Image Credit: KSW
This weekend the premier Polish promotion Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki (KSW) returns to its bread and butter – promoting fights. What was supposed to be KSW 53: Fight Code in Łódź in March has morphed into KSW 53: Reborn behind closed doors in a TV studio in Warsaw, adhering to the current epidemic regulations in Poland. The fight card has received near-universal praise in Poland and it is filled with relevant and intriguing match-ups.
Mateusz Gamrot vs. Norman Parke
The main event is the latest part in what has become the most heated rivalry in Polish MMA. While these two have fought each other twice, their paths have been more intertwined than only during the bouts.
The first fight came in May 2017 at KSW 39. Parke became the first fighter to unanimously take a round against Gamrot in his career and managed to frustrate the Polish fighter with outstanding takedown defence but Gamrot’s rudimentary boxing was enough to have him win a unanimous 29-28 decision. A score that Parke felt hard done by.
The first fight was a tough day in the office for ring referee, Tomasz Bronder, and featured many fouls. The most controversial moment came in round two when Parke audibly complained to Bronder he was bitten and when the referee separated the grounded fighter, he shoved Gamrot away. Gamrot would later comment that it was Parke who fouled first by fish-hooking but the fight continued with neither fighter losing a point.
A rematch was swiftly put together for KSW 40 in Dublin but Parke missed weight so he wasn’t able to claim the title, no matter the result. Gamrot came out different, showing much improved striking, implementing kicks, stringing together longer combinations and never committing to a takedown. It was a close kickboxing affair with Gamrot ahead on the scorecards after one round. With 23 seconds left in a close round 2, Gamrot pawed at a swinging Parke and his fingers went into the Irishman’s eye. The doctor didn’t allow Parke to continue and since referee, Marc Goddard, deemed the eye poke unintentional, the fight was ruled a no contest.
That wasn’t the end of the action though. When Parke came over to thank Gamrot’s corner, he got into a discussion with Borys Mańkowski who implied that the Irishman could’ve continued the fight. Parke lost his cool and shoved the Pole. Before they could all be separated by security, Marcin Bilman, another Gamrot cornerman, struck at Parke.
Parke has fought five times since the rematch and won all five including a close decision over Gamrot’s best friend, Mańkowski, at KSW 47 in March 2019. In September of that year, he became KSW interim lightweight champion, overcoming Marcin Wrzosek.
Gamrot is the fighter who holds the non-interim version of that title, as well as the KSW featherweight championship. His return to defend it is however, a bit of a surprise. After winning the latter strap in December 2018 effortlessly against Kleber Erbst, he declared his contract fulfilled and pronounced himself a free agent. His promoters had a completely opposite interpretation and neither side wanted to yield for all of 2019.
In 2020, MMA Cartel’s Paweł Kowalik became Gamrot’s new manager and negotiated a compromise with KSW. Gamrot is back for two fights and then his contract expires. Parke was chosen as his first opponent after two or three other Polish fighters turned down the fight with Gamrot. The Irishman braved lock-down in Europe and got to Ankos MMA in Poznań, where he held a part of his camp again. Ankos head coach, Andrzej Kościelski, won’t be in his corner – he is with Marcin Tybura on Fight Island – but he knows Gamrot inside out having been his head coach from his debut to 2017 when Gamrot, Mańkowski and a couple of others left the gym.
Gamrot (15-0, 1NC) now trains in Czerwony Smok in Poznań with the other walkouts but also visits American Top Team on a regular basis. In the first quarter of the year, he was in Florida to train. He has received a lot of praise from coaches Mike Brown and Steve Mocco and from his most frequent sparring partner, UFC featherweight, Renato Moicano.
When they both showed up for a TV face-to-face on Thursday, Gamrot was in a very confrontational mood. He suggested this fight is “easy money” and that he will “smash” Parke. The Irishman kept his cool but finally flipped when Gamrot implied that Parke will miss weight, like he did for their fight in Dublin. Parke (28-6-1, 1NC) did in fact miss weight by a significant 1,5 kg on Friday morning. Even though Gamrot’s team has allowed him to keep cutting until the ceremonial weigh-in at 6 PM, shortly before that time, Parke couldn’t drop anymore weight and no-showed the evening ceremony. The fight is still on though. The Irishiman will forfeit 30% of his purse and it will be contested over five rounds marking the first time a non-title fight in KSW is scheduled for five fives.
