Junior dos Santos wants to make up for lost time at UFC Boise, but the unknown Blagoy Ivanov wants nothing more than to have his breakout moment on Saturday night.
The photo is infamous, even if the skills are not as recognized yet. When the bout with Junior dos Santos was announced, many pointed to the contrasting expression of the Bulgarian striker. But “Cigano” has not been in the cage in over a year, and Ivanov has been shattering opponents en route to the breakout opportunity he has on Saturday night.
Ivanov looks like he is trying to hold in a fart.
— Flyin’ Brian J ™ (@FlyinBrianJ) July 12, 2018
Dos Santos has not been in the cage since a failed title bid last April against Stipe Miocic. He seemingly had the perfect set-up to bounce back into contention, signing to fight the surging Francis Ngannou at UFC 215 last September. But the former heavyweight champion encountered an unexpected setback, being flagged by USADA for a violation that took him out of action for a year. The Brazilian maintained his innocence, and was able to prove that the trace levels of hydrochlorothiazide were due to a tainted supplement. Unfortunately, it did not change it has been more than a year since dos Santos has been inside the cage.
While the division has undergone several changes recently, the weight class is wide open behind the champion. While there is a lot of attention on surging contenders like Alexander Volkov and Curtis Blaydes, an impressive victory for dos Santos would re-inject him into the title conversation. Though he has alternated wins and losses since 2012, he remains a perennial contender whose reputation as a knockout artist keeps him among the most popular heavyweights on the roster. An impressive stoppage of Ivanov would put him among the throng of contenders recently dispatched by Miocic and are embarking on another title run while they wait for Daniel Cormier to face Brock Lesnar.
Blagoy Ivanov has forged an impressive run outside of the Octagon in the last several years. He reached the finals of Bellator’s Season 10 heavyweight tournament back in 2014 where he suffered the only loss of his career against Alexander Volkov. He would then sign with the World Series of Fighting where he won the championship in his debut and defend it four times. Along the way, he has built a reputation as heavy hitter. Throughout his WSOF tenure, he would trade bombs with opponents in a style that made him come across as the Bulgarian Mark Hunt.
Ivanov has worked with heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former champion Cain Velasquez at the American Kickboxing Academy. The latter of which could be vital as Velasquez has shared the cage with dos Santos more than any other fighter and been able to dominate the Brazilian powerhouse. Ivanov insists that he feels no jitters about making his UFC debut on such a stage, but he is aware that only an impressive performance will make him a breakout star in the division. As he told MMAJunkie “I have to crush him, and that’s it.”
Stylistically, the bout will come down to dos Santos’ speed against the more plodding movement of Ivanov. The Bulgarian’s best chance for victory will be to pressure dos Santos against the fence where he can unload heavy bombs. Ivanov has proven to be very durable, and while trading punches with dos Santos is dangerous, he could well look to break him down with shots against the fence rather than seek a takedown.
For dos Santos, the key will be to get in and out behind his crisp jab and set up his bigger power shots in the center of the Octagon. His footwork will be crucial as being caught stationary in front of Ivanov or being backed into the fence will leave an opening for the Bulgarian to counter attack. So long as he stays disciplined and executes the game plan, it stands to reason that he has the skill to outwork Ivanov handily on the feet.
A victory for the Brazilian would put dos Santos in the running against fighters such as Curtis Blaydes, Alistair Overeem, Derrick Lewis and other perennial top five fighters in the division. Ivanov would immediately break into the rankings, arguably even reaching the top ten should he score a dramatic finish of dos Santos. While he will need several more fights before he can discuss a title shot, he would be a welcome breath of fresh air to a division that has seen little turnover in the last year and a half.