Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight sluggers Magomed Ankalaev and Thiago Santos will go to war TONIGHT (Sat., March 12, 2022) at UFC Vegas 50 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Riding a seven-fight win streak into his first-ever main event slot, Ankalaev has a lot to prove here. The Dagestani Sambo master has a lot of hype and expectation around him; in fact, many have him pegged as a future champion. This fight is a significant step along that path, an opportunity to really break into the mix by defeating another former title challenger. Santos, meanwhile, has his back to the wall. Since returning from his devastating knee injury, “Marreta” has yet to truly impress or like quite like his old self. To remain a threat to 205-pound gold, Santos needs a big performance, to turn away a hot up-and-comer and remind fight fans of his previous penchant for violence in one fell swoop.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Volkan Oezdemir (UFC 267), Nikita Krylov (UFC Vegas 20), Ion Cutelaba (UFC 254, UFC Fight Night 169), Dalcha Lungiambula (UFC Fight Night 163)
Key Losses: Paul Craig (UFC Fight Night 127)
Keys to Victory: Ankalaev is a really punishing fighter. On the feet, he hammers opponents with a stiff jab and thudding kicks, always ready to unleash a counter shot if they dare to respond aggressively. At any point, Ankalaev can also change levels into a takedown, and his ground striking from top position is brutal.
He’s stopped nine foes via knockout.
Plain and simple, Santos is a bit of a wild man. Lately, however, he’s been containing his aggression, trying to bait his opponent into big counter punches. As a counter specialist himself, Ankalaev should be pretty aware of those tricks and understand that the keys to avoiding such traps are offensive diversity and lots of feints.
Ankalaev doesn’t need to rush forward. He can kick with Santos, stick him with the jab, and try to convince him that circling towards his power hand is a good idea. Any time he sees Santos really loading up on a counter or kick, dropping down into a takedown is a good option. Even if it doesn’t work, it’ll force Santos to think more, getting him more reactive and easier to handle.
A consistent diet of jabs and takedowns will slow Santos, particularly as the damage builds.
Key Wins: Jan Blachowicz (UFC Fight Night 145), Johnny Walker (UFC Vegas 38), Jimi Manuwa (UFC 231), Anthony Smith (UFC Fight Night 125), Jack Hermansson (UFC Fight Night 119), Eryk Anders (UFC Fight Night 137)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 239), Glover Teixeira (UFC Vegas 13), Aleksandr Rakic (UFC 259), Gegard Mousasi (UFC 200), David Branch (UFC Fight Night 128)
Keys to Victory: Santos has developed quite a resume in recent years, fighting some elite talent in two divisions. Unfortunately, the Muay Thai powerhouse has seemed a bit lost lately, once again struggling to really balance aggression, activity and good strategy.
In this match up, I think Santos needs to get aggressive again. Obviously, he cannot go so wild that gives up easy takedowns, but trying to outpoint Ankalaev at distance — his recent strategy — is not likely to work. It’s probably a recipe for an uneventful loss.
Instead, I’d like to see Santos put the Dagestani on his back foot. Santos doesn’t need to lunge forward to do so, as he has the powerful kicking game to slam shin into bone at range. Then, when he’s able to gain a nice angle or get a good read on Ankalaev’s positioning, that’s the time to attack with combinations.
If Santos asserts himself in the fight without going overboard, he stands a real chance at derailing Ankalaev.
One man leaves the cage as a contender.
Ankalaev is 29 years old, highly experienced and early in his prime. He’s lined up to make a title run, and this might just be the final step necessary. It’s no guarantee, but if he walks to the cage and smokes Santos, his argument for the next title shot would be solid. If nothing else, victory secures a title eliminator next.
Santos’ position is more desperate. Though he’s once again in a really good position if he’s victorious, another loss here would serve as the final nail in his status as a contender. He’s already exceeded expectations at 205 pounds, but defeat in this match up ends his unlikely run toward the top.
At UFC Vegas 50, Magomed Ankalaev and Thiago Santos will clash in the main event. Which man will have his hand raised?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 50 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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