Eternal underdog (and UFC champion), Jan Blachowicz, will square off with undefeated kickboxer, Israel Adesanya, this Saturday (March 6, 2021) at UFC 259 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Blachowicz is perhaps the ultimate example of the value of unwritten attributes, the x-factors of mixed martial arts (MMA). Back when he started his UFC career with a rough 2-4 run, it was difficult to see why Blachowicz struggled so badly. He had all the skills: dangerous kickboxing, solid wrestling, underrated submissions. Maybe not championship-caliber stuff necessarily, but he didn’t appear so limited that he should be coughing up majority decision losses to Patrick Cummins. Something switched following that loss. Blachowicz improved his cardio, allowing himself to show more of his skill for longer. As a result, his confidence improved, and that positive feedback loop grew until Blachowicz picked up real momentum.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Blachowicz is a very experienced kickboxer with a background in Muay Thai. He doesn’t typically do anything overly flashy, but the Polish striker manages distance well, throws hard shots, and largely picks his strikes well.
Historically, Blachowicz prefers to operate as a counter puncher. He often fights from his back foot, drawing opponents into his hardest shots. While working from the outside, Blachowicz keeps a very active jab. Taking small steps back (giving ground), Blachowicz will look to plant and stick out a jab as his opponent steps forward. This was incredibly effective against Jimi Manuwa in their rematch, particularly because Manuwa tends to stand a bit square (GIF). Once the jab was established, Blachowicz did a nice job of setting up further left hooks and the right hand.
In his more recent bouts vs. Corey Anderson and Dominick Reyes, Blachowicz has been far more willing to stalk opponents — a likely outcome of that aforementioned boost of confidence. This has proven a very sound strategy, as Blachowicz’s combination of power, experience and iron chin makes trading with him a scary proposition.
In Anderson’s case, the wrestler was fairly content to move and strike at range, trusting his foot work and reach advantage to keep him safe until he could wrestle. Instead, Blachowicz’s pressure drew out a naked low kick from too close, the Anderson was blasted deep into unconsciousness from a counter.
The Reyes bout was a bit more complex. First and foremost, Blachowicz did a remarkable job with his left kick against the Southpaw. Typically, kicking into the open side is optimal during opposite stance fighters — that’s what Reyes was doing to reasonable effect. Blachowicz, however, found good success in chopping the lead leg from the outside, which isn’t unusual.
What is unique was Blachowicz’s left body kick to his foe’s closed, bladed lead side. That’s generally a poor target, likely to get caught, hit an elbow, or countered. Fortunately, Blachowicz smartly put some fear into his opponent’s heart with his aggressive right hand and left hook. As Reyes covered up and circled, his ribs were exposed and his stance was more square, allowing Blachowicz to blast the kick.
It does also help that Reyes has a longer torso.
Otherwise, Blachowicz really realized he could bully Reyes. “The Devastator” may have boxed smoothly against another outside striker in Jon Jones, but it’s a different story when Blachowicz was chasing after him and swinging heavy. Reyes was losing the fight and couldn’t stay defensive, but when he did open up and fire back, Blachowicz’s dangerous counter strikes were waiting for him (GIF).
Blachowicz will break stance to fire multi-punch combinations, often with lunging uppercuts (GIF). He repeatedly rocked Manuwa with these offensive bursts, but this is also the habit that saw him blasted by a pair of Thiago Santos’ check hooks.
In addition, Blachowicz looks to pick at his opponent with kicks as they advance. Speed is the priority here, as Blachowicz will kick from his stance rather than load up the shot with power. Often, Blachowicz is stepping back before planting with a sudden switch kick to the belly, but he’ll look for quick digs into the lead leg as well.
The goal of Blachowicz’s countering approach is to land strikes from the very edge of his range, making it easier to evade/block whatever his opponent throws back and counter. It’s rather common for Blachowicz to trust his own distance and fire a check hook as his opponent throws or immediately after. In this example opposite Manuwa, Blachowicz caught Manuwa over-extending on a right hand and followed up with a left hook, cross, and body kick (GIF).
