With the 2016 Summer Olympics scheduled for Aug. 5-21 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sherdog.com staff and contributors sat down to put together hypothetical MMA Olympic teams for the following countries: United States, Canada, Japan, Great Britain, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Sweden, Poland and Australia. This 10-part series will map out the yellow brick road to Rio de Janeiro for the men and women who call the cage home, Zika virus be damned.
Nestled in Central Europe and home to roughly 40 million people, Poland has produced its share of Olympic athletes. None have shined brighter than track and field star Irena Szewinska.
Szewinska remains the most decorated Polish Olympian in history, with a total of seven medals on her mantle. She reached the podium in four consecutive Olympics, starting in 1964 and ending in 1976. During that remarkable 12-year run, Szewinska struck gold on three occasions: in the 4x100m relay at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, in the 200m at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City and in the 400m at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. She also won two silvers, in the 200m and long jump, in 1964, a bronze in the 100m in 1968 and a bronze in the 200m in 1972.
Poland enjoyed its best showing as a country at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. There, Polish athletes set a team record by capturing 32 medals, good for 10th among all participating countries. Bronislaw Malinowski (men’s 3000m steeplechase), Wladyslaw Kozakiewicz (men’s pole vault) and Jan Kowalczyk (equestrian) all stood atop the podium that year.
Success in combat sports at the Olympics has also been a source of pride for Poles. Boxer Jerzy Kulej, judoka Waldemar Legien and wrestler Andrzej Wronski were all two-time gold medalists in their chosen fields. That commitment to excellence ignites the imagination when discussing the formulation of a hypothetical MMA team to represent Poland at the Olympics. The nation has a built-in gold medal favorite in Ultimate Fighting Championship women’s strawweight titleholder Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who has pulled away from the pack at 115 pounds. Other potential contenders include surging light heavyweight prospect Tomasz Narkun, middleweight Mamed Khalidov and lightweight Marcin Held, whose affinity for leg locks makes him a threat to virtually anyone on the planet at 155 pounds.
Pride Fighting Championships veteran and 1996 Olympic gold medalist Pawel Nastula will head up a coaching staff that includes Berkut Arrachion Olsztyn trainers Pawel Derlacz and Szymon Borikowski, Bastion Tychy’s Slawomir Szamota, Berserker’s Team coach Piotr Baginsky and Gracie Barra Lodz’s Marcin Rogowski.
2016 Poland National MMA Team• Heavyweight: Marcin Tybura
• Light Heavyweight: Tomasz Narkun
• Middleweight: Mamed Khalidov
• Welterweight: Borys Mankowski
• Lightweight: Marcin Held
• Featherweight: Artur Sowinski
• Bantamweight: Damian Stasiak
• Flyweight: Marcin Lasota
• Women’s Bantamweight: Karolina Kowalkiewicz
• Women’s Strawweight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
HEAVYWEIGHT: A former M-1 Global champion who has made his way to the UFC, the 6-foot-3, 249-pound Tybura casts quite a shadow. The 30-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt started his career 12-0, an eye-opening run of success that included finishes of Denis Smoldarev, Damian Grabowski, Maro Perak and Konstantin Gluhov. While losses to Stephan Puetz and Timothy Johnson served to temper the expectations surrounding Tybura, his violent head kick knockout on Viktor Pesta at UFC Fight Night “Rodriguez vs. Caceres” reminded the MMA world of his immense potential, particularly in a division as thin and bereft of young talent as heavyweight. Alternates: Daniel Omielanczuk, Karol Bedorf
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT: Narkun has emerged as one of Europe’s most promising young fighters. The 26-year-old Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has rattled off eight wins across his past nine appearances, a majority decision loss to Goran Reljic the only hiccup; Narkun knocked out Reljic in less than two minutes in their Oct. 31 rematch. The M-1 Global veteran and reigning KSW titleholder has finished all 12 of his career victories, 10 of them inside one round. Alternates: Jan Blachowicz, Przemyslaw Mysiala
MIDDLEWEIGHT: A two-division KSW champion, Khalidov, it could be argued, has been the face of the Polish mixed martial arts scene for the better part of a decade. The 36-year-old carries with him a gaudy 32-4-2 record, and though he has come under fire for his strength of schedule, he owns wins over 2000 Olympic silver medalist Matt Lindland, “The Ultimate Fighter 3” winner Kendall Grove, former Sengoku champion Jorge Santiago, Dutch knockout artist Melvin Manhoef and UFC veterans Tor Troeng, Igor Pokrajac, James Irvin, Jesse Taylor, Rodney Wallace and Maiquel Falcao. Khalidov has secured 29 of his 32 pro wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission. Alternates: Krzysztof Jotko, Michal Materla
