Battle of the boomers!
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will send its oldest active champion into battle against its oldest No. 1 contender for a light heavyweight showdown atop the UFC 267 free-per-view fight card — assuming you already subscribe to ESPN+ — this Sat. afternoon (Oct. 30, 2021) on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. I’m talking, of course, about Jan Blachowicz vs. Teixeira, a five-round battle that follows the interim bantamweight title fight in the UFC 267 co-main event, where former champion Petr Yan looks to inch his way back to the belt at the expense of No. 3-ranked contender Cory Sandhagen. The winner moves on to face the still-injured Aljamain Sterling at some point in early 2022.
Dan Hooker will complete his short-notice return to lightweight in an effort to quell the uprising of 155-pound rising star Islam Makhachev, not long after welterweight phenom Khamzat Chimaev makes his long-awaited return to action opposite 170-pound “Leech” Li Jingliang. Elsewhere on the main card, Marcin Tybura and Alexander Volkov go to war for a spot in the heavyweight title chase, while Magomed Ankalaev and Volkan Oezdemir hook ‘em up for light heavyweight bragging rights. For a closer look at the UFC 267 “Prelims” contests click here and here. The latest UFC 267 odds and a complete betting guide for all the “Blachowicz vs. Teixeira” action can be located here.
Let’s go to work.
205 lbs.: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz (28-8) vs. Glover Teixeira (32-7)
The UFC light heavyweight division is exciting again, thanks to the departure of former 205-pound kingpin Jon Jones. Let’s be honest, it feels great to have all the answers but that gets boring after awhile. Regardless of who you’re picking on Saturday, I doubt anyone is feeling 100-percent about their choice and even if they are, the shadow of Jiri Prochazka looms large over this five-round main event. Every sport has its feel-good stories and MMA is no exception, thanks to the recently-resurrected Glover Teixeira. The battle-tested Brazilian previously fought Jones for the light heavyweight title in the UFC 172 headliner back in April 2014 and to give you some perspective on that timeline, Renan Barao was UFC bantamweight champion and ranked No. 3 in the world on the promotion’s pound-for-pound list.
Yeah, it’s been a minute.
Teixeira was shut out by Jones but kept himself in the mix by putting together a 10-4 record in the years that followed, which includes a five-fight winning streak that launched him into the UFC 267 main event. Getting outwrestled by Phil Davis is kind of like getting knocked out by Anthony Johnson, you hope it doesn’t happen but in a lot of ways it’s kind of expected. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Teixeira look as good as he did in lopsided victories over Thiago Silva and Anthony Smith, though the cynic in me will point out that “Marreta” and “Lionheart” are overblown middleweights — and Santos was coming off double knee surgery, as well as a 16-month layoff. Smith, meanwhile, has 16 professional losses and has been finished a staggering 13 times, nine by way of knockout/technical knockout.
Blachowicz, roughly three years younger than Teixeira at 38, has also made the most of his twilight years. I picked against him and his overrated “Polish power” in fights against Dominick Reyes and Israel Adesanya, but the former KSW champ proved me (and a lot of other people) wrong by utilizing his brains as much as his brawn. You can make the same argument against Blachowicz that I did for Teixeira; namely, that Adesanya was a skinny middleweight and Reyes was a glorified can crusher who over-performed against a lazy, listless Jones.
The sentimental pick for this fight is Teixeira and to be honest, he’s got the physical tools to get it done. I just think Blachowicz — a multiple-time grappling champion in his native Poland — will be able to neutralize the Brazilian in every department. I do expect the champ to spend the first half of this fight on his feet where he’ll enjoy a two-inch reach advantage and depending on how much damage he incurs in the standup, could resort to his wrestling in rounds three through five. Teixeira has a punishing top game but can be equally helpless on his back, a card that Blachowicz will likely play if the title is at risk of slipping away. This bout will be more chess match than death match, which should draw little criticism from fickle fight fans since UFC 267 was moved from PPV to ESPN+.
Prediction: Blachowicz def. Teixeira by technical knockout
135 lbs.: Petr “No Mercy” Yan (15-2) vs. Cory “Sandman” Sandhagen (14-3) for Interim Bantamweight Championship
I know all the cool kids are bagging on Aljamain Sterling because this is MMA and tough guys don’t accept belts by DQ, blah blah blah, but I think we need to abandon this narrative that Yan would still be champion if “Funk Master” didn’t lay down for the illegal knee. Regardless, the gold will return to his waist if he’s able to get past No. 3-ranked contender Cory Sandhagen, who belongs at the top half of the division based on his resume, but may not be championship material — also based on his resume. “Sandman” is coming off a decision loss to former titleholder TJ Dillashaw and was submitted by Sterling at UFC 250. I don’t like to poo-poo anyone’s accomplishments and Sandhagen certainly has his share, I just can’t break out the party hats for a knockout win over a 40 year-old Frankie Edgar, or a second-round finish over Marlon Moraes, who’s dropped three straight and four of his last five — all by way of knockout.
