When opportunity knocks, Karolina Owczarz answers
“I don’t know. I was brave. I wish I was that brave nowadays,” she laughed. “I didn’t even think. I just went to Warsaw, took a plane there, and went to Mexico.”
Sometimes it just takes one random leap of faith to get the wheels in motion for the unknown journey awaiting to come. For Poland’s Karolina Owczarz, the kickoff to her story started with a trip to Mexico.
In English, the last name “Owczarz” translates to “shepherd”. A word that can be defined as a guide for direction. An ironic coincidence considering Karolina’s free-spirited and loosely flowing approaches to life. However, there were some indicators early on that set the foundation for what was to come.
That ultimately being a lifestyle based around combat.
“When I was a small girl… I didn’t use to be a good girl,” Owczarz told MyMMANews. “I’m from a good family and everything. But I used to go to football (soccer) games so I had all the ‘bad boys’ friends, and I think I wanted to impress them so I went to the boxing class when I was 13 almost.
“I’ve been boxing for seven years. But I have to say, when I turned pro, I was 18, and I had four professional fights. But actually, it wasn’t a good time in boxing for Poland. It’s not very popular here anymore. It used to be when we had Andrew Golota fighting with [Mike] Tyson and all the people like this. But it’s not that popular here anymore, so I had a break of five years from the sport.
“After five years of this break, I said, ‘Okay, I’m still young enough to get back,'” she continued. “But I went in for boxing class and I was like, ‘Oh my god, it’s so boring to use just hands,’ And I couldn’t stand it, seriously. It was such boring training for me. So I started kicking and then I started doing that other stuff, and I was like okay let’s go with MMA! Which was becoming very popular here at this time in Poland. So yeah, I did it and it was the best decision ever, three years ago.”
Owczarz fought professionally as a boxer for just two years in 2011 and 2012 but went undefeated with four wins. Come 2018 and it was time to reduce the ounce count in her gloves and start incorporating submissions and six more points of contact.
As the Lodz native grew closer to officially becoming an adult, Owczarz found herself in a unique position somewhat by accident. That position being that of a boxing centered reality TV show contestant.
Admittedly a bit overwhelming, it turned into an amazing experience for the future Shark Top Team representative. Having met several amazing people during her time on the show, Owczarz didn’t win it all, but she went 1-1 in what could be considered the catalyst to her career and adult life.
“It was the journey of my life, I’d have to say,” she began. “When I was 18, not even 18… two months before. I saw an advert on the internet. The TV show was Todos Contra Mexico which was like ‘all the world against Mexico’. So one team was international and one was Mexican. They were looking for a Polish girl for the international team. I sent them a message saying, ‘Hey, I could do this,’ And to be honest, I didn’t think for one second they would pick me. It was kind of a joke for me.
“The day after, they messaged me back and said ‘Okay, you’re in,’ I was like, ‘No? Seriously? I’m not going anywhere,’ They asked me if I was sure I’m ready to turn professional — I wasn’t even 18 — you sure you want to go to Mexico for a month? It will be a TV show in English. So you will be using only English. No, I’m not doing that, forget it.
“But after a few talks with my family, friends, and people around me, I said okay, let’s do this. They had to wait for me for a few months. They trusted me that I would sign the contract because they had to wait for me to turn 18. So I was the youngest one there. Other girls were like 30. And I just went on the plane and went to Mexico and spent the time of my life there.”
In many cases, naivety can work against you. Such as one occasion where the 18-year old Owczarz went for a lonesome stroll through Mexico City to the show manager’s great fear and displeasure. But then it can be of aid as overall, the willingness, albeit not at first, to go across the world on a whim definitely paid off for Poland’s own.
Essentially, a star was born before it could even really get to shine. After her four-fight stint as a boxer, Owczarz left the sport as a competitor… but not as a personality.
With her interest as well as the country’s interest in the sport seemingly dwindled, it was tough for a brief period. Owczarz struggled to find a good manager and sustain a good support group around her. Eventually, an unexpected opportunity presented itself.
After having met the head of the company at past events, one day, Poland’s premier sports station, Polsat Sport, came to Owczarz. They told her, “Hmm. I think you’re going to be a good journalist. Let’s do this. I want you to [be a] journalist.”
Considering her uncertainty surrounding continuing to box accompanied by its lack of financial benefit, it was just too good of an offer to pass up. Owczarz recollected being told she’d be made a star. So rather than grow her brand inside the ring as the one fighting, she just ended up spending those five years after the fact growing it as the one holding the microphone.
In the modern MMA landscape, it’s become commonplace for retired and even some active fighters to dabble into the analyst side of the sport. As unpredictable as MMA can be and the rigors that it brings, Owczarz remains open to a return to more full-time journalist work. Because the cold reality is that the current career path as an athlete could come to a screeching halt at any moment.
With that all in mind, Owczarz remains active in that now secondary field whenever she can outside of fight camps and training just to stay busy. But in the end, her jealousy is what got the best of her.
