Rivalries: Magomed Ankalaev

Magomed Ankalaev still has one mountain left to climb in the Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight division.

A top contender for the promotion’s 205-pound throne, the 30-year-old Russian has not gone down to defeat in more than five years. Ankalaev holds a 10-1-1 record across his 12 appearances inside the Octagon, his resume highlighted by wins over Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, Volkan Oezdemir and Nikita Krylov. More than half (nine) of his 17 professional victories have resulted in finishes, six of them inside one round.

As Ankalaev awaits word on his next assignment from UFC matchmakers, a look at a few of the rivalries that have helped chart his course to this point:

Maxim Grishin

Ankalaev captured the vacant World Fighting Championship Akhmat light heavyweight title when he took care of the highly regarded M-1 Global veteran with punches and a head kick in the fourth round of their featured WFCA 30 attraction on Oct. 4, 2016 at the Akhmat Fight Club in Grozny, Russia. Grishin succumbed to blows 73 seconds into Round 4, suffering his first defeat in nearly five years. A little more than a minute into the fourth round of a hyper-competitive affair, Ankalaev floored his countryman with a brutal left hook to the jaw. Grishin collapsed to a seated position, where he was met with a flurry of punches. Anakalaev was relentless. As Grishin returned to his feet under fire, he ate a clean head kick, hit the deck for a second time and could not withstand the barrage of punches that followed. Ankalaev fought twice more for the WFCA organization, then signed with the UFC.

Paul Craig

The opportunistic former British Association of Mixed Martial Arts champion pulled the proverbial rabbit out of his hat when he submitted Ankalaev with a Hail Mary triangle choke in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 127 prelim on March 17, 2018 at the O2 Arena in London. Craig cinched the finish 4:59 into Round 3. The previously unbeaten Ankalaev was utterly dominant for all but a few seconds of the match. He outlanded Craig by a 59-18 margin in significant strikes and racked up nearly seven minutes of control time. It was all for naught. Ankalaev pressed his advantage in top position with time winding down in the third round but failed to keep his left arm out of harm’s way. Craig snatched the exposed appendage, clamped down on the triangle and prompted an unexpected tapout with one second remaining on the clock. A dejected Ankalaev sat stunned in the center of the cage.

Ion Cutelaba

Ankalaev wiped out the Moldovan berserker with punches in the first round of their long-delayed UFC 254 light heavyweight rematch on Oct. 24, 2020 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The stoppage was called 4:19 into Round 1. Ankalaev was patient and measured. He connected with a front kick to the face, drew his counterpart into punching range and let his hands and reflexes do the rest. The Akhmat Fight Team standout knocked down the Cutelaba with a counter straight left, reset and went back on the hunt. Ankalaev answered an ill-conceived backfist from “The Hulk” with a crushing left hook, pounced on his fallen rival and rendered him unconscious with a volley of punches and hammerfists. It was a most decisive finish. Ankalaev—who had beaten the onetime “Fight of the Night” winner under less-desirable circumstances eight months earlier—moved to 2-0 in their head-to-head series.

Jan Blachowicz

The Polish powerhouse battled to a split draw with Ankalaev in the UFC 282 headliner on Dec. 10, 2022 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, leaving the 205-pound penthouse vacant in wake of former champion Jiri Prochazka’s reign-ending shoulder injury. Judge Michael Bell cast a 48-47 scorecard for Blachowicz, while Derek Cleary saw it 48-46 for Ankalaev and Sal D’Amato scored it 47-47. Ankalaev set the tone early with crisp punching combinations and punishing front kicks to the body. Blachowicz answered by shifting gears and blowing out the Xtreme Couture rep’s base with vicious kicks to the lower leg. They eventually hobbled Ankalaev to such a degree that he was forced to switch stances. He made the necessary tactical adjustments in the fourth and fifth rounds, where he crowded Blachowicz with pressure, executed multiple takedowns and chipped away with substantial ground-and-pound, all while piling up copious amounts of control time. Ankalaev rose to his feet after Round 5, convinced he had done enough, then left the cage in disgust moments later.
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