Corey Anderson vs. Jan Blachwicz headlines UFC Rio Rancho this February 15, 2020 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.
One sentence summary
David: The long-awaited rematch of a fight nobody saw to begin with
Phil: Two longstanding journeymen fight to be the next hapless victim for Jon Jones oohhhhh wait everyone has realized he’s not that good
Record: Corey Anderson 13-4 | Jan Błachowicz 25-8
Odds: Corey Anderson -220 | Jan Błachowicz +200
History / Introduction to the fighters
David: Anderson has led the kind of career that you assume will flame out at some point, but hasn’t. Some guys just don’t have the broad ability to adapt: A 6-4 record to start his UFC career should have etched the words ‘journeyman’ in Corey’s DNA, but that’s not what happened. He couldn’t punctuate it any better than having Johnny Walker’s mohawk flop around like a Spartan plume falling around the Hot Gates. Now he’s got Blachowicz to contend with.
Phil: Corey Anderson is the prototypical LHW prospect, namely someone who gets good at exactly the point at which no-one cares any more. When was the point at which he could have still made it? Before he got dusted by Jimi Manuwa? Before he got head kicked by OSP? Through sheer doggedness and the dint of not being super old, the man has made his way to being an elite light heavyweight contender.
David: I still find your strange interest in Blachowicz extremely compelling. What is it about Blachowicz that appeals to you, Phil? Is he a liberterian Marxist like Yanis Varoufakis? Is he the cagefighting version of Slavoj Zizek? Do these obscure philosophers* provoke your interest in Blachowicz’ acumen fro facepunching? Nothing else interests me right now than your determined admiration for a completely (in my view) milquetoast fighter. *Don’t @ me philosophy nerds with your chants of “obscure? Lol. Try impressing me with some Gilles Deleuze, African precursors to Kant and Hume like Zera Yacob, Pierre Hadot, or Emilio Uranga.”
Phil: My love of Jan Blachowicz comes from a similar place to my appreciation for Corey Anderson: I will always have a soft spot for those who just pull themselves up from a position of obvious weakness. There was a time when Jan was a known quantity: he would have about four minutes of reasonably dynamic offense, and then he would get super tired, and then he would get outwrestled, and the fight would be over. Now here he is, one fight away from a title shot.
What’s at stake?
David: I mean, quite possibly everything? All the marbles. Not only does Jon Jones look human. He looks actively bad. Look, I’m someone that didn’t feel like Reyes had much on Jones. I felt like the critics were drinking their own koolaid. But the critics (I know I’m supposed to be in that category, but those people are actively talented) were right! Somehow Jones has managed to make light heavyweight look a lot like heavyweight: a blubberfest (just with more jagged edges). Granted, nobody’s really interested in the winner fighting Jones, but a win is certainly meaningful at this point.
Phil: Yeah, so this is the thing: the winner of this one technically deserves to fight Jones next. But that “technically” is carrying a lot of weight. It assumes that Jones doesn’t rematch Reyes. It assumes that he doesn’t flee to heavyweight. It assumes that the winner doesn’t slog their way to victory in a fight which everyone instantly forgets.
Where do they want it?
David: Let’s get Anderson’s win over Johnny Walker out of the way: while the result reflects some things in Corey’s arsenal, that was in no way representative of Corey’s typical tools. Walker literally starts doing the crazy-man-Jacob’s-Ladder-head-swivel as soon as he gets conked, and then walks into a bunch of extra punches trying to recover. It was a dumb, aloof (but hilarious) from Walker and the result itself says more about what Walker failed to do than what Anderson actually did. Nonetheless, let’s not take anything away from Anderson. He’s improved big chunks of his game over the years. Anderson moves much more deliberately, emphasizing his footwork on occasion. Moving forward more deliberately allows him to throw punches more deliberately. It has calmed his center, so to speak, and now he’s able to walk down opponents without the binary problem of switching between offense versus defense. His offense is a lot more fluid, and that keeps his wrestling even more dangerous. He’s still not a technical wiz or anything. I feel like a pressure fighter can force him to spaz out on the feet, and there are things he does defensively that sometimes show out: like his tendency for his punches to lag, keeping him in the pocket longer than he should be. At his worst, there’s very little overall upper body movement that doesn’t have to do with simply punching. These problems were actually more apparent on TUF than they were in his losses. It’s obviously less of an issue, but we’re talking about the LHW kill zone: he’s gonna have to be better. In some ways, this matchup helps in continuing to conceal these problems.
Phil: Corey Anderson started off in light heavyweight as someone who could keep an uncanny workrate and keep chambering up one-twos and double legs until the final bell rang, or someone sparked him out. He’s still, broadly speaking, that guy. The differences have merely come in application- whereas before, the striking was built around a non-committal jab and a loopy overhand, Anderson has spent 25 hours a day, 8 days a week in the gym to transform it into a somewhat committed jab, a reasonably potent left hook, and an overhand which is... well, it’s still pretty loopy. Is he now a defensive masterwork? He is not. Does he now hit super hard? No, he doesn’t. But he’s going to keep fighting for a long time, and can now manage to rack up surprising amounts of damage should he pin people up against the cage or trap them underneath him. His wrestling is both a decent offensive tool, and something which insulates him from essentially every non-DC offensive wrestling threat. He’s a good fighter now!