“It made me want to get back,” Owczarz said in reflection to her time with Polsat Sports. “Because you know, I’d been talking with [the athletes], I’d been watching their preparations, I’d been in touch with them. And I could feel all this atmosphere before the fights. They were so excited and I said, ‘Oh my god, I want to feel that again. I’m so jealous that they can feel that,’
“I was at almost every most important event in Poland for those five years. And I was like, ‘Okay, I’m almost in the center,’ Because doing the interviews you’re in the cage, but it’s not the same. I need to be there [on their side]. It was a nice five years but I was just so jealous and that’s it. They have such an amazing life. To see their faces after the victories and everything, I really wanted to feel that again.
“You have this feeling like, ‘You can do this, so stop being jealous and move your fat ass and get back in the gym,’ I was fat for five years… I mean, I wasn’t fat but I thought I was okay. Now, I can see I wasn’t. Not doing anything for five years…” she finished with a laugh.
Three years and three fights removed from her media role, the former boxer now finds herself as an undefeated MMA prospect competing in the KSW flyweight division.
Historically we’ve seen that the transition from boxing to MMA has had very mixed results for athletes that have crossed over. From the highest highs like with Holly Holm, or the lowest lows such as James Toney… Working with a full combat arsenal is easier said than done.
For MMA, The Poland based promotion of KSW is the top organization in Europe. In the case of Karolina Owczarz, she skipped a generally natural process of taking things slow on smaller shows and went straight to the big leagues. But the pressures of being spotlighted and put in potentially high-stress situations was something she’d already been prepared for thanks to her past experiences.
Don’t be mistaken though, that still didn’t mean her MMA debut came easy.
“It was the best feeling ever when I won in 60 seconds,” Owczarz reflected. “At this moment I felt… it came to me, what I’ve done. Like, oh my god… you were just a journalist a few months ago. And now you won your debut in one minute at a KSW event. It was a nice feeling.
“My debut was quite crazy because okay, I could punch… but it was after a five-year break. I could kick a little bit but it wasn’t like a professional hit, I had only been doing it for a few months. When I decided to have my pro debut for KSW, every event has about 15,000 to 17,000 people — quite a big debut. And I decided to have my debut in March so I only had three months to prepare from zero. It was the worst three months in my life, seriously. Because we couldn’t start it slow. We were like, ‘We have three months to prepare you to go into the cage in front of 16,000 people and make an MMA debut,’ I couldn’t start it slow. Which was like the most tough [camp] ever. All my sparring partners didn’t care about my skills, I mean… lack of skills… So they were just going with me hard to prepare me for everything. I was one big bruise. I didn’t have one place on me that wasn’t bruised. It was hard but it worked at the end of the day.”
At KSW 42 on March 3, 2018, Karolina Owczarz secured a first-round rear-naked choke of Paulina Raszewska to get her MMA journey off the ground. As a decently sized underdog, she also aided in making her family some good cash in the process.
Despite having proven herself as an all-around skilled fighter to this point, Owczarz remains a consistent target in the eyes of her peers. Making it easy for her to find opponents that aren’t too fond of her.
For her fourth in-cage appearance, the Shark Top Team product is set to face two-fight RIZIN FF veteran, Justyna Haba at KSW56 on November 14. With Haba being a rather stoic individual, it feels weird for Owczarz to face someone that isn’t talking trash. A luxury that she actually prefers.
As fight night draws near, Owczarz’s assessment of Haba is honest. The Pol knows her fellow countrywoman is tough — that’s all she needs.
“I think I prefer that but now with my next opponent, there is no trash talk at all,” she said. “And I feel okay with that, too. It doesn’t make any difference for me. Because I’m used to being media, working with the camera and everything. If there’s a pressure on me, if someone talks to me about something… at the end of the day, they couldn’t handle the pressure. Which they put on themselves, actually. So for me, it’s not a problem at all to handle the pressure because I’m used to working with the camera, all the lights and everything. And they couldn’t.
“I have to be very careful because I have no idea what [Haba] is going to do. Seriously, I have no idea if she’s going for a takedown or going for a striking fight, I don’t know. So it’s going to be a surprise for me.
“I’m the person who has to know everything,” Owczarz continued. “I try not to do much research on my opponents because, for me, I think about it too much. So when it comes to that, I’m not doing much research. I only watch her fights once and not anymore. But when it comes to different parts of my life, I have to know everything (laughs).”
While many athletes or celebrities who get thrust into the public eye at young ages can often have their egos inflated at higher rates than others, Owczarz understands the importance of remaining humble.
Future goals pending, there’s nothing in the mind of the former Polsat Sport reporter except for the next objective which currently is Justyna Haba. As she waves the Polish flag proudly, Owczarz doesn’t dare consider herself a role model at this stage. Though if the success continues as her career advances, the hopes to make that claim for her people are definitely there.
Fighters and champions like her teammate, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, former UFC champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and current UFC champion Jan Blachowicz, have all helped be inspiring leaders in the sport for Lodz’s Owczarz.
If she has any plan at all right now, it’s to not break what isn’t broken, and the accolades will come along if meant to be.
Drake is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women’s fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, WhatCulture, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at YouTube.com/DrakeRiggs where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.