A major weapon of Blachowicz is the uppercut, which he’ll throw on the counter or as a lead. Generally, it’s his left uppercut, which can be thrown from the Orthodox stance or with a step into Southpaw that adds extra power. It’s a great weapon against crouching wrestlers like Patrick Cummins (GIF), and Blachowicz always follows up with more heavy punches after landing.
Against Manuwa, Blachowicz repeatedly found great success with his counter uppercut. Manuwa constantly hunts for the left hook and really loads up on the punch, which means he squares up his weight before throwing. Blachowicz countered by exploding into the uppercut as Manuwa shifted his weight, catching him square and low to the ground (GIF).
The final major weapon of Blachowicz’s gain is the power round kick. When moving forward, Blachowicz is more likely to commit his full weight behind the kick and really try to make it hurt (GIF). This shuffle into the kick really allows Blachowicz to load up and deliver a hugely powerful blow. Alternatively, Blachowicz will step back from the Orthodox into Southpaw, immediately firing the left kick when his foe steps forward.
Opposite Luke Rockhold, the Polish striker knocked his foe senseless twice in one fight. The finish came with a beautiful left hook on the break of the clinch — a proven weakness in Rockhold’s game. Prior to that left hook, Blachowicz repeatedly brought Rockhold’s attention low with calf kicks and body jabs, which proved remarkably effective in lowering his hands even further from his chin.
On the European MMA scene, there are a great deal of fighters who rely on jiu-jitsu from their backs to counter takedowns rather than defensive wrestling. That mentality hurt Blachowicz earlier in his UFC career, but he’s since moved away from the mold.
Offensively, Blachowicz is certainly willing to wrestle. Blachowicz is a fighter who likes to jab from his back foot, and the timing for the double leg is often similar. As his opponent takes that step to close distance that Blachowicz has given up, he’ll plant and drive forward into a double leg instead of a jab (GIF). In a show of smarts against Manuwa, Blachowicz repeatedly used this double-leg attempt to drive Manuwa back, turn a corner and get his back off the fence.
Defensively, Blachowicz is decently difficult to takedown. He does a nice job of making clean shots difficult and fighting for underhooks along the fence. Against Rockhold, patient digging for underhooks and some hard elbows from the frame position proved more than enough to deny his foe’s shot. In general, the less said about Blachowicz’s horrifically boring bout with “Jacare” Souza, the better. However, he found similar success in using the cage to stuff Souza’s takedown attempts, though he did still spend too much time trapped on the fence.
The real problem comes when Blachowicz is successfully taken down. He’s still too willing to close full guard and roll for armbars, which is unlikely to work against high-level fighters consistently. Instead, it guarantees Blachowicz will spend more time on his back.
A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Blachowicz has finished nine of his opponents via submission. Aside from the aforementioned armbar attempt that rarely works in UFC — but to his credit, is done nicely — Blachowicz has scored pair of recent strangulation finishes.
The first, a bulldog choke over Devin Clark, was rather bizarre. Clark attempted to throw an overhand to disguise his double leg attempt, but he was way off-balance and his aim was off. As a result, he missed Blachowicz completely with the punch and ended up on a bad single leg shot. Ever the opportunist, Blachowicz crept his arm under the neck and locked up a rear-naked choke grip. Though he was technically on the side of Clark rather than behind him, there was no escape once that grip was locked (GIF).
In Blachowicz’s most recent submission win, he expertly controlled Nikita Krylov before choking him out with a modified arm triangle. It was an interesting finish, as Blachowicz wrapped up the strangle but found himself on the side of his opponent rather than directly on top. Fortunately, with his legs still engaged around the waist, Blachowicz was still able to generate a lot of pressure and force the finish (GIF).
Blachowicz is already legend for his incredible career renaissance; fighters don’t often turn their entire career around in their mid-to-late 30s and capture world titles. However, if Blachowicz can stand as the man to hand Israel Adesanya his first loss and deny his double champ dreams, there will be no more underrating the Polish fighter.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 259 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.