TNT Sports Reload - Episode 11Sep 26
The big fights keep coming thick and fast as we hurtle towards the halfway point of the year – and there’s a sizzler coming your way from the summit of the light heavyweight division on Saturday night.
Former light heavyweight ruler Jan Blachowicz returns to action for the first time since being relieved of the championship when he takes on top ranked 205lb contender Aleksandar Rakic at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas.
Divisional comrades Ryan Spann and Ion Cutelaba take on co-main duties in another fascinating clash that could be the making of either man on the road to contention in one of the promotion’s most fluid divisions.
Plus two Brits fly the flag from the fight capital as veteran Davey Grant and UFC debutant Jake Hadley look to make their mark in competitive contests across the pond.
With all that coming your way plus much more this Saturday evening, here’s three reasons you can’t afford to miss UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs Rakic.
Blachowicz rediscovers the fire within
Campaigning during an era in which Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier exchanged turns reigning over the light heavyweight division, few may have believed Jan Blachowicz ever capable of capturing the undisputed title for himself.
But that all changed with a stunning one-punch knockout of Luke Rockhold back at UFC 239.
That win over former middleweight king Rockhold helped Blachowicz rebound at the first time of asking following defeat against Thiago Santos while delivering the Pole’s first stoppage win in four years.
It also saw Blachowicz hail the rediscovery of his “Legendary Polish Power” – a term the 39-year-old has now trademarked as his own – while sparking the beginning of a blazing, brutal run to the title.
First the Warsaw native edged past fellow veteran Jacare Souza before pulverising fellow top ranked contender Corey Anderson in the first round in February 2020 to pocket another eye-catching performance bonus.
As Blachowicz continued to scale the 205lb division, both Cormier and Jones stepped out of the picture, leaving the throne vacant.
The Pole was swiftly installed as the chosen challenger for the belt, taking on the bookies’ favourite Dominick Reyes who’d come closer than most to beating Jones for the belt just six months earlier.
But Blachowicz, armed with his “Legendary Polish Power”, made a mockery of trade wisdom to batter Reyes senseless inside the second round, becoming Poland’s first ever UFC champion in stunning fashion.
A career-best performance against Israel Adesanya proved to be his first defence of the belt at UFC 259 with Blachowicz looking comfortable newly-cast in his role as the champion.
I lost the fire
- Blachowicz on Teixeira defeat
But the dream came to an unexpected, crushing end last time out as Brazilian veteran Glover Teixeira stunned the MMA world to win the belt two days after his 42nd birthday, submitting an off-colour Blachowicz in the second round.
"I lost the fire, I don't know,” Blachowicz assessed of his performance during a chat with the UFC’s John Gooden earlier this month.
"When you look at my whole career, sometimes I think I am the fighter that needs to lose to feel the fire again.
"I gave the belt away for free and that's what hurt me the lost.
"If he knocked me out, okay. But it was two rounds and I did nothing. I just gave it for free.”
Blachowicz’s struggles came amid larger strife at his native gym, the Berkut WCA Fight Team in Warsaw; results had taken a downturn across the board leading to an emergency meeting being called between the stable’s leading coaches and fighters to help remedy the situation.
And it appears to have paid dividends with Blachowicz revealing each of his team-mates who have fought since have won by knockout.
His quest to regain the belt has also been aided by the recent addition of new mental coach, Blachowicz recently revealed.
Tasked with helping Blachowicz eliminate the mental traps that led to his surrendering the belt at UFC 267, the former KSW champion believes his new mentor has helped relight the fire within.
"It's big,” he said.
“But it's going to be huge.”
Aleksandar Rakic has been poised to deliver on his promise for some time now.
The Austrian burst into 205lb contention with one of the most destructive knockouts in light heavyweight history three years ago, volleying Jimi Manuwa into another dimension with a stunning headkick inside the very first round at UFC Fight Night 153.
However, a setback in his next fight against Volkan Oezdemir put the brakes on any hope Rakic had of securing a fast-track shot at the belt – his last appearance before the pandemic further slowed any progress the 30-year-old had wished to make.
The story of his two returns to the Octagon since that defeat has not exactly mirrored the explosive thrill of what convinced many the man nicknamed “Rocket” was next in line for the throne.
I would like to put on a highlight reel performance
- Aleksandar Rakic
Labouring to unspectacular decision wins over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos may have helped Rakic return to the win column but they failed to convince the UFC brass of his championship worthiness.
“The most important thing is to win,” Rakic told the UFC of the reception to his pair of recent victories.
“With Santos, it didn’t go like the fans are expecting it, but a win is a win. We knew that Santos was a dangerous counter-striker, so this was a tactical win.
“I fought big names already in my career. I’ve fought three former title challengers in a row, and now I’m fighting a former champion. I would like to put on a highlight reel performance, but you need two (people to make that happen), you know?”
Now returning to the fore after 14 months out of action, Rakic knows of the importance of making a statement in the biggest fight of his career.
“I need to let the people know that I’m going to fight for the belt next.”
White Kong’s welcome
Jake Hadley was not meant to be here.
The talented Birmingham flyweight came to the UFC’s attention through the Contender Series last year but almost blew his chances after a miscue on the scales, missing weight under the nose of Dana White himself.
Despite believing his dream of securing a UFC contract to have gone up in smoke, Hadley fought his heart out against Mitch Raposo on the way to a dominant second round submission win.
The manner of his victory – his sixth finish in eight fights – convinced White to break his own rule of not signing fighters who failed to make weight, penning an emotional Hadley to his first ever UFC deal.
The 25-year-old former Cage Warriors champion had been set to make his promotional debut at UFC London in March only for injury to delay his first appearance.
But Hadley will finally make his Octagon walk this weekend against a man he labelled “the best unranked guy in the division” in Brazilian Allan Nascimento.
Nascimento, 30, dropped a controversial split decision loss to Tagir Ulanbekov on his own UFC debut last time out and will be keen to make amends against another highly-rated prospect this Saturday night.
Can Hadley kick off his UFC career with a bang?