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Editorial: Blachowicz deserves more credit for what he accomplished at UFC 259

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Jan Blachowicz did a brilliant thing at UFC 259 against Israel Adesanya. It’s the art of fighting fast, and slow.

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UFC 259: Blachowicz v Adesanya Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Am I crazy or is no one talking about Jan Blachowicz’ amazing performance? Maybe they are. Maybe Blachowicz is getting the credit he deserves for pulling off such a massive upset over the UFC middleweight champion who has all the ingredients of a legend, and maybe I’m just not looking hard enough.

Unfortunately there’s an inherent difficulty to talking about Blachowciz. And it’s real simple: his presence doesn’t make sense.

First, there’s the aesthetic: Blachowicz’ game doesn’t lend itself to distorted guitar riffs playing over crumpled bodies on the octagon floor. He’s also not perfectly chiseled. This isn’t a guy who looks like he can inexplicably pay for a YouTube ad advising people to get lean by taking out all the estrogen in their body. Second, his past: after losing to Patrick Cummins at UFC 210, would anyone have been shocked if Jan was randomly purged from the roster?

Here’s a fighter who went from bad to good, which makes logical sense. But then he went from good to great, which doesn’t. As Phil said about Jan’s career turnaround when we previewed his fight with Dominick Reyes, “he was a power puncher who didn’t hit hard enough to finish people, and didn’t have the cardio to survive failing to knock them out...”

Those aren’t the traits fighters grow out of. Even Alistair Overeem, with his transition from former blue chip LHW prospect to HW elite, never transformed so fully (physique notwithstanding). I know this is all surface-level. Popping a volcano of spit out of Luke Rockhold, and rearranging the way Dominick Reyes has to sneeze next time was a brutal set of finishes. He’s got the violence in him. But it hasn’t always been there. In fact, it didn’t even exist.

And sure, we can make this about Israel Adesanya. He looked destined for greatness: the kind of fighter engineered to be champ-champ, like Conor McGregor, Georges St-Pierre, or Randy Couture. In fact, he still is. His presence at UFC 259 was there precisely because there was no one left at MW. Adesanya cleaned house. So of all the people to stop him, weight advantage or not, surely the man who got iced by Thiago Santos only two years ago wouldn’t be the guy, right?

I thought about doing a sober play-by-play following UFC 259. Re-watching it, I found it hard to focus on the technique though. There was a broader lesson in my head that kept nagging me. It’s 100% naval gazing, but I started thinking about educators. As a former of teacher of ten years, it’s something consistently on my mind. Psychologists interested in why high school knowledge succeeds in the classroom (good scores) but fail across international standards (an oversimplification, granted) is because modern education is not created for the purpose of generating answers, but in bestowing them. The most famous example explaining this ‘disparity’ is what happens when students are tested on vocabulary. The group that’s given a definition and then the word consistently outperforms the group that’s given both the definition and word at once. So what’s the point, and what does it have to do with Blachowicz?

There was a moment when Izzy lands a blistering left hook in round two. Blachowicz takes it well. He’s not hurt. But it’s significant, because until that moment, not a lot was landed. Yet, Blachowicz, with his plodding entries, yet searing counter-combinations, with his slow movement generation, but quickfire entries, ‘makes it easy to make it hard.’ As in, opponents tend to not look good against him because they’re forced to generate solutions — balancing what their bodies are hardwired to do (strike, grapple, wrestle, etc) with what their minds are not (switching between planned purpose versus planned action).

Some might argue that Adesanya was “exposed” because maybe his movement masks his inability to close the distance. Or that Blachwicz’ size advantage was too much. If you’re Paulo Costa, you might be wondering how much wine Izzy had the night before. But all of this ignores the fighter Blachowciz has developed into: a tempo fighter.

Most fighters have clearly defined speeds. They have a tempo that suits their style: aggressive, conservative, ‘elusive’, etc. Few fighters seem to oscillate within multiple fight inflections. Blachowicz is one of those fighters, and it’s about time he’s earned that respect.