That doesn’t mean Yan has been tearing up the division. Outside of Jose Aldo, “No Mercy” doesn’t hold a victory over anyone ranked in the Top 15. No TJ Dillashaw, no Dominick Cruz, no Rob Font. Am I supposed to scream and faint because Yan whooped a 40-something Urijah Faber? At the same time, I won’t take anything away from his talent, which has been demonstrated in all eight of his UFC fights. “No Mercy” is a punishing wrestler but also lands an average of six significant strikes per minute, the highest percentage out of all the Top 10 fighters at 135 pounds. Gas tank has never been an issue — one of the benefits of competing in the lower weight classes — and his switch stance allows him to adapt to any opponent, including Sandhagen. That said, “Sandman” will boast a four-inch height and two-inch reach advantage on fight night, which may come in handy if the Coloradan can commit to the outside and stay there.
Prediction: Yan def. Sandhagen by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Islam Makhachev (20-1) vs. Dan “The Hangman” Hooker (21-10)
Islam Makhachev is a legitimate badass who will become the next lightweight champion, and I know that because Khabib Nurmagomedov told me so. Unfortunately for the retired “Eagle,” there is zero data to support that claim. Makhachev has won eight straight and in the process, recycled so many cans that Greta Thunberg retired from environmental activism. Most fighters board the UFC hype train by squashing a who’s-who of division contenders, but for the Dagestani it’s been more of a who’s that? After getting stopped by Adriano Martins at UFC 192, Makhachev bounced back with eight straight wins, though more than half of those opponents are no longer with UFC, which should give you an idea of where they were at in their professional MMA careers. I will give him credit for his most recent victory, a fourth-round submission over “Contender Series” graduate Thiago Moises, who is a legitimate threat to anyone in the 155-pound division.
Hooker will swoop in on short notice after Rafael dos Anjos went down with another injury. “The Hangman” has faced and defeated good (but not great) competition at 155 pounds, including Jim Miller, Gilbert Burns, and Paul Felder, just to name a few. He’s a well-rounded fighter with big power for a lightweight and anyone who wants to see what Hooker is made of can go watch his five-round war against Dustin Poirier. I think that fight serves as a great example as to why Hooker has double-digit losses and is currently not contending for the 155-pound strap. “The Hangman” is there to fight ... though I'm not sure he’s there to win. Obviously every fighter wants to leave with the “W” but that requires more than just balls-to-the-wall action in close fights and based on his history, Hooker is content to dazzle the fans and rack up performance bonuses. Trust me, that’s not a complaint — but it does factor into how we break down this fight.
Hooker fought just a few weeks back so his conditioning will not be an issue. To upset Makhachev — who is a bloated -700 favorite — he’ll need to prevent the takedown, something he’s struggled to do earlier in his career. I know all the experts are picking Makhachev by submission, but they aren’t taking into account how the same thing that typically works against Hooker may actually work in his favor this time around. “The Hangman” has nothing to lose, nothing to prove, and only needs three rounds of damage to steal a decision. I can very easily see a loosey-goosey Hooker frustrating Makhachev by dancing his way out of takedowns and returning fire on the break. I know the Russian faithful want Makhachev to be the next Khabib, but he’ll need a stronger body of work or perhaps a signature win to realize that dream. Hooker, not surprisingly, has other plans.
Prediction: Hooker def. Makhachev by unanimous decision
265 lbs.: Alexander “Drago” Volkov (33-9) vs. Marcin “Tybur” Tybura (22-6)
Alexander Volkov has now lost to three of the Top 5 heavyweights in the crowded 265-pound division, including current interim titleholder Ciryl Gane. That leaves “Drago” in no-man’s land, competitively speaking, so he can expect opponents at or near the level of Marcin Tybura for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to go too hard on his loss to Curtis Blaydes because “Razor” has nearly 60 takedowns in his UFC career. Making life miserable for lanky strikers is kinda his thing. And Volkov was also winning the Derrick Lewis fight until “Black Beast” uncorked one of his patented Hail Marys. As for Gane? He’s just a better fighter across the board. To his credit, the towering Russian has great hands for a heavyweight with an 80-inch reach — but it’s only two inches longer than Tybura. Fortunately for Volkov, “Tybur” doesn't have his level of boxing, so it probably won’t matter.
