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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday returns to New Mexico with a surprisingly deep card, even if the promotion appears to be doing its best to hide that fact. The UFC has made some baffling decisions regarding bout orders in recent months, and UFC Fight Night 167 represents another clear example: Five fights featuring ranked fighters and a fun scrap with Jim Miller make up most of the undercard. At any rate, even in the face of UFC 247 exceeding expectations with a thin lineup, this is the best top-to-bottom card on paper during the month of February. Enjoy it while it lasts.
Now to the UFC Fight Night “Anderson vs. Blachowicz 2” preview:
Light Heavyweights#5 LHW | Corey Anderson (13-4) vs. #6 LHW | Jan Blachowicz (25-8)
ODDS: Anderson (-210), Blachowicz (+175)
Is this where Anderson finally makes his way over the hump and into the light heavyweight title picture? Anderson did not endure the spectacular failures Ryan Bader did, but there is a decent parallel between the careers of the former “Ultimate Fighter” winners, as both were raw wrestlers who developed into successful fighters after they were largely written off as real contenders. In Anderson’s case, it looked like a suspect chin would be his downfall as early as three fights into his UFC career, as Gian Villante of all people staged a late comeback and knocked out the Rockford, Illinois, native. That led to some questions about exactly how well Anderson’s entire style scaled up to light heavyweight; a high-volume and low-power striking approach could work well enough for lighter teammates like Frankie Edgar, but doing so against opponents who could turn around a fight with one punch might be too thin of a tightrope to walk. Nevertheless, Anderson kept slowly working his way up the ladder until a particularly rough 2017, when Jimi Manuwa starched him in short order and a loss to Ovince St. Preux went down in about the most disheartening way possible, with Anderson grinding his way a win until OSP delivered a sudden knockout in the third round. That seemed to cement Anderson as yet another flawed light heavyweight prospect who never quite developed, but things have clicked shockingly well in the two years since. Anderson got takedown after takedown against Patrick Cummins and Glover Teixeira, but his win over Ilir Latifi was the most heartening of this recent streak, as Anderson managed to eat some powerful punches and keep plugging away for the decision victory. His November win over Johnny Walker was also promising, as Anderson showed off some knockout power that may carry him going forward. Anderson was reportedly offered as a possible contender to Jon Jones before the champion chose Dominick Reyes, so a win here might cement a title shot. He just has to win a rematch against Blachowicz, who has enjoyed his own surprising run up the ladder.
Blachowicz looked like an immediate contender after his 2014 UFC debut. He racked up win after win against strong competition in his native Poland, then made his presence known in the Octagon with a quick knockout of Latifi. From there, everything went sideways. Blachowicz won only one of his next five fights—a stretch that included his loss to Anderson—and did not look particularly inspiring in any of them. There were flashes of success—Blachowicz could cause some damage on the feet or take down his opponent—but no matter the pace at which he was fighting or the success he was enjoying, the former KSW champion would inevitably tire badly and wind up looking terrible by the end of the fight. He probably needed a 2017 comeback win over Devin Clark to save his spot on the UFC roster, but his next bout against Jared Cannonier was where things turned around, as Blachowicz discovered his jab. That was apparently the thing that had been holding Blachowicz back all this time, as with a newfound weapon to control his opponents, everything clicked into place. He held Cannonier at bay, won a three-round war against Manuwa and then outwrestled Nikita Krylov, all without much issue. While his 2019 campaign was not quite the breakout year its predecessor was, Blachowicz has remained a fringe contender after dropping a February main event to Thiago Santos. It looks like his knockout of Luke Rockhold sent the former middleweight champion into retirement, and his victory over Ronaldo Souza put another quality feather in his cap. Beating Souza did not exactly have people knocking down the doors to see Blachowicz challenge for the light heavyweight title, but the fact remains that he is still in the running, and an impressive win here would put him right back near the top of that list.
It is amusing to look back and see how these two have evolved since their last fight, which is not particularly instructive outside of affirming that Anderson is the physically stronger fighter. In a way, that should be enough to favor Anderson as long as the American seeks to press those advantages. For all his other improvements, Blachowicz’s defensive wrestling remains somewhat of a question mark; it definitely looked better in his wins over Rockhold and Souza, but those two were at least able to control swaths of the fight in the clinch, suggesting that Anderson can do the same even if he cannot fully get things to the mat. If this becomes a boxing match, it is evenly matched, though Anderson can throw everything quicker and harder. Blachowicz’s jab might serve him well here, but Anderson looks to be the best equipped of his recent opponents to keep moving forward and pressing the action. Save for the chinny Rockhold, Blachowicz just is not much of a knockout artist, and Anderson has looked excellent lately in terms of keeping his composure and finding a path to victory. Add in that Anderson may have found some knockout power in the Walker fight, and this looks like his fight to lose in every aspect. The demons are not fully exorcised yet, as it difficult to have full confidence in Anderson after a career full of disappointing losses. Nevertheless, the pick is for Anderson to take a clear decision win.
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