TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
And just like that another year of MMA madness is almost over – but not before the final numbered card of the year arrives on BT Sport this Saturday night.
UFC 282: Blachowicz vs Ankalaev sees the vacant light heavyweight title contested in the main event between two of the top 205lbers in the world at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
Both former champion Jan Blachowicz and rising star Magomed Ankalaev will be looking to fill the void left behind by the outgoing king Jiri Prochazka after his surprise injury-enforced abdication from the light-heavyweight throne last month.
There’s also huge British interest in the card with two of the biggest stars from this side of the pond in action on the main broadcast when Liverpool’s own Darren Till and Paddy PImblett return to action.
And with a host of other cracking contests to look forward to including Bryce Mitchell vs Ilia Topuria and Alex Morono vs Santiago Ponzinibbio, it’s going to be a wicked night of fights this coming Saturday.
Here are four reasons you can’t miss UFC 282: Blachowicz vs Ankalaev exclusively live on BT Sport.
Till or be Tilled
Saturday night promises to be a huge night for any one of the competitors scheduled to fight at the iconic T-Mobile Arena in the heart of the fight capital Stateside.
But arguably nobody on the card is under as much pressure with the stakes as high as Darren Till.
The 29-year-old middleweight has endured a fairly torrid few years since bursting onto the scene to become the poster boy for British MMA throughout 2017 and 2018.
Till is 1-4 in his last five fights and has been ravaged by injuries and issues outside of the Octagon that have severely impeded what was once a precocious talent.
UFC 282 will be Till’s first fight in 2022, marking the third straight calendar year in which the man from Liverpool has only fought once.
Yet while poor form and inactivity haven’t helped the former welterweight title challenger, Till remains one of the biggest names in the sport with a profile many others in the UFC could only dream of.
There is, however, no guarantee that will remain the case if the former Team Kaobon man cannot rediscover the unshakeable confidence and supreme ability that helped him win five of his first six fights in the promotion.
Simply put, The Gorilla is running out of rope.
But this weekend, Till enters the Octagon on the cusp of a new beginning looking to haul himself back from the brink and climb back into contention with a statement victory against a game competitor in Dricus du Plessis.
It could be a new look Till too having spent the majority of this fight camp training at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand rather than his usual home at Team Kaobon in Liverpool.
Spending time alongside the likes of newly-crowned PFL champion Brendan Loughnane, UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili and former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan can only have helped restore some of that confidence.
Can Till now show he deserves his place back among the big dogs of the middleweight division?
The Baddy’s biggest night
There have been very few fighters to achieve the level of notoriety and superstardom that Paddy Pimblett has after just three fights in the UFC.
Already elevated to the status of a pay-per-view co-main event fighter – albeit due to the original UFC 282 main event being cancelled - Pimblett truly has the mixed martial arts world at his feet.
However, critics of the blonde-haired Liverpudlian will say that he is yet to have been truly tested since joining the promotion a little over a year ago.
In that space of time, Pimblett has fought and defeated Luigi Vendramini, Rodrigo Vargas and Jordan Leavitt – two of whom are no longer believed to be under contract with the UFC.
Those accusations of favourable matchmaking may not be totally unfounded but they also don’t seem particularly fair to level at a fighter simply beating the men put in front of him.
People still aren't taking me for real
- Paddy Pimblett
At UFC 282, there’s no doubt Pimblett will be taking on the most accomplished and dangerous opponent of his tenure in the promotion yet, veteran Jared “Flash” Gordon.
The 34-year-old is currently on a 4-1 run in his last five and since 2018 has only lost against the former lightweight champion Charles Oliveira and the highly-rated Grant Dawson.
Gordon may not be ranked in the lightweight division or even considered particularly elite in his skillset – but there’s no doubt the game New Yorker will provide a thorough examination of Pimblett’s credentials as a potential force in the 155lb.
Referencing the naysayers who claim he’s been given an easy ride in the UFC so far, Pimblett told reporters at the UFC media day on Wednesday that victory over Gordon would finally vindicate his position in the organisation and prove the doubters wrong.
"They're not [taking me seriously]. It's cheeky. People still aren't taking me for real. No one respects me, and it does p*** me off,” he said.
“But I've just got to get on with that. People just don't respect the come up. Simple as.
“This is going to be my breakout performance. People are going to see the improvements that I've made over the last 15 months since I signed with the UFC. You're going to see.'
On the most prestigious night of his career, on the biggest stage of all, can ‘The Baddy’ show he belongs on the lightweight ladder to contention?
A changing of the guard?
