UFC 282 breakdown: Will Magomed Anklalev’s grappling or Jan Blachowicz’s striking win the vacant light heavyweight title?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the main event for UFC 282.

UFC 282 takes place Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN2 and early prelims on ESPN+.

Jan Blachowicz (29-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC)

 

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’2″ Age: 39 Weight: 205 lbs. Reach: 78″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Aleksandar Rakic (May 14, 2022)

  • Camp: WCA Fight Team (Poland)

  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/muay Thai

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Former UFC light heavyweight champion
+ KSW light heavyweight title
+ Muay Thai accolades
+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt
+ 9 knockout victories
+ 9 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Excellent jab
+ Dangerous uppercuts and hooks
+ Will switch stances
^ Favors liver kicks from southpaw
+ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Improved wrestling ability
^ Defensively and offensively
+ 3-0 against UFC-level southpaws

Magomed Ankalaev (18-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’3″ Age: 30 Weight: 205 lbs. Reach: 75″

  • Last fight: TKO win over Anthony Smith (July 30, 2022)

  • Camp: Gorets FT/Xtreme Couture (Las Vegas)

  • Stance/striking style: Southpaw/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ Regional MMA titles
+ Amateur MMA accolades
+ Master of sports in combat sambo
+ Grego-Roman wrestling champion of Dagestan
+ 10 KO victories
+ 6 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Accurate crosses and hooks
^ Coming forward or off the counter
+ Hard left kicks
^ Variates looks and levels
+ Strikes well off the breaks
+ Strong inside the clinch
^ Serviceable trips and takedowns
+ Good positional grappler
^ Heavy ground-and-pound

Point of interest: Striking with a southpaw

Magomed Ankalaev

The main event for UFC 282 features an impromptu title fight between two light heavyweights familiar with the southpaw stance.

Carrying a knack for countering, [autotag]Magomed Ankalaev[/autotag] wields a lot of the offense that southpaws should never leave home without. Whether Ankalaev lands counter crosses to deceptive check-right hooks, the 30-year-old is decent at keeping his eyes open in exchanges.

Ankalaev also does well using uppercuts and front kicks to check dips and level changes, which, in turn, score to the body.

Although Ankalaev seems to have a good beat on spinning attacks (likely to do the strong Wushu Sanda presence in Makhachkala), he’s shown susceptibility to leg kicks and kick counters in recent fights. However, in Ankalaev’s last fight opposite Anthony Smith, the eight-year pro demonstrated an improved kick-checking ability that could come in handy for this contest.

Enter [autotag]Jan Blachowicz[/autotag].

Initially stepping onto the UFC scene as a pressuring stalker who came forward in combination from either stance, Blachowicz steadily developed into a deceptively effective counter striker that doesn’t mind drawing his opposition into his wheelhouse.

From leg kicks to kick checks of his own, Blachowicz is good about mixing up the levels of his attacks when looking to answer his opponent back.

In the heat of combat, the Pole packs a mean uppercut-hook return he keeps on a hair-trigger, something he showed against both Jared Cannonier and Jimi Manuwa. Blachowicz also employs a stiff and serviceable jab he quietly uses to string together his offense, as well as help support his defense.

As far as fight-ending kicks go, Blachowicz loves to sprinkle in crushing liver kicks off of shifts to the southpaw stance and doesn’t have any problems letting head kicks fly off the break. And though I suspect that Blachowicz’s hooks and uppercuts will be live off of said breaks, he still needs to be mindful of the potential level-changing threats coming his way.

Point of interest: Potential grappling threats

Jul 30, 2022; Dallas, TX, USA; Magomed Ankalaev (red gloves) fights Anthony Smith (blue gloves) in a light heavyweight bout during UFC 277 at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Considering each fighter carries decent grappling accolades in their back pockets, no one should be shocked if this party hits the floor.

A Greco-Roman champion wrestler of Dagestan, Ankalaev appears to apply himself naturally in clinch space, which could come in handy this weekend. Whether Ankalaev is accompanying his underhooks with foot play for potential takedowns or striking with hard shots off the break, he doesn’t seem to be short on ideas in said space.

That said, Blachowicz is also no slouch in the clinch and is always searching for fight-changing hooks off separations.

In fact, since amassing his semi-recent run to a UFC title, Blachowicz has reestablished his full-time training camp in Warsaw, a place where the Pole has plugged up the holes that were haunting him in the wrestling department.

Now, Blachowicz appears much more competent and comfortable when he changes levels to counter aggression or when he sets up and chains takedowns of his own. More importantly, Blachowicz’s improvements have also translated defensively, demonstrating solid fundamentals when fending off offensive grapplers like Devin Clark, Luke Rockhold or Ronaldo Souza.

However, despite winning those contests, the Polish contender spent a lot of time with his back against the fence in those fights – something that could be more costly given his current counterpart.

Say what you will about Greco-Roman wrestling, but Ankalaev clearly has some real strength and a genuine ability to stymie clinch action that can quietly wear on his counterparts. Ankalaev also seems to have some sambo and freestyle influence in his wrestling, subtly interplaying the legwork that is not allowed in the Greco style.

Even when put on his back, Ankalaev appears incredibly calm and comfortable while problem-solving, smartly favoring re-wrestling into single-leg variations in order to reverse fortunes. And once on top, Ankalaev is not afraid to go to pound town, as he clearly prefers position over submission.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

The oddsmakers and public are favoring the younger fighter, listing Ankalaev -280 and Blachowicz +235 via Tipico Sportsbook.

Even though I expected Ankalaev to close as the betting favorite, I think Blachowicz could be a live underdog in this spot.

The former champion carries the better kick defense between the two of them and is also the more persistent attacker when it comes to leg kicks and bodywork. If Blachowicz avoids getting his back stuck to the fence, he may get a beat on Ankalaev’s range weapons in order to land counters.

Despite appearing to have good eyes in exchanges, Ankalaev has been countered hard (usually off of kicks) within the first round of a few of his UFC fights. Sure, Ankalaev may also demonstrate a good chin in taking said shots, but I doubt he wants to take too many of those chances with a counterpuncher like Blachowicz.

Nevertheless, Blachowicz, too, is not beyond eating some hard counters when looking to blitz from range.

Although Blachowicz officially stands at 3-0 opposite UFC-level lefties, the 39-year-old did suffer his lone stoppage to strikes from a stance-switching Thiago Santos who landed some classic counters from southpaw.

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As much as I would love to see Blachowicz go 2-0 in vacant title fights, I can’t get my head around the tweet above and how lively Ankalaev’s check-right hook and left cross will be this Saturday. That said, I could also see the potent counters of both fighters scaring each other off for large stretches of the fight, as I’ll reluctantly pick Ankalaev to squeeze out a conservative decision on the scorecards.

Prediction: Ankalaev by decision

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 282.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie