Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight contenders Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will collide this Saturday (Sept. 26, 2020) at UFC 253 inside Flash Forum on “Fight Island” in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
It has become impossible to separate Reyes from his title bout with Jon Jones. That may be partially his own fault, as “Devastator” didn’t shut up about it for months. More relevant, however, is the fact that a majority of viewers genuinely believed Reyes deserved the nod. This was no fringe selection of Jones haters cheering for his downfall — Reyes should probably be attempting his first title defense.
None of this matters to Blachowicz much. The Polish power puncher has already achieved one hell of a career turnaround, going from losing four of five UFC bouts to winning all but one in his last eight. That’s hugely impressive on its own, but now Blachowicz can complete the renaissance with a title.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 147), Chris Weidman (UFC on ESPN 6), Ovince St. Preux (UFC 229), Jared Cannonier (UFC Fight Night 132), Joachim Christensen (UFC Fight Night 112)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 247)
Keys to Victory: Reyes is a great example of an excellent athlete brought up smartly by his coaches and team. He wrestled a bit growing up, but without a deep martial arts background, Reyes has nevertheless grown into a well-rounded knockout artist.
Strategically, this is an interesting bout for Reyes. Historically, Blachowicz’s struggles come against opponents looking to drag him to the mat, which can tire him. That’s not really Reyes’ game, but he has scored takedowns in the past, so does he switch it up and wrestle against “The Prince of Cieszyn?”
I don’t think so.
Sure, if a takedown is there off a caught kick or something, take it, but Reyes just boxed with Jones without major issue. He also appears to be the better out-fighter than Blachowicz. At distance, Reyes would be wise to smother Blachowicz’s sharp jab with his lead hand, at which point he can pick and choose targets with his left leg — classic Southpaw tactics.
When Blachowicz fought Thiago Santos, the last man to willingly strike with him, he was falling behind on the scorecards due to Santos’ volume of kicks. As a result, he rushed forward with a blitz and was cracked with a pair of counter punches. Reyes’ pull-cross is an excellent counter tool, so baiting Blachowicz into running into the punch seems like a wise strategy.
Key Wins: Corey Anderson (UFC Fight Night 167), Luke Rockhold (UFC 239), Jimi Manuwa (UFC Fight Night 127), Nikita Krylov (UFC Fight Night 136), Jared Cannonier (UFC on FOX 26), Ronaldo Souza (UFC Fight Night 164), Ilir Latifi (UFC Fight Night 53)
Key Losses: Thiago Santos (UFC Fight Night 145), Alexander Gustafsson (UFC Fight Night 93), Jimi Manuwa (UFC Fight Night 64), Corey Anderson (UFC 191)
Keys to Victory: Knocking out Corey Anderson five years after getting thoroughly beaten up by Anderson is such a perfect symbolic moment. Blachowicz’s takedown defense and conditioning issues have improved dramatically, and as a result, he’s able to show off all his skill and experience.
Despite his recent success in shutting off the lights of opponents, Blachowicz is not a particularly aggressive striker. He’s more patient, happy to establish his jab and allow counter opportunities to open up.
Against a younger and potentially heavier hitter, Blachowicz might have to turn up the pressure a bit, otherwise the judges may end up siding against him. He cannot be reckless — remember the pull cross! — but Blachowicz should be consistently stalking Reyes, working to establish the jab, and kicking to the legs and body while moving forward.
Reyes moves well and can fight off the back foot, but Blachowicz is much more likely to find the pocket if consistently cutting off the cage and forcing the issue. Furthermore, Blachowicz has proven himself quite good at timing kicks with big counter swings, which is much easier to do while advancing.
A new Light Heavyweight champion will be crowned.
Who is set to rule in the post-Jones era? As with any time a longtime divisional kingpin loses (or vacates, in this case), the division suddenly opens up to an extreme degree. For either Reyes or Blachowicz, there are several intriguing challengers coming up the ranks, violent veterans like Thiago Santos as well as newer killers like Jiri Prochazka.
Any possible combination of these men is an awesome fight.
So while their potential future is shared, this contest means something different for the individual legacies of each man. Reyes is attempting to replace Jones as a young, nearly undefeated ruler of the division. If he blows Blachowicz out of the water, he’ll be a significant favorite over just about anyone moving forward.
As for Blachowicz, it doesn’t seem like the 37-year-old veteran is as likely to lock down the division in perpetuity. Rather, Blachowicz is trying to complete the last step of his personal journey by reaching the highest height, putting his name in the history books alongside athletes like Robbie Lawler for all-time great career renaissances.
Like “Ruthless,” his reign is unlikely to last forever, but it would still be a remarkable accomplishment.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 253 fight card this weekend, starting with the early ESPN 2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance (also on ESPN 2/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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At UFC 253, Dominick Reyes and Jan Blachowicz will go to war in the co-main event. Which man will earn the victory?