David: Unlike you, I have no interest in Blachowicz. And I don’t mean that disparagingly: I have the utmost respect for Jan. He’s just not a fighter who gets me out of the seat fast enough to spill my beer onto my $5000 alpaca rugs. It’s also because he’s the worst of both worlds for an “analyst”: a fighter who has improved in extremely subtle ways without being particularly entertaining, or especially talented. So obviously, he falls into the ‘tape I watch while checking out pissed off goalies’ pile instead. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to appreciate about Jan’s game. His ability to counter is actually fun to watch: you can see him focused on countering, making sure he punishes every flawed, dumb, or indecisive punch entry. It’s a very blue collar approach to an otherwise “white collar” game. The strikes themselves cut in a variety of ways: front kicks, straight lefts, body kicks, head kicks, yadda yadda. I wouldn’t call him a power puncher, but he’s strong enough to keep fighters honest, whether it’s out in the open field, or in close quarters.
Phil: As mentioned, I enjoy Blachowicz almost entirely because he is such an alien in the light heavyweight landscape. The basic rule for competition in this division is: survive long enough to dust the other chap. As such, Blachowicz has been someone with a puzzling path to contention. If he tried to finish people quicker, he’d get tired faster. If he stayed defensive, he’d lose his early advantages in accuracy and power, and then he’d probably get pretty tired anyway.
Much like Beastin’ 25/8, his solution has just been to get... better. The jab that started his combinations back when they first fought has become a wall which he’s content to shelter and rest behind. His clinch and cage wrestling has improved, and he only risks the counter double leg shots (or Metzgers vs Gustafsson, whatever) which used to be the bane of his existence when he’s sure that his opponent is already backing into the cage, by coming forward with a punch-punch-kick combination. As such he’s able to guard his gas tank, and I think this is the core at what has become a genuinely interesting contest: can Anderson find a way to wear on Blachowicz without getting hurt, or can Jan preserve his cardio enough to keep his technical edge?
In general, I think that Anderson’s dreadful defence by the cage should give Blachowicz a few chances to lace his favoured uppercut and jab through the guard, but Anderson’s ability to hit the aforementioned counter double leg against forward motion should keep things very interesting.
Insight from past fights
David: The thing about Blachowicz is that I’m not sure how much of his recent competition actively challenged his flaws. I don’t know if Jacare had a single inkling of wanting that fight to the ground. His give-a-shit-o-meter seemed to stop at ‘in the clinch.’ And Rockhold is practically MMA’s Ryan Leaf (at least in proportion to his active skill). Not only did Rockhold stop after a few half-hearted attempts, but he seemed dead set on bullying Blachowicz straight out the cage, and in return, Jan put him into the Earth’s core.
Phil: The original fight was such vintage Blachowicz and Anderson that it seems almost mean to revisit. Corey threw a bunch of strikes which didn’t hurt and got battered for it, then managed to hit one takedown and Jan panicked in return. The prognosis from recent fights is more encouraging: Anderson battering big, slow Teixeira and Latifi, largely on the feet, and Blachowicz shucking off Jacare and Rockhold in the grappling exchanges.
David: Scouts in professional sports suck. I’m glad MMA just kind of takes care of itself. Sorry. I’m still distracted by my own Ryan Leaf reference (I don’t even watch American football).
Phil: These two are professional to the point of blandness. N/A.
David: This fight has the potential to be super ugly. Not only is there more on the line than at any point in their career, but both fighters will have to fight to protect their weaknesses rather than preserve their strengths. Blachowicz has the edge in a lot of technical areas. But in the interest of Occam’s Razor (assuming you buy its oversimplicity), I’ll just pick the guy coming off an impressive performance (Anderon). Nevermind that the performance by his opponent overshadows what we could potentially learn over the course of three rounds, but nevermind that! Corey Anderson by Decision.
Phil: Look, I’m not going to convince anyone that this fight is going to set the world on fire. Nor can I honestly say that it’s going to be funnier than Sanchez-Ferreira. But these two genuinely deserve to be fighting in the main event, for a potential title shot. They’ve both improved on their flaws more than they have any right to, and I wouldn’t be surprised by either one coming out on top. While I instinctively leaned towards Blachowicz’ natural power and craft at range, I still worry about his mental fortitude if he gives up takedowns, particularly in a five-rounder. Anderson isn’t a finisher, but he is both dogged and relentless, and if Blachowicz cant take him out or knock him down in at least three of five rounds, give me Corey Anderson by unanimous decision.