Quite the chaotic end to the year for the light heavyweight division, isn’t it?
The future of the 205lb landscape was thrown into uncertainty last month when it emerged the incumbent champion Jiri Prochazka was withdrawing from UFC 282’s main event and vacating the title after suffering a serious shoulder injury.
Describing how the unfortunate incident during a recent podcast appearance, UFC boss Dana White revealed: “That night when it all went down and we had our doctor look at him, the doctor literally said in all the years of the UFC, this is the worst shoulder injury we’ve ever seen.
“What happened was it popped out and he had some guys there at the gym [try to put it back in socket] and it f***ing ripped the s**t out of it and destroyed his shoulder.”
In Prochazka’s absence, Teixeira opted not to fight for the vacant belt against a late change of opponent, leaving the path clear for the two next best contenders to duke it out for the vacant 205lb strap.
Jan Blachowicz and Magomed Ankalaev had been set to face off over three rounds on the main card at UFC 282 anyway but now they will do so in the main event over five rounds for the ultimate prize in the sport.
I will do whatever I have to do to make sure I come out of that Octagon with the title
- Magomed Ankalaev
It was an unexpected return to immediate title contention for Blachowicz, who ruled the 205lb division before losing his title against Teixeira in October last year.
“Early Christmas gift – I enjoy it – It is what it is,” Blachowicz told reporters this week.
“I was last to know. I was in the plane when everything happened. I could not believe it at first.
“I think I deserved this fight after [Aleksandar] Rakic, but Jiri wanted to take a rematch with Glover [Teixeira] so I had to wait, do one more fight. But the universe work with me very well. I with Jiri the best recovery, but I will take my chance and be the champion again.”
However, that may be far easier said than done for the 39-year-old veteran as he goes up against one of the most feared and in-form fighters in the whole promotion.
Russia’s Ankalaev is currently riding a nine-fight win streak including victories over Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos, and Volkan Oezdemir and whose only professional loss infamously came in the final second of the fight against Paul Craig back in 2018.
The 30-year-old has 10 wins by knockout – including six inside the first round – but is equally adept on the mat and is a former Dagestani combat sambo gold medallist.
“I can’t say anything bad about Blachowicz as an opponent,” Ankalaev said.
“He’s a great fighter. He’s a great guy. But the thing is, this fight is my dream. This is my opportunity. I will do whatever I have to do to make sure I come out of that Octagon with the title.”
Can Ankalaev realise his potential as the next 205lb champion in waiting? Or will the crown return to its former king in the resurgent Blachowicz?
The next featherweight force?
Arguably the most intriguing battle on the card takes place in the featherweight division as two ranked rivals face off in a brilliant clash of styles.
It sees slick grappler Bryce Mitchell take on the brick-fisted Ilia Topuria with both men eyeing a strong finish to 2022 that would give them a solid platform to target the top five next year.
Mitchell had been on a hell of a tear through the 145lb landscape beating the likes of Charles Rosa and Andre Fili before his progress up the featherweight ladder was slowed by a near 18-month absence.
However, he picked up where he left off when he faced Edson Barboza back in March, dominating the Brazilian over three rounds to extend his incredible winning run and confirm himself as a genuine threat to the rest of the division.
A win over a fellow rising star and fearsome unbeaten prospect would surely only help consolidate his position as a contender-in-waiting – but Mitchell believes he’ll gain little from a win over Topuria on Saturday night.
“He hits hard, and I think he’s pretty good on the ground, and it’s a good fight,” Mitchell said.
“It’s gonna get me a paycheck, and that’s great, I’m really happy, but is it gonna move me up in the ranks? No. I just beat Edson Barboza and nobody gives a s**t. When I beat this guy, nobody is gonna give a s**t.”
One man who would give a s*** will be standing in the opposite corner on Saturday night – and if there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching Topuria in his four fights in the promotion so far, it’s that the Georgian star does not know how to lose.
Dropped by Jai Herbert during the first round at UFC London back in March, the 25-year-old survived to produce one of the knockouts of the night in the next round as he demonstrated his game-changing power to render the ‘Black Country Banger’ senseless with a single strike.
That was the third straight knockout for Topuria who came into the promotion with a reputiation as a talented grappler, winning seven of eight fights prior to joining the UFC by submission.
The 25-year-old’s all-round skillset, combined with his athleticism and mentality, have seen Topuria pegged as a potential title challenger in the not-too-distant future.
If he is able to navigate arguably one of the trickiest contenders in the division, those calls will only grow louder.
Can Topuria keep up his streak of knockouts – or will Mitchell poop his party at UFC 282?