more consistent level of movement and become lighter on her feet. When she becomes flat her game changes drastically.
Penne’s best weapon on the feet is her long and stiff jab, she holds a reach advantage over most of the division and she knows how to use it. While she also has a well-developed teep kick, her kicking game as a whole is typically used to set up her hands which is where the real danger lies. However, against Kowalkiewicz, her best route to victory is in the grappling department.
Penne is especially good at dragging opponents to the mat from a clinch position against the fence. If the fight gets to this area, look for Penne to pull guard against the cage, or swivel to the back and lace Karolina’s legs in order to drag her down. If this happens, Penne has a very dangerous submission game and an awkward one to prepare for.
The problem with this style of grappling against Kowalkiewicz is that in order to get the takedown, Penne has to secure the clinch, which against Kowalkiewicz is like attacking a woodchipper.
As a Muay Thai specialist, Kowalkiewicz shines in the clinch where she has some of the best knees and elbows in the division, a factor which has made the difference in a number of her previous fights. Specifically, Kowalkiewicz is a master at cinching onto her opponent’s neck, breaking their posture and firing multiple knees to the body. As long as she has the awareness to avoid the fence, and control Penne’s posture, fighting in the clinch favors Kowalkiewicz.
Kowalkiewicz vs. Penne prediction
I believe this fight is Karolina’s to win or to lose. If she can maintain her movement, her game can come together and she has all the tools to win this fight, and while Penne poses a challenge to any female 115 pounder, her more single-dimensional striking style leaves room for Karolina to excel.
Penne has an advantage on the mat, but her route to getting there requires her to enter Kowalkiewicz’s world: the clinch. This is why I think it will be difficult for Penne to shift the tide in her favor, and ultimately Kowalkiewicz will secure her first win in three years.
Prediction: Karolina Kowalkiewicz wins via decision
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.