UFC 282: Blachowicz and Ankalaev Look to Make Most of Title Opportunity

Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev, UFC 282
Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev, UFC 282 ceremonial weigh-in Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Former champion Jan Blachowicz is looking to maximize his opportunity to leap back into a title fight as he takes on a surging contender nearly ten years his junior in Magomed Ankalaev at UFC 282.

Saturday night was always going to be a critical one for Jan Blachowicz.  The former light heavyweight champion who approaches his 40th birthday was already on the short list to fight for the title, but a less than spectacular showing against Aleksandar Rakic earlier this year led to necessitating another fight with a surging young upstart.  With a new opportunity to now fight for the belt, the window for Blachowicz to add to his legacy has opened at a moment when he has no time to waste.

While he struggled with Rakic and Glover Teixeira in recent bouts, Blachowicz remains amongst the most formidable and seasoned fighters at 205 pounds.  Relying on that experience will be crucial as he has bested difficult challenges before in Israel Adesanya, Dominick Reyes, and Corey Anderson.  While his latest foe is seen as the part of the next wave of contenders looking to make their mark, it is on Blachowicz to show that he will not be part of the changing of the guard just yet.

Magomed Ankalaev has slowly crafted one of the best runs currently put together by any fighter in the UFC.  A professional since 2014, the Russian native has only suffered one setback (in his UFC debut) in what has been a stellar career that has seen the success he enjoyed in his homeland translate to the world stage inside the Octagon.  While his activity and consistency would suggest that his rise would be meteoric, his ascent stalled as fight cancellations delayed his rematch with Ion Cutelaba in 2020 after their first bout earlier that year ended in controversy.

Since then, Ankalaev put the finishing touches on his nine fight win-streak that now has him on the cusp of claiming UFC gold.  He bested veteran Nikita Krylov in 2021 before turning away former title challengers Volkan Oezdemir, Thiago Santos, and most recently Anthony Smith in July.  While the latter ended rather unceremoniously after Smith suffered an ankle injury, Ankalaev passed the tests of Santos and Oezdemir assertively to establish himself amongst the best at light heavyweight.  Should he be victorious on Saturday, Ankalaev will join elite company in Alexander Volkanovski and Islam Makhachev as title holders with double-digit win-streaks put together exclusively in the UFC.

Stylistically, Ankalaev must be precise with his shot-selection as he will be looking to close the distance and present the threat of the takedown to Blachowicz.  In doing so, he slows down the offense of the former champion as he will not want to over-commit for fear of leaving openings to get backed into the fence.  For Blachowicz, an attack that focuses on chopping away at the legs and body early as to chop away at the explosiveness and mobility of the more plodding Ankalaev is key.

As now former title holder Jiri Prochazka is expected to be out for the majority of 2023 with his shoulder injury, Saturday’s winner is expected to face one or two more opponents before possibly going on to face Prochazka.  Former champion Glover Teixeira has already been named by UFC President Dana White as the next challenger for the title while surging contender Jamahal Hill could also find himself in the spot should he defeat Anthony Smith next March.