The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s final pay-per-view of the year took some late hits, but it still should provide a quality viewing experience. With Jiri Prochazka vacating the light heavyweight title due to injury, the new UFC 282 main event sees former champion Jan Blachowicz try to regain gold against Magomed Ankalaev on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It is a compelling bout that might be devoid of action, but the rest of the card figures to pick up much of the slack. Paddy Pimblett should have a wild encounter with Jared Gordon in the co-headliner; Alex Morono steps in on late notice for a surefire banger with Santiago Ponzinibbio; and a featherweight duel pitting Bryce Mitchell against Ilia Topuria sticks out as the show’s can’t-miss battle.
Now to the UFC 282 “Blachowicz vs. Ankalaev” preview:
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship#3 LHW | Jan Blachowicz (29-9, 12-6 UFC) vs. #4 LHW | Magomed Ankalaev (17-1, 9-1 UFC)
ODDS: Ankalaev (-280), Blachowicz (+235)
It has felt inevitable that Ankalaev would eventually make his way to the top of the UFC’s light heavyweight division, but it would have been nice if his rise was a lot more exciting. Ankalaev was one of the top prospects in the sport regardless of division when the UFC picked him up in 2018. The Russian ran through a strong level of competition during his time as a pro, showing a particularly brutal level of ground-and-pound as part of a complete game. That mostly held true during his UFC debut against Paul Craig, which turned into an absolute mauling by the third round—until the Scotsman clamped on a desperation triangle choke in the closing moments of the fight, somehow managing to force a tap from Ankalaev with just one second remaining. From there, Ankalaev has seemed set on fighting within himself. That has still resulted in some impressive finishes, but it has mostly been up to his opponents to bring any excitement to the affair. With Ankalaev exercising so much control in his fights, his 2020 bouts against Ion Cutelaba figured to test if the Russian could hold his own in absolute chaos. Ankalaev did indeed keep pace and quickly knock out Cutelaba in each of their fights. That made it all the more frustrating when Ankalaev returned to his patient ways and became a decision machine in his next few fights. Thiago Santos had some brief moments of success that nearly made Ankalaev pay for letting him hang around, but the Russian otherwise cruised to controlled victories in his ascent to top contender status. Ankalaev’s last bout, a July tilt against Anthony Smith, at least finally saw him score another stoppage. However, that was partly due to Smith suffering an early injury and attempting to wrestle in what quickly became a one-sided affair. Ankalaev figured to need one more win to get a title fight, but with Prochazka’s injury throwing the very top of the division into chaos, his coronation could take place against a former champion in Blachowicz.
Blachowicz is well-established as a top light heavyweight at this point, an impressive bit of business given how close the Pole got to the UFC’s cut line. Blachowicz was a decorated talent prior to his UFC pickup in 2014, and a quick knockout of Ilir Latifi in his debut marked him as a potential title contender in short order. However, Blachowicz would instead scrape together just one win over the next three years, in part due to some sudden and concerning cardio issues. Blachowicz could have all the success in the world, yet still find himself flagging badly and on the losing end of things once his fights went to the scorecards. An October 2017 victory over Devin Clark probably saved Blachowicz from being released, and from there, everything suddenly clicked into place, in part thanks to a much-improved striking game that allowed Blachowicz to control his fights more effectively. A 2019 loss to Santos was a bit of a hiccup, but Blachowicz otherwise found enough success to get himself into the UFC’s first post-Jon Jones light heavyweight title fight against Dominick Reyes. The assumption was that it would be a bit of a walkover for Reyes, who nearly beat Jones before he vacated the belt. Instead, it was a shockingly one-sided victory for Blachowicz, who scored a second-round knockout to become one of the UFC’s unlikeliest champions. The UFC then immediately seemed set on turning Blachowicz into a footnote, matching him with then-middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. Blachowicz instead put together another win that further legitimized his title reign, so naturally, as soon as he seemed to be settling into that champion role, he surprisingly got upset by Glover Teixeira to cap off 2021. Blachowicz’s lone fight of 2022 thus far was a weird one against Aleksandar Rakic—a slow-paced clash in which both men had their moments, until Rakic suffered a fight-ending leg injury. This could set up as a similar type of fight, ending aside. By default, Blachowicz and Ankalaev would prefer to sit back and counter, so there could be long stretches of this pairing that devolve into a bit of a staring contest. At the very least, Blachowicz has shown a willingness to mount some offense and blitz in the face of inactivity, which should result in some entertaining exchanges, albeit ones in which Ankalaev should likely excel. Add in Ankalaev’s assumed wrestling advantage—even though his pivoting away from that part of his game in recent years has been a tremendous disappointment—and the Russian should be able to set himself apart as the winner, even if it once again seems up to him to actually motivate himself enough to put his stamp on a victory. Blachowicz should have his moments, or could even eke out a win if his counterpart is particularly inactive, but the pick is Ankalaev by decision.
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Pimblett vs. Gordon
Ponzinibbio vs. Morono
Du Plessis vs. Till
Topuria vs. Mitchell
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