Tybura came into UFC with an impressive 13-1 record after running the table on the international circuit. I suppose that’s not too difficult when you’re facing Polish potatoes like the 1-2 Stanislaw Slusakowicz, or the 1-6 Andrzej Kosecki. Under the UFC banner Tybura is a respectable 9-5 and has blossomed in the latter half of his career. “Tybur” is the winner of five straight and coming off back-to-back knockout wins over Greg Hardy and Walt Harris. Not to suggest that “Prince of War” or “The Big Ticket” are elite heavyweights, but Ben Rothwell and Sergey Spivak are certainly tough outs. Tybura turns 36 next week and this might be his final stretch, at least in terms of title contention. If he plans to leave Abu Dhabi victorious, he’ll need to find a way inside to make it ugly without getting boxed up on entry and exit. That’s a pretty tall order, no pun intended, and Volkov will remain fresh and powerful with just three rounds to work.
Prediction: Volkov def. Tybura via technical knockout
170 lbs.: Khamzat “Borz” Chimaev (9-0) vs. Li “The Leech” Jingliang (18-6)
I don’t know where reality ends and the hype begins with Khamzat Chimaev, who burst onto the scene in summer 2020 by toe-tagging John Phillips and Rhys McKee. Yes, the same John Phillips and Rhys McKee who went a combined 1-7 in UFC before getting cut by the promotion and shipped back overseas. What followed was supposed to be a step up in competition ... but was it? No disrespect to Gerald Meerschaert, but “GM3” sports double-digit losses and has been fighting in UFC for nearly five years across a span of 14 fights — and still hasn’t been able to crack the Top 15. One thing we can say for certain is that Chimaev has power and can wrestle, evidenced by his multiple gold medals at the Swedish Freestyle National Championships from 2016-18. His future as a serious contender in the welterweight division, however, remains to be seen.
Pairing “Borz” with Li Jingliang feels like the right call from a matchmaking perspective and “The Leech” will provide a serious test for the Russian-born Swede. Jingliang has won eight of his last 10, including last January’s knockout victory over Santiago Ponzinibbio. That performance marked his thirteenth finish overall and moved him to No. 11 in the 170-pound rankings. Not taking “The Leech” seriously would be a critical error for Team Chimaev, the same one that dulled “The Argentine Dagger” earlier this year. I do have concerns about Jingliang’s ability to thwart the wrestling attack from Chimaev, something he was unable to do against Neil Magny in his UFC 248 loss to “The Haitian Sensation.” He was also outwrestled in his defeat to Jake Matthews at UFC 221 in early 2018.
This fight is not a lock for Chimaev because there are too many question marks surrounding his return. “Borz” had such a debilitating case of COVID-19 he nearly retired and most of his fight camp has been centered on his recovery. In addition, he’s only got three rounds to get the job done against one of the toughest and most durable fighters at 170 pounds. If those takedowns aren’t there, he’s going to have to resort to Plan B, assuming one exists. If Jingliang was more of a technician and less of a B-movie henchman when it comes to in-cage offense, I would probably pick him for the win. Instead, I’ll side with the better wrestler and plan for a close fight, one that will have more than a few Chimaev fans sweating their way to the scorecards.
Prediction: Chimaev def. Jingliang by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Magomed Ankalaev (14-1) vs. Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir (17-5)
Magomed Ankalaev and Volkan Oezdemir will curtain-jerk the UFC 267 main card in a light heavyweight battle that is designed to show matchmakers where the Dagestani bruiser sits at this point in his UFC career. Granted, Oezdemir is not the dynamo we thought he was — or at least had the potential to be — after his red-hot start in UFC, to the tune of three straight wins with two knockouts. But as he demonstrated against Aleksandar Rakic, trying to coast against “No Time” will end up costing you the fight. Oezdemir is coming off a brutal knockout loss to power-punching contender Jiri Prochazka, but who isn’t at this point, so it doesn’t weigh heavily against him for the purposes of this column. I’m more concerned with his 5-4 record and inability to evolve from fight to fight. Knockouts are fun, I get it, and the fans love them, but win bonuses are even more fun when you have bills to pay.
Oezdemir has just two takedowns in nine UFC fights.
I know the promotion is trying to position Ankalaev as the next big thing at 205 pounds and his 14-1 record is impressive. What’s not impressive is knocking around nobodies like Marcin Prachnio and Dalcha Lungiambula. The fact that Ankalaev is ranked No. 7 for grinding out a decision win over Nikita Krylov is further proof the Jones-less light heavyweight division is so thin you can floss with it. Ankalaev has a background in combat sambo, as well as Greco-Roman wrestling, but we don't see much of it because his preferred offense is on the feet, just like Oezdemir. And why not? It keeps working, evidenced by his six-fight winning streak. I know the day is going to come when Ankalaev is truly tested inside the Octagon. Sadly, it will not be Saturday. Oezdemir is too set in his ways and too willing to bang it out on the feet to force Ankalaev into uncomfortable positions. No question it will be a decision he regrets the morning after.
Prediction: Ankalaev def. Oezdemir by knockout
Remember, the UFC 267 main card starts at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 267 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” bouts at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 2 p.m. ET.
For much more on UFC 267 click here.