Jiri Prochazka’s serious shoulder injury saw the Czech vacate his 205lb title, keen not to hold the division up in his absence. While unfortunate, Jan Blachowicz called the news an early Christmas gift, and now the former light-heavyweight champion suddenly has an opportunity to regain the strap he lost against Glover Teixeira 14 months ago. Up against a clearly favoured Magomed Ankalaev though, which man will have the last laugh in the early hours on Sunday?
Blachowicz believes circumstances are blessing in disguise
He doesn’t care about being an underdog. Five rounds is more suited to his style. This scheduling change – from co-main event to PPV headliner – is a welcome shift for the 39-year-old former titlist, given his legendary Polish power and everything that comes with the territory.
It’s his eighth five-round fight, only two have gone the distance in his career and he won both – Jacare Souza in Brazil, Nov. 2019 before making the first defence of his light-heavyweight strap against now-former middleweight champion Israel Adesanya back in March 2021.
That would ultimately be his only defence of the 205lb strap, which will crown its fourth champion since Jon Jones relinquished the belt in August 2020.
Jan is hoping to avoid a sluggish start and that he’ll become a two-time king in a division with movement aplenty, though his detractors will be quick to reinforce the feeling it’s more of an interim title until Prochazka is fully healed from shoulder surgery and passed fit to return.
“It’s not my fault. I want to fight against Jones, but he don’t want to fight me – nobody knows what he’s doing right now. I also wanted to fight Jiri, he wanted the [Glover Teixeira] rematch, now he’s injured. This is not what I choose, but it is what it is. It’s the championship, the most important thing for me.”
Blachowicz said, with victory this weekend, he’ll be ready for all comers – a Teixeira rematch to avenge his defeat last year and more besides – but first he must tame an in-form Ankalaev many opponents, including Thiago Santos and Anthony Smith in 2022, simply had no answers for.
“Look at his record, 17-1 and nine-win streak – it’s time to stop it, make his record 17-2 but for sure he’s one of the best. I have a lot of respect for his skills, it’s going to be a tough fight and I’m ready.”
Through a translator, Ankalaev believes now is his moment. He’s gradually continued going up the ranks since suffering a hail mary triangle choke submission defeat by perennial contender Paul Craig at UFC London on his promotional debut more than four-and-a-half years ago:
“The day has finally arrived – we’ve waited so long – we will show what we’re worth this Saturday, come and take what’s rightfully ours.
I basically did step-by-step, pretty much knew at some point they would not have a choice [but] to give me a title fight.
Blachowicz is a great fighter, great guy, but this fight is my dream, my opportunity. I will do whatever I have to do, to make sure I come out of that octagon with the title.”
In-case you weren’t aware of just how good Ankalaev’s been in recent years: the Russian’s nine-fight UFC winning streak is the longest active run in the promotion’s light-heavyweight division, second-longest behind Jones (13) all-time and he’s one of the younger contenders at 30.
Headlines elsewhere on the card…
Blink and you might miss it:
- Dana White’s Contender Series graduate Raul Rosas Jr, who turned 18 in October, can become the youngest fighter in history to win a UFC fight on Saturday vs. Jay Perrin
- Chris Daukaus, currently in the midst of a two-fight losing streak, revealed that a move down to light-heavyweight is a possibility – but one he’s not entertaining right now
- Liverpudlian lightweight prospect Paddy Pimblett believes he doesn’t get the “proper credit” his quality deserves, and he intends to produce a breakout performance against Jared Gordon – who holds the division’s third-highest significant strike rate (58.4%)
- Speaking of Scousers, former welterweight title challenger Darren Till looks to return to the win column against South Africa’s surging Dricus du Plessis – Till is 1-4 in his last five fights, including Derek Brunson (R3 submission) and Robert Whittaker the year before
- In the battle of two unbeaten talents, Bryce Mitchell faces Ilia Topuria to kick off the main card at featherweight – Topuria fought through adversity to secure a R2 KO win over Jai Herbert back in March, while Mitchell mauled Edson Barboza earlier that month
UFC 282 card, is as follows
All card timings BST
Main card (Sunday, 3am)
Vacant light-heavyweight championship: Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev
Lightweight: Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon
Catchweight (180lbs): Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Alex Morono
Middleweight: Darren Till vs. Dricus du Plessis
Featherweight: Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria
Prelims (Sunday, 1am)
Bantamweight: Raul Rosas Jr vs. Jay Perrin
Heavyweight: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Chris Daukaus
Middleweight: Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Dalcha Lungiambula
Middleweight: Chris Curtis vs. Joaquin Buckley
Early prelims (Saturday, 11.30pm)
Featherweight: Billy Quarantillo vs. Alexander Hernandez
Featherweight: T.J. Brown vs. Erik Silva
Bantamweight: Cameron Saaiman vs. Steven Koslow
Picture source: Getty Images, quotes hyperlinked via mmajunkie