While the main event of UFC 282 was changed just a couple of weeks ago due to an injury to Jiri Prochazka, that doesn’t mean the top of the card has taken a huge hit in terms of quality. I’m not saying losing the always exciting Prochazka isn’t going to have an impact on the entertainment factor; Prochazka has proven himself to be one of the more consistently dynamic fighters on the roster. But in terms of a pair of fighters looking to prove themselves worthy of being the best in their respective divisions? Well, if Procházka is going to be out for a while, there aren’t many potential contests that fill that role better than Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev. Unlike Prochazka, both men have proven they can turn in real snoozers. However, amidst those cures for insomnia, they also have several highlight reel KO’s of their own. I wouldn’t predict a barnburner in this fight to crown a new kingpin at 205, but I don’t think there would be much shock to see a sudden and violent ending to the contest from either combatant.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev, Light Heavyweight
I don’t know how many of y’all can remember when Blachowicz was sitting at 2-4 in the UFC, but the list of people who believed he would ever claim UFC gold at that point was shorter than those who have walked on the moon. Now that the Pole has accomplished that feat, he’s on the verge of becoming a two-time light heavyweight champion. Only Randy Couture and Jon Jones can make that claim. Not Tito Ortiz. Not Chuck Liddell. Not Daniel Cormier. Anyone else get the feeling we have underestimated this man?
There are two reasons Blachowicz’s UFC career got off to such a poor start: poor takedown defense and an inconsistent gas tank. Blachowicz addressed those issues well enough that no one questions his gas tank anymore and he recently had a stretch of five fights where his opponents were unable to take him down. Of course, Glover Teixeira was able to claim the light heavyweight title from him by taking him down, so it’s safe to say he isn’t impervious to being put on his back, but it isn’t the surety to happen it once was.
Regardless, it’s hard to believe his number one goal won’t be to keep Ankalaev from putting him on his back. The methodical Russian could very well be the best wrestler in the division. If that isn’t the case, he’s at least the most technically sound. It’s easy to forget given Ankalaev spends most of his time engaging his opponent on the feet, but Ankalaev has been very particular with his game plans. If he feels like the most direct path to victory is taking care of business standing, he’ll do that. However, against the likes of the dynamic Nikita Krylov, Ankalaev took the fight to the mat.
If anything, an argument could be made Ankalaev doesn’t take the fight to the mat enough. That isn’t to say his fight IQ is questionable; far from it. However, given his best feature may be his top control and GnP, it’s a bit of a surprise he doesn’t look to take that route more often. Perhaps he has flashes of Paul Craig etched into his memory – his lone career loss was a triangle submission to the slick Scotsman – but there won’t be any danger of Blachowicz attacking him from off his back.
The battle on the feet is difficult to determine. Though neither is considered to be much for flash, power is not in short supply for either man. Ankalaev is the more dynamic of the two, offering the occasional head kick in addition to his tight boxing. Blachowicz tends to work all three levels with greater consistency, but Ankalaev has no issue working over whatever hole he can exploit. Unfortunately, there’s a big key to this contest that has many worried it will be a terrible staring contest: both prefer to fight on the counter.
Ankalaev’s desire to get a read on his opponent ensures that he is going to have some real snoozers. He will occasionally attack aggressively, but only after he’s made his reads within the course of the fight. Blachowicz has a more natural feel to fighting, no surprise given he’s got nearly 40 fights underneath his belt. Teixeira proved he can be flustered if he’s consistently taken down, which is why it feels like a surety Ankalaev will be looking for takedowns. However, there is one other factor that could put a wrench into that thought process: Thiago Santos proved a dynamic athlete and striker can put Blachowicz away. There’s no doubt Ankalaev is the better athlete, especially now as Blachowicz is a few months away from his 40th birthday. If Ankalaev wants more than just the money that comes with being the champion, he could look to secure the title with a highlight reel KO. He could very well do that, but he would also be giving Blachowicz his best chance to secure his second title reign if that is the case.
If I believed Ankalaev was more concerned about money than being champion, I might believe he’d be willing to play with fire. Perhaps that could come down the road if Ankalaev has a long title reign, but he’s never let being a boring fighter get in his way before. Now that he’s so close to securing championship gold, I don’t see him doing anything other than taking the most direct route. Perhaps being in the spotlight gets to him as he has never headlined a PPV before. Perhaps Blachowicz makes the perfect read and puts Ankalaev away. He’s got the power to make that a distinct possibility, but the most likely outcome is Ankalaev playing it safe and taking the crown. Ankalaev via TKO of RD4