Heavy-handed Dagestani, Magomed Ankalaev, will square off with knockout artist, Thiago Silva, this Saturday (March 12, 2022) at UFC Vegas 50 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Everything about Ankalaev reads like a future champion. The 29-year-old is an International Master of Sports in Combat Sambo from Dagestan — if you haven’t been asleep under a rock for the last decade, you’ve picked up on the pattern that those guys tend to pretty good at the whole fighting thing. Inside the Octagon, Ankalaev has been near-perfect, a last-second Hail Mary submission loss to Paul Craig in his debut being the sole flaw. Since that bout, Ankalaev has smashed his way into the Top 10, beating up seven straight opponents to earn his first main event slot.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Ankalaev actually spends more of his time kickboxing than not. The Southpaw has finished nine of his fights via knockout, and his left head kick his directly led to three of his UFC victories.
I would categorize Ankalaev as a counter puncher, but he’s not the type to hang back and wait on his opponent. Instead, he actively engages at distance, even going so far as to really pressure his opponents on occasion. All the while, Ankalaev keeps himself in good position to fire if his foe overextends.
Ankalaev possesses a highly educated lead hand, which isn’t always common for a leftie. Against his mostly Orthodox opponents, Ankalaev has still been able to fire crisp jabs down the center. He’ll do it off a quick slap of the lead hand, but often, Ankalaev’s speed alone is enough to sneak his jab passed his opponent’s guard.
Ankalaev’s jab is a deceptively punishing shot. While leading the dance, Ankalaev will occasional spring forward with something of a leaping lead hook, and he’s plenty willing to step in behind a hard one-two combination as well.
Aside from the jab, Ankalaev primarily uses kicks to punish his opponent at distance. Unsurprisingly, his left kick does the majority of the work, although he will dig the calf with his lead leg too. Ankalaev’s left round kick is very powerful, and he’ll attack all targets. Still, he really likes the head kick, as it’s his go to weapon when an opponent is hurt. In addition, Ankalaev will occasionally mix front kicks into his offense, which is how he stopped Dalcha Lunbiambula (GIF).
Letting Ankalaev jab and kick freely is not a recipe for success. His opponents have to engage to have a shot, and Ankalaev is usually ready. Early on, Ankalaev will merely drift backward, perhaps with the pop of a jab. As the fight wears on, Ankalaev will stand his ground more and more to fire back.
Much of the time, Ankalaev relies on his right hook. Slipping his head to his left, Ankalaev fires off a mean counter shot that has staggered many opponents. The right hook and left high kick are a classic combination, as the hook can push his foe’s head towards the oncoming kick, like in his Prachnio knockout.
Ion Cutelaba’s relentless offense really played into Ankalaev’s hands. Circling towards his back foot, Ankalaev used the right hook to really load up his power side before unleashing a left hand that sent Cutelaba to the canvas (GIF). It was a great shot, one that he really walked “The Hulk” into.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that Ankalaev does really good work in the clinch. The experienced wrestler is often able to dictate when separation occurs, meaning he’s a step ahead in letting an elbow fly. Alternatively, Ankalaev will search for collar ties and attack knees.
With a background in both Combat Sambo and Greco-Roman wrestling, it’s perhaps a bit surprising that Ankalaev hasn’t been more active with his takedowns inside the Octagon. Still, it has been an effective tool for him, even if he’s largely content to go for the knockout.
Ankalaev has a rather nice blast double leg. Aside from the speed and power of the shot, it really helps that Ankalaev is able to shoot off both his cross and right hook well. They’re slightly different techniques, as shooting off the cross requires kind of falling into the takedown, whereas to shoot a double off the lead hook, a fighter has to keep his weight back to explode effectively.
Just as often, Ankalaev wrestles from the clinch. From the upper body position, Ankalaev fights the hip battle well. Once he secures his grip, he’ll either try to win inside position and yank his opponent over his hip, or he’ll look for the outside trip as his foe narrows his base to avoid the first throw.
That’s all classic, high-percentage wrestling — what really separates Ankalaev from the pack is what happens after he scores a takedown. The Dagestani is a mauler from top position, always searching from enough space to really let his punches fly. Unlike the majority of fighters, Ankalaev is actually able to generate a ton of power while striking from his knees. That’s not at all easy, but it means he requires smaller openings to land devastating shots.
Ankalaev has yet to land a submission in his pro career or attempt one inside the Octagon.
Is there all that much to analyze in the Paul Craig loss? For 14 minutes and 50 seconds, Ankalaev had little issues avoiding his opponent's submission attempts and pummeling him. In the final ten seconds, Craig did a great job to time a punch and isolate the head and arm, immediately locking the choke in tight position. That’s his best move, and Ankalaev was forced to tap just before the bell.
Ankalaev didn’t do much to defend, but he was almost instantly placed in a checkmate position. Unless something similar happens again, I wouldn’t read too much into it — Paul Craig is the ultimate Light Heavyweight trap fight!
Ankalaev has shown a nicely rounded skill set and the athleticism to take him really far. If he can avoid Santos’ wild offense and punish him like he’s done the rest, Ankalaev will have officially broken into the Light Heavyweight title mix before his 30th birthday, which is a promising sign of things to come.
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.
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