Light Heavyweights#11 | Magomed Ankalaev (14-1, 5-1 UFC) vs. #8 | Nikita Krylov (27-7, 8-5 UFC)
ODDS: Ankalaev (-340), Krylov (+280)
If nothing else, Krylov should be a lesson that no fighter can ever truly be written off. His UFC debut was an instant classic for all the wrong reasons; the Ukrainian made it to the UFC as a heavyweight prospect by facing absolutely terrible opposition, and his fight against Soa Palelei saw both men attempt to battle through severe exhaustion until Krylov was essentially too tired to move. If any prospect’s debut suggested he would quickly be out of the UFC, it was Krylov’s, so naturally he knocked out Walt Harris in his next bout, got into shape, dropped to light heavyweight and became a top prospect on the back of a five-fight winning streak. Krylov still is not a particularly skilled fighter, but “The Miner” gets by on athleticism, aggression and durability, dumping his gas tank in pursuit of a finish that he can find more often than not. Krylov briefly left the UFC in 2017 and 2018 thanks to better money offers in Russia, but he has essentially picked up where he left off upon his return. Against Johnny Walker in his most recent appearance, he seemed to actually follow a bit of a game plan, attempting to ground Walker and control the fight on the mat. Admittedly, the fight was still an absolute mess and Krylov was not exactly perfect in his execution, but even the slightest bit of process has to count as a bit of progress. At any rate, Krylov returns nearly a year later to try and build on that momentum, though he faces a tough test against Russia’s Ankalaev.
Ankalaev came into the UFC as an elite prospect. He had already faced a strong level of competition and faced few problems, controlling fights on both the feet and on the mat while showing some absolutely brutal ground-and-pound. Naturally, his UFC debut was one of the most improbable and embarrassing losses in the promotion’s history. Ankalaev spent his first Octagon assignment beating Paul Craig from pillar to post for about 14 minutes and 50 seconds—until Craig decided to throw up a desperation triangle choke that had little chance of actually succeeding. However, Craig clamped down on it, and amazingly, Ankalaev tapped out just one second before the final horn. Normally, that would be the type of loss a fighter could never live down, but Ankalaev has basically done everything he can to erase that result from everyone’s memory. In his last five fights, it is difficult to recall another moment where Ankalaev has even been in trouble. Even so, 2020 saw him get mired in a bizarre feud of sorts with Ion Cutelaba. Their first fight saw Cutelaba oversell Ankalaev’s punches in an attempt to lure the Russian into a false sense of security; instead, Cutelaba wound up fooling the referee, who called an early end to the fight. As a result, the UFC attempted to book a rematch, but between the pandemic and related issues, it took four tries and eight months to finally get there, with Ankalaev eventually scoring another first-round finish, this time with much less controversy. With that chapter now behind him, Ankalaev looks to continue his rise on the light heavyweight ladder with a win over Krylov.
Ankalaev’s first fight with Cutelaba was an interesting test on paper. Ankalaev prefers to keep a slow and controlled pace, so there was some question about how he would handle Cutelaba’s commitment to continual chaos. Ankalaev matched Cutelaba’s pace in both fights and handled him without much trouble, which, in turn, makes for much less drama regarding this fight. Krylov is a more potent form of the same test, as he is a sharper knockout artist and a better grappler than Cutelaba, but in broad strokes, this is another fight where Ankalaev will be forced to put up with constant unstructured aggression. Thanks to the Craig encounter, there is always the feeling that Ankalaev can crumble if his intended game plan goes off the rails. With that said, Ankalaev can match Krylov in knockout power and any attempts by the Ukrainian to wrestle only figure to get him in even more danger. Krylov is ridiculously durable, so a clean knockout would be a surprise, but Ankalaev figures to eventually find himself on top of “The Miner” and in a position where he can end the fight with an uninterrupted barrage of offense. The pick is Ankalaev via second-round stoppage.
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