UFC 282 fight card — Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev: Five biggest storylines to watch in Las Vegas
The final pay-per-view event of 2022 for the world’s biggest MMA promotion is upon us this weekend as UFC 282 sets down in Las Vegas at the T-Mobile Arena.
After a bit of a SNAFU in terms of matchmaking thanks to injuries, former champion Jan Blachowicz will take on red-hot Magomed Ankalaev in the main event for the vacant light heavyweight title. The card also marks the return of rising star Paddy Pimblett in the co-main event.
As we draw closer to fight night, let’s take a closer look at the biggest storylines entering this weekend.
1. How did we end up with this mess?
Yes, it’s difficult as an MMA fan to complain about a UFC PPV lacking star power when the promotion consistently rewards its customers with the matchups everyone wants to see. But at the same time, the final card of each calendar year — previously held annual on New Years’ weekend in Las Vegas — has long been known as an unofficial “major” for UFC. Moving the card to early December to please ESPN hasn’t necessarily changed that reputation and it’s so clear that injuries, particularly the torn shoulder that forced Jiri Prochazka to vacate his 205-pound title, played a key role in UFC 282 feeling a bit more pedestrian. Yet with that said, Saturday’s card does feel like a significant downgrade from what is expected. There’s no question Jon Jones’ debut heavyweight fight was initially targeted for this date and never quite came to fruition. But the promotion did a poor job finding a second marquee fight to fill the void. Paddy Pimblett, a potential PPV star on the cusp of breaking out, gets a nice push in the co-main event but not against a superstar opponent. And the way UFC sorted out its vacant light heavyweight title shot was also a bit messy as former champion Glover Teixeira, who was originally scheduled to rematch Prochazka in the main event, told the promotion he would rematch Blachowicz on short notice but would need an additional month to prepare for Ankalaev, who is a southpaw. Blachowicz-Ankalaev, which was already on the card in a non-title bout, is an acceptable main event and championship fight for hard-core fans but does lack any form of crossover appeal.
2. Ankalaev just might be the present and future at 205
If you’ve followed MMA closely in recent years, regardless of organization, it hasn’t been hard to notice how many fighters from Dagestan, Russia, have become a threat to world titles in almost every division. Consider Ankalaev chief among the group as the 30-year-old possesses many of the same qualities — from punching power to shutdown grappling and a mean streak, to boot — that have helped lift the likes of Islam Makhachev and Usman Nurmagomedov to recent title conquests. Ankalaev may have lost his 2018 UFC debut via submission to Paul Craig, but it remains the lone defeat of his 8-year pro career and he has won nine straight since that defeat, including five by knockout. It also doesn’t hurt that Ankalaev has some form of the name Magomed in his full name, which as MMA reporter Aaron Bronsteter of TSN often points out, has led to a frighteningly high win percentage among fellow UFC fighters with similar names. Ankalaev opened as the clear betting favorite against Blachowicz and appears poised to take over the division at large. After former champion Jon Jones vacated the title in 2019, the division has lacked any sort of stability. With respect to the 39-year-old Blachowicz, who authored an unlikely renaissance run to the belt two years ago, all signs indicate that the Dagestan takeover within MMA will only continue.
3. Can Pimblett take his star to the next level?
Considering the impact he has had upon the UFC in just three short fights, it’s easy to forget that Pimblett, the 27-year-old native of Liverpool, England, has only been with the promotion for just over a year. But after a trio of memorable undercard cameos, including two featured bouts in London that teased perfectly his long term star potential, “Paddy the Baddy” makes his PPV debut in a co-main event pairing opposite Jared Gordon. Oddsmakers have enlisted Pimblett as a solid favorite, although it’s important to remember his fights up to this point have featured a fair bit of drama given his exciting style. Pimblett, a former Cage Warriors champion, has seemingly doubled down on the Conor McGregor comparisons he has received by openly challenging the idle Irish star to a PPV bout that Pimblett predicted would break UFC records. None of that can happen, of course, if he doesn’t take care of business first against Gordon, who enters having won four of his last five bouts, albeit against pedestrian opposition. With UFC 282 severely lacking in star power, it’s not out of the question to suggest the PPV will go as far as Pimblett takes it during fight week, which should be a good indicator at exactly how powerful his star is at the moment.
4. Darren Till is running out of time and excuses
Hailing from the same English city as Pimblett, there was a time just over four years ago that Till was considered a legitimate UFC rising star. With the same brash arrogance as McGregor, albeit soaked in a Scouser accent, some wondered whether Till might follow in the footsteps of former middleweight champion Michael Bisping as Britain’s next great MMA star. But Till’s one-sided welterweight title loss to Tyron Woodley in 2018, which snapped his unbeaten record, was the beginning of a long and frustrating cycle that has very much called into question his fighting future. Till is just 1-4 since fighting for the title and has suffered countless setbacks related to injuries, weight issues that moved him up to 185 pounds and legal trouble outside the cage. His only win during that stretch was a split decision again the equally inconsistent Kelvin Gastelum. Till is set to snap a 15-month layoff when he takes on rising South African slugger Dricus du Plessis, who is 17-2 overall and 3-0 since making his UFC debut in 2020. It’s certainly a winnable fight for Till, a small underdog, helped by his opponent’s previous defensive issues. But there will be no room for any moral victories in this one for Till, similar to the stingy and credible performance he put up in defeat against former champion Robert Whittaker two years ago. Should Till hope to remain a fighter still in possession of a bright future at age 29, this is a must-win scenario.
5. Don’t sleep on an absolute banger at 145 pounds
When unbeaten featherweights Bryce Mitchell and Ilia Topuria meet in a matchup between top 10 opponents that is expected to open the PPV card, fans could very well be looking at the future of the division. Mitchell, a 28-year-old from Arkansas who is a farmer in his spare time, is 15-0 overall and riding a six-fight win streak since making his UFC debut in 2018. The submission expert has gone to the scorecards each time but once, however, when he recorded just the second twister submission in UFC history against Matt Sayles in 2019. But Topuria, a 25-year-old of Armenian descent who hails from Germany, is just about as contrasting in terms of styles as one could hope for. The 12-0 Topuria is an absolute hammer of a striker who, despite recording six submissions before coming to UFC, has transformed himself into a dangerous knockout threat. Topuria is 4-0 overall in the UFC but is riding a three-fight win streak all by knockout.
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Expect this one to be both hotly contested and a candidate for fight of the night.