UFC Rio Rancho: Anderson and Blachowicz Collide with Title Implications

UFC Rio Rancho
Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz square-off before their first fight in 2015. Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Top light heavyweight contenders Corey Anderson and Jan Blachowicz are looking to force champion Jon Jones to put their attention on them before looking ahead to super fights when they collide at UFC Rio Rancho.

For the second time in a row, light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones has been on the cusp of losing his title.  Prior to his battle with Dominick Reyes on Saturday, talk centered around Jones looking toward a possible move to the heavyweight division or even a champion versus champion collision with middleweight title holder Israel Adesanya.  But with Jones appearing more vulnerable to an upset and the other title holders occupied with other matters, UFC Rio Rancho now figures to line up the next likely opponent for the light heavyweight champion.

It is an occurrence in sports that never loses its novelty when a fighter is able to deliver emphatically when a such performance is needed most.  It is exactly what Corey “Overtime” Anderson did back in November when the All-American wrestler knocked out Brazilian knockout machine Johnnie Walker in the first round.  On one of the most unique nights in MMA in recent years, the performance was one of the biggest of the weekend and put Anderson on the cusp of a potential title shot.

The road to a title shot has been a long one coming for the Illinois native who originally debuted in the UFC by winning The Ultimate Fighter as a member of Frankie Edgar’s team.  Anderson opened with an impressive 6-1 mark that included winning TUF and recording a win over his upcoming opponent and then UFC newcomer Blachowicz.  As he began to gain momentum as a breath of fresh air in the division, Anderson hit a rough patch of going 1-3 with a win over future PFL Season 1 champion Sean O’Connell in between.  Since 2018 he has gone 4-0 with wins over former title challenger Glover Teixeira, Walker, and current UFC heavyweight Ilir Latifi.

It is hard to find any member of the UFC light heavyweight roster that has gone unheralded longer than current top contender Jan Blachowicz.  Of his 13 UFC appearances, the overwhelming majority have been relegated to the more unheralded events held on Fight Pass.  Prior to last year, he had only three television appearances, twice on the prelims and only one pay-per-view spotlight.  If there was any benefit to his placement, it was that he had a small audience witnessing his early struggles.  “The Prince of Cieszyn” had a 2-4 record in his first six UFC fights as he had difficulty gaining the same kind of momentum he had as the long-reigning champion of KSW in his native Poland.

Blachowicz likely had his UFC career on life-support when he faced Devin Clark, scoring only the second finish of his Octagon tenure at the time.  Victories over the likes of current middleweight contender Jared Cannonier, knockout artist Jimi Manuwa, and Russian striker Nikita Krylov soon followed.  Blachowicz came up short against Thiago Santos in a title eliminator last February, but responded with the biggest victory of his career with an emphatic knockout of former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold.  Last November, he closed out the year with a victory over long-time middleweight contender Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza in Sao Paulo.

At the time of their first match-up, Anderson was primarily a wrestler while Blachowicz was still developing his all-around skills.  Ironically, as much as the two have evolved, their strengths still primarily figure to match up the same as in 2015.  Anderson should look to wear down Blachowicz against the fence and force the fight to the ground where he figures to have a distinct advantage.  While his striking has improved and he is coming off an emphatic first round knockout victory, a battle on the feet in the center of the Octagon remains one that figures to favor Blachowicz.

For the Polish contender, leg kicks and body shots are critical toward hampering the mobility of Anderson and making him a more stationary target.  Being the aggressor with high volume is the key to neutralizing the grappling attack of Anderson and keeping him from settling in to set-up a takedown.  Blachowicz has been tested more recently in a five round fight in the UFC, but Anderson does have the experience of having fought a full five rounds in the early days of his career.

Considering the state of the light heavyweight division, the winner of this fight would be the logical next contender for champion Jon Jones.  Regarding the belt, a rematch between Jones and Reyes is not out of the question.  When looking at how Jones has gone through the rest of the division, it’s difficult to fathom another contender besides Reyes leapfrogging either Anderson or Blachowicz for a title shot.  With Stipe Miocic still out indefinitely and Israel Adesanya busy at middleweight, it is very conceivable that Jones will find himself defending his light heavyweight title one more time before any super fights can be made.

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