Preview: UFC Fight Night 145 ‘Blachowicz vs. Santos’

Blachowicz vs. Santos

By Tom Feely Feb 20, 2019
This feels like the first throwback to the Fox Sports 1 days since the ESPN deal started. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is debuting in a new market -- in this case, the Czech Republic -- so the promotion put together the most relevant main event in a heavier weight class that it could find, added some relatively local fighters and called it a night.

While UFC Fight Night 145 on Saturday in Prague is not a particularly impactful card outside of the main event and the latest step for Petr Yan, there is a chance this could still wind up entertaining the masses. The prelims have a few exciting matchups, and while most of the main card is populated with fights from the UFC’s thinnest divisions, the bouts the promotion has thrown together seem destined to provide some unintentional thrills. Sometimes, it is nice to be reminded that MMA does not necessarily need to be good to be fun.

Now to the UFC Fight Night 145 “Blachowicz vs. Santos” preview:

Light Heavyweights

Jan Blachowicz (23-7) vs. Thiago Santos (20-6)

ODDS: Santos (-140), Blachowicz (+110)

The light heavyweight division has gotten weird, as evidenced by the fact that this bout between two unlikely contenders might determine the next title challenger. Santos had an up-and-down year in 2018. Over the years, Santos evolved from roster fodder into a reliable action fighter at middleweight, and he kicked off his most recent campaign by stopping Anthony Smith in a fun war. Smith took that as a sign to move up to 205 pounds and immediately ran through a few shopworn veterans to become a top contender himself, so it seemed like only a matter of time before Santos would make the same move. While it took a few more fights, including a surprising loss to David Branch, Santos did officially shift gears to light heavyweight in September, and naturally, he was a title contender within about three months. Santos’ strategy consists of little else besides trying to hit his opponent hard, and thanks to his plus athleticism, that has worked wonders up a division. The light heavyweight ranks are filled with aging veterans, so opponents like Jimi Manuwa -- Santos’ most recent victim -- just cannot keep up with the pace and power that Santos presses. Now comes the hard part. The upper tier at 205 pounds is actually quite good, so it will be interesting to see if Santos’ sometimes limited game can break through to true title contention or if this is where the ride ends.

Of course, it is somewhat amazing that Blachowicz is considered to be in the upper tier of the light heavyweight division, given that he has spent most of his UFC tenure either putting on disappointing performances or fighting to keep his spot on the roster. Blachowicz’s run through a solid slate of veterans in KSW made him an interesting signing back in 2014, and a quick knockout of Ilir Latifi in his UFC debut only heightened expectations. Then, Blachowicz’s career completely crashed. He would look good in moments despite often being athletically overmatched, but even in fights where Blachowicz was doing well, his gas tank would suddenly betray him and leave him cruising to a decision loss. After losing four out of five fights, Blachowicz was clearly on the cut line before scoring a sudden submission win over Devin Clark. Then a strange thing happened: At 34 years old and nearly 30 fights into his pro MMA career, Blachowicz suddenly solved all his problems. First, he took out Jared Cannonier by using little more than a jab, and in fights against Manuwa and Nikita Krylov, Blachowicz showed a much sharper ability to counter his wilder opponents and an ability to last for 15 minutes. At this point, Blachowicz has proven that his improvements are real, but Santos might be his toughest test yet in terms of putting those improvements to effective use.

Blachowicz does have a clear blueprint to victory. Santos can be made a bit more tentative by opponents who can establish their wrestling, so if Blachowicz can get takedowns early and slow down the Brazilian a bit, he -- and this would be unthinkable given his issues even a year and a half ago -- probably has the better gas tank and could outlast Santos for a decision win or nail down a submission. While Santos’ recent improvements have not been quite as drastic as Blachowicz’s, the Brazilian has done well to round out his game just enough to win fights like this one. Santos used to seem clueless on the ground, but lately, he has done a solid job of surviving long enough to get himself back in position to score a knockout. Of course, there is always the chance that Santos decides to be a berserker, a form even this hardier version of Blachowicz probably cannot handle. The pick is Santos via first-round knockout.

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