WELTERWEIGHT: Mankowski, the reigning KSW champion at 170 pounds, operates out of the Ankos MMA Pozman camp, where he has trained alongside Ultimate Fighting Championship veteran Marcin Bandel and undefeated KSW lightweight titleholder Mateusz Gamrot. “The Tasmanian Devil” was vulnerable to submissions early in his career -- Marcin Held, Mariusz Abramiuk and Niko Puhakka all tapped him during a four-fight losing streak between Dec. 6, 2009 and Sept. 18, 2010 -- but he appears to have worked diligently to close those holes. Mankowski, 26, has won five fights in a row, finishing four of them. Alternates: Aslambek Saidov, Bartosz Fabinski
LIGHTWEIGHT: No limb is safe with Held in the vicinity, the lower extremities in particular. Still just 24 years old, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has become a staple of the Bellator MMA lightweight division. Held has gone 11-3 inside the Scott Coker-led promotion, his three defeats coming to Michael Chandler, Dave Jansen and Will Brooks. Only Chandler managed to finish him, doing the honors with an arm-triangle choke at Bellator 36 in March 2011. Held has six leg-lock submissions to his credit: Kneebars, toe holds and heel hooks are all part of his repertoire. Alternates: Mateusz Gamrot, Piotr Hallmann
FEATHERWEIGHT: On a five-fight winning streak, Sowinski has not lost a fight in almost four years. The 29-year-old Silesian Cage Club standout captured the KSW featherweight title with a unanimous decision over Kleber Koike Erbst in November and successfully defended it by taking a unanimous verdict from X-Gym’s Fabiano Silva da Conceicao a little more than three months later. Sowinski sports 12 finishes among his 17 professional victories, six by submission and six others by knockout or technical knockout. He has stopped three different opponents in less than a minute, World Extreme Cagefighting and UFC veteran Maciej Jewtuszko among them. Alternates: Marcin Wrzosek, Kamil Lebkowski
BANTAMWEIGHT: Stasiak cut his teeth inside the British Association of Mixed Martial Arts, Absolute Championship Berkut and M-1 Global promotions before moving into the UFC, where he has gone 1-1 in two appearances since. A unanimous decision loss to Yaotzin Meza in his Octagon debut halted a run of five consecutive victories, but the 26-year-old United Gym representative rebounded with a first-round rear-naked choke submission on Filip Pejic in April. Stasiak holds the rank of black belt in karate and brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, his well-rounded skills making him an ideal fit in a tournament setting. Alternates: Tymoteusz Swiatek, Damian Szmigielski
FLYWEIGHT: Lasota, 26, won his first eight pro bouts, but losses in three of his last four outings have slowed his rise. The three men to whom he has lost -- Askar Askarov, Isaac Pimentel and Brett Caswell -- own a cumulative record of 30-8, providing evidence that the still-developing Gracie Barra Lodz exports needs further seasoning on the regional circuit. A grappler at heart, Lasota has secured more than half (five) of his nine career victories by submission: two by heel hook, two by armbar and another by rear-naked choke. Alternates: Ibrahim Barkinoev, Jakub Wiklacz
WOMEN’S BANTAMWEIGHT: With Joanna Jedrzejczyk blocking her path to strawweight gold, the undefeated Kowalkiewicz picks up her country’s bantamweight flag. A volume puncher with a seemingly limitless gas tank, the 30-year-old Lodz native captured KSW gold in 2014, went on to beat Japanese prodigy Mizuki Inoue under the Invicta Fighting Championships banner and finally touched down in the UFC in December 2015. Kowalkiewicz has gone 3-0 since, with wins over Randa Markos, Heather Clark and “The Ultimate Fighter 20” finalist Rose Namajunas. Alternates: Agnieszka Niedzwiedz, Barbara Nalepka
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT: A no-brainer selection if there ever was one, Jedrzejczyk has cemented herself as the best women’s strawweight in the world and arguably the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport. A multiple-time muay Thai world champion, she pushes a merciless pace in the cage, often carving up opponents with her combination of speed and skill. Jedrzejczyk, 28, holds a perfect 12-0 mark, including wins over Claudia Gadelha (twice), Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne, Juliana Lima and Valerie Letourneau. “Joanna Champion” last appeared at “The Ultimate Fighter 23” Finale on July 8, when she retained her UFC women’s strawweight crown with a five-round unanimous decision over Gadelha in their long-awaited rematch. Alternates: Sylwia Juskiewicz, Hanna Gujwan
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