In the final numbered card of the year, UFC 282 provides some intriguing matchups, headlined by a fight for the vacant Light-Heavyweight title between Jan Błachowicz versus Magomed Ankalaev.
This card was originally due to be headlined by the Light-Heavyweight title rematch between Jiri Prochazka (29-3-1) and Glover Teixeira (33-8). However, Prochazka pulled out of the fight, sighting a shoulder injury and therefore vacated his title. Teixeira was offered the chance to fight Ankalaev for the vacant title but turned it down.
The UFC was then forced to elevate the three-round co-main, Błachowicz versus Ankalaev, to a five-round fight for the vacant title.
In addition, the veteran Robbie Lawler had to withdraw from his bout against Santiago Ponzinibbio due to an undisclosed injury. But a replacement has been found in Alex Morono, and the fight will now take place at a 180-pound catchweight.
Jan Błachowicz (29-9) vs Magomed Ankalaev (18-1)
Jan Błachowicz has seen it all in the UFC.
From losing streaks to wrapping gold around his waist, Błachowicz is one of the most experienced operators in the Light-Heavyweight division.
Currently, the ‘Polish Power’ is trying to reclaim what he lost back at UFC 267, where he was handily beaten by Teixeira via second-round submission. In his most recent fight against Aleksandar Rakić, he won in freakish circumstances as Rakić injured his knee in the second round.
Whilst Błachowicz is seen as one of the top contenders in the division, he’s now 39 years old, so this could be his last opportunity to lift that converted UFC belt.
He faces Dagestani-born. Ankalaev has an extensive Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) amateur background, winning gold medals in the Russian MMA Championships and World MMA Championships.
This extensive form has been carried over to his professional career, where he has won 18 of his 19 fights. The Russian is on a nine-fight win streak in the UFC, and in his last bout, he finished Anthony Smith by TKO in the second round.
However, if there is one potential weakness to Ankalaev’s game, it’s his ground game. In his UFC debut, Ankalaev was submitted in the last second of the last round against Paul Craig back in 2018 and out of his 18 wins, he has never submitted an opponent.
Ankalaev: Alex, George, Conor
Paddy Pimblett (19-3-0) v Jared Gordon (19-5-0)
Paddy ‘the Baddy’ Pimblett faces his toughest test in the UFC against Jared Gordon in the co-main event on Saturday night. The fact that a fighter with only 3 UFC bouts under his belt is remarkable and shows his value to the promotion despite his inexperience.
However, for the first time in his career, the scouser probably has a less interesting story than his opponent. A recovering drug addict, in 2015, Gordon was legally dead for two minutes after his third heroin overdose.
The fact that he has been able to get in the Octagon after going to “rehab 10 times” is a miracle, considering he can no longer take opioid-based painkillers after his fights, which regularly lead to broken bones.
Gordon has won four of his last five, all via decision, and his last fight against Leandro Santos at UFC 278. The American’s only finish came in his UFC debut against Michel Quiñones all the way back in 2017.
A win for Pimblett would mean his meteoric rise through the UFC lightweight division would continue. He is coming off a Rear-Naked Choke victory against Jordan Leavitt at UFC London in July, his 3rd finish in as many UFC fights.
As a result, it seems that Gordon must hope to take ‘Paddy the Baddy’ the distance for the first time in his UFC career to have a chance of victory. This is much easier said than done when facing Pimblett’s awkward style of Jiu-Jitsu and striking.
Paddy Pimblett: Alex, George, Andrew, Conor
Jared Gordon: N/A
Santiago Ponzinibbio (29-6-0) vs Alex Morono (22-7-0)
Following Robbie Lawlor’s exclusion from UFC 282, Santiago Ponzinibbio will now face off against Alex Morono.
The UFC welterweight veteran will get his fight after all and will now face off against Morono at a catchweight of 180 pounds. Ponzinibbio will be looking to recover from two split-decision defeats to Michael Pereira and Geoff Neal.
He arguably could have won these bouts, but given his blow-for-blow style, it is no surprise the decisions were so narrow. The only consolation Ponzinibbio can take from these two setbacks is that his fight against Pereira won Fight of the Night in what was a gruelling contest.
As for Morono, he is looking to make it five wins on the bounce. His last fight against Matthew Semelsberger was won by unanimous decision, with his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu illuminated in stunning fashion.
Ponzinibbio and Morono fight similarly: linear striking with minimal defence but a reliable chin. However, even with his age, Ponzinibbio is technically and athletically superior to Morono.
Credit must be given to Morono for taking the fight on less than a week’s notice, with the chasm in cardio between both fighters another indication of how this bout will go.
Santiago Ponzinibbio: Alex, George, Andrew, Conor
Alex Morono: N/A
Darren Till (18-4-1) v Dricus Du Plessis (17-2-0)
It feels like now or never for Darren Till.
After THAT memorable evening in 2019 when Till headlined and defeated Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson in his home town of Liverpool, the scouser has won just one fight and lost four.
The calibre of his opponents is nothing to frown upon but defeats to Derek Brunson, former champions Robert Whittaker and Tyron Woodley, and ‘BMF’ champion Jorge Masvidal mean Till is in dire need of a win.
A former title contender at welterweight, Darren looked to revive his career with a move to 185. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked, and his dreams of holding a UFC title are slipping away.
Till is being fed a rising monster in Dricus Du Plessis. The South African is on a five-fight win streak, including three KOs and one Submission. The former KSW champion combines aggression and physicality and mixes it with an unorthodox offence that will seriously threaten Till.
Du Plessis is not well-known to the average UFC fan, but it will be with a victory over ‘The Gorilla’.
There is opportunity and danger in this matchup. Till, often the counter-striking sniper, against the wildly aggressive Du Plessis. If Till’s timing is a little off following his lengthy absence since his last fight in September 2021, Du Plessis will swarm and look to finish the fight early.
Darren Till: George, Andrew, Conor
Dricus Du Plessis: Alex.
Bryce Mitchell (15-1-0) vs Ilia Topuria (12-0-0)
Featherweight up-and-comers Bryce Mitchell and Ilia Topuria will battle this weekend in a bout that is incredibly tough to call.
Mitchell joined the UFC roster off the back of an unheralded season of The Ultimate Fighter, had no serious credentials, and still doesn’t train with a major camp even now. Despite all this, ‘Thug Nasty’ has proved his worth, winning six on the bounce to break into the Featherweight Top 10.
Topuria has also had a noticeable introduction to the Featherweight scene. Topuria’s game is grappling, yet it was eye-opening to witness his stand-up game highlighted during his TKO victory over Jai Herbert at UFC Fight Night back in March. The Georgian talent has quickly gained momentum as a result of this.
Micthell is an exceptional wrestler, and considering Topuria had to cut weight to make this fight, he may feel the heat with Mitchell’s renowned chain wrestling along the fence.
However, Topuria is seen as the next big thing in the Featherweight division and seemingly has it all, a right-hand like a slingshot and grappling attributes that will combat Mitchell’s primary approach to the fight.
It is a tough bout to predict.
Given Topuria’s all–round game, he offers a serious offensive threat with his kickboxing and a solid defence against Mitchell’s wrestling with his own grappling credentials. Topuria may narrowly edge this one but writing Mitchell off would be foolish.
Bryce Mitchell: Alex, Conor
Ilia Topuria: George, Andrew
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