I think on Saturday we can expect another close fight. Parke has said he intends to sprawl-and-brawl and stay in Gamrot’s face the whole time. Gamrot was more nuanced alluding to three gameplans he has prepared for this confrontation. I think this will be the difference maker. Gamrot was more versatile in 2017 and with 3 more years of training, I expect he has developed his striking even more. Parke is incredibly tough and will likely stay in the fight for 25 minutes. Gamrot should build a marginal advantage in most of the rounds and that will carry him to a victory in my eyes.
Borys Mańkowski vs. Marcin Wrzosek
Former welterweight champion, Borys Mańkowski, makes a return to lightweight after 10 years to take on former featherweight champion, Marcin Wrzosek, who says he got fed up feeling miserable in camp while keeping weight. There’s a bit of bad blood here with Wrzosek (14-6) looking for a fight with Artem Lobov of all people, while discarding his unnamed rival. Mańkowski (20-8-1) took offense with that but in all honesty, this is also a clever play by both to shore up interest in their fight.
By most accounts, Mańkowski has a technique advantage in this match-up. He is a skilled boxer and a good wrestler which should serve well to nullify Wrzosek’s brawling, close combat style. That said, there are still questions lingering about Mańkowski’s longevity. He is coming off a win over the entertaining but not intimidating Vaso Bakocevic. Before that fight, he lost to Parke in a bout where he gassed after setting a frantic pace in round one. Even earlier in his career, Mańkowski suffered an absolute beatdown from Roberto Soldic. He needs to perform well to signal he is still a force on the KSW roster.
For Wrzosek, it’s a big name fight with little downside. He is fighting above his natural weight and is a big underdog on the books. Unless he gets smashed, a loss won’t be a huge setback. It’s also worth noting he spent the better part of spring being a coach on KSW’s reality show “Tylko Jeden” so there are some question marks regarding how well his camp has gone.
Tomasz Drwal vs. Łukasz Bieńkowski
Now these are two names I haven’t heard in a long time. Drwal is a Polish MMA legend, the first fighter ever to fly the white-and-red flag in the UFC Octagon. Since bowing out of the global leader in MMA in 2010 with a 3-3 record, his career has been beset by misfortune. Three times he aligned himself with promoters who quickly went under. Once he made it to KSW, he suffered a debilitating meniscus injury days before his second fight in the promotion.
That was five years ago and since then, he only competed in an unimpressive cage-boxing bout in 2017. Earlier this year, Drwal (21-5-1) announced his intention to return, stating he is injury free and hungry to compete.
Bieńkowski has also been missing in action since February of 2018. He made it to KSW with a reputation of a fearsome striker thanks to a brutal KO over Andrzej Grzebyk and an equally brutal soccer kick to (an already out and falling) Rudolf Kriż. However, in his two KSW fights, he struggled to pull the trigger and later lost two fights outside the promotion. For this fight, Bieńkowski (5-3) went back all the way to his first coach at Tajfun Legionowo, which likely means he has done little to no ground work.
It’s pure speculation to say how both of these fighters will look after such long layoffs. Both are promising a stand-up war and that is how the fight should start. Drwal, however, has shown an aptitude for takedowns and ground-and-pound. This is a differential the UFC vet will have in his back pocket.
Andrzej Grzebyk vs. Tomasz Jakubiec
Two promotional newcomers, two champions in lesser Polish organizations and two completely different personalities. Andrzej Grzebyk is the FEN middleweight and welterweight champion and has spent considerable time crafting his image outside the arena. He even requested a ruling from the tax authorities whether massages, gym fees, outfitting and even rhinoplasty costs were tax-deductible because “appearing professionally increases his market value”.
But Grzebyk (16-3) is also serious about fighting and is riding a 7-fight winning streak, with only one decision victory amongst them. He prefers to keep fights standing but still leaves some openings, which gets him into entertaining back-and-forth firefights.
Tomasz Jakubiec is a man of little words. The current Armia Fight Night (AFN) welterweight champion has a chip on his shoulder when placed side-by-side with the bombastic Grzebyk. He is a BJJ blackbelt but has been using his striking more in recent fights. It was still quite sloppy but he has power. Jakubiec (10-2) probably has an edge on the ground too and is well equipped to cause an upset here.
Roman Szymański vs. Filip Pejić
The only fight to get changed on this card. Roman Szymański was supposed to welcome KSW newcomer and Oktagon MMA champ, Mateusz Legierski, but instead will face Filip Pejić on two weeks notice. While Szymański (12-5) says that Pejić (14-3-2) is a more difficult fight, I respectfully disagree. Pejić’s entire reputation in KSW is built on a head kick KO over Filip Wolański in a fight he was losing up to that point. The Croatian has a rangy frame but has showed weakness on the ground. Szymański is a crafty boxer, a good grappler and I foresee him having an advantage over Pejić in both positions.
Artur Sowiński vs. Gracjan Szadziński
Hulking former featherweight champion, Artur Sowiński, continues to fight at lightweight. This time he will test one of the hardest hitters in Poland in Gracjan Szadziński. Szadziński (8-3) scored incredible one-hitter-quitters over Maciej Kazieczko and Paul Redmond, but most recently was stifled by Marian Ziółkowski’s disciplined jab.
Sowiński (20-11, 2NC) isn’t as focused as Ziółkowski but will also have a reach advantage and he likes to use kicks for distancing. He is also incredibly resilient with only 2 TKO losses on his lengthy record. One being on a cut and one being a real beatdown he suffered from Conor McGregor back in 2011. Szadziński clearly needs some new ideas on how to put his immense power to use. This fight is a good test to see if he found any.
Sebastian Przybysz vs. Jakub Wikłacz
This is a rematch from Absolute Championship Berkut from 2017 in Gdańsk between two young and promising fighters. Sebastian Przybysz, a kickboxer from Mighty Bulls, was only 17 months removed from his professional debut while Jakub Wikłacz, a flashy grappler from Arrachion, had been fighting since 2014 and had three times as many fights under his belt.
Even then, Przybysz (6-2) didn’t make it easy for Wikłacz. Though Wikłacz (10-2-1) dragged him down to the mat in every round, he didn’t come close to submitting him. Wikłacz has worked on his finishing and submitted all five of his opponents since then.
Przybysz meanwhile hasn’t been in deep grappling waters since their fight. Aside from Dawid Gralka, whom he quickly knocked out, and Antun Racić, who shut him down completely, he hasn’t faced other grapplers.
Przybysz has a more complete game but Wikłacz is a very dangerous fighter. If he gets even one takedown, he is likely to win the round. This fight has the potential to be a real eye pleaser.
Kamil Szymuszowski vs. Michał Pietrzak
Michał Pietrzak surprised many onlookers when he took on welterweight dominator, Roberto Soldić, on 4 days notice at KSW 50. He exchanged punches throughout 15 minutes and tried tirelessly to implement his wrestling game. It was a rare show of toughness that earned him a longer stay in KSW.
Kamil Szymuszowski made a victorious return to welterweight in his last fight, which was a one-off on the regional scene. His KSW record though reads two recent losses and he needs a win in a big way. The Łódź-based fighter, who has a notable win over David Zawada, is well-rounded but has a reputation of being a bore. A reputation that he tried to shake by altering his style, but he ended up in hot water in recent fights.
Szymuszowski (17-6) does his best work up close in the clinch. That will be hard to implement against national-level wrestler and grappler in Pietrzak (8-4). Maybe Szymuszowski can make something happen in a kickboxing affair but I fancy “The Crusher” to grind his way to his first KSW win.
KSW 53: Reborn takes place on Saturday at 8 PM CET, which is 7 PM BST for fans in the UK and Ireland. The event is available via pay-per-view in Poland and via internet pay-per-view at KSWTV.com everywhere else.
The complete KSW 53: Reborn card is as follows:-
Lightweight Title Unification Main Event – (c) Mateusz Gamrot (15-0, 1NC) vs. (ic) Norman Parke (28-6-1, 1NC)
Lightweight – Borys Mankowski (20-8-1) vs. Marcin Wrzosek (14-6)
Middleweight – Tomasz Drwal (21-5-1) vs. Lukasz Bienkowski (5-3)
Welterweight – Andrzej Grzebyk (16-3) vs. Tomasz Jakubiec (10-2)
Lightweight – Roman Szymanski (12-5) vs. Filip Pejic (14-3-2)
Lightweight – Artur Sowinski (20-11, 2NC) vs. Gracjan Szadzinski (8-3)
Catchweight (176lbs) – Kamil Szymuszowski (17-6) vs. Michal Pietrzak (8-4)
Bantamweight – Sebastian Przybysz (6-2) vs. Jakub Wiklacz (10-2-1)