Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight kingpin, Jan Blachowicz, will attempt to rebound versus rising contender, Aleksandar Rakic, this Saturday (May 14, 2022) at UFC Vegas 54 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
At UFC 267, Blachowicz had an off night ... and he’ll be the first to admit it. The champion was slow to start, fell into an early hole opposite Glover Teixeira, and wound up hurt and beneath the Brazilian crusher. It was, quite simply, a bad night at the office, one that cost Blachowicz his status as champion. Bad nights happen, but at 39 years of age, the question now becomes whether or not Blachowicz can hope to string together one last run. His performance this weekend will say a lot about his chances, as Rakic is currently highly ranked and would be a major victory for the Polish veteran.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
Blachowicz is a great example of fundamentals, experience and some newfound power coming together to produce great wins.
Notably, Blachowicz really held his own on the feet against Israel Adesanya. Against “The Stylebender,” Blachowicz understood the threat his opponent presented. At 205 pounds, Adesanya is not such a brutal kicker that he can easily take apart a skilled striker like Blachowicz at distance. As such, Blachowicz did not rush to close the distance, instead focusing on checking/blocking his foe’s kicks and returning fire when it made sense.
In general, Blachowicz kept up with Adesanya at range really well. “Stylebender” does well to mystify and freeze foes with his feints and different stylistic looks, but Blachowicz remained composed, snapping a jab or kicking the leg whenever he found himself close enough to touch Adesanya. When Blachowicz did explode into a combination (GIF), he generally did so when Adesanya was near the fence or immediately after a kick, meaning that Adesanya was less ready to answer with his usually nasty counter shots.
Finally, Blachowicz did mix his wrestling offense in early to set up strikes. His occasional shots in the first three rounds kept Adesanya honest, and when they failed, Blachowicz still managed to land knees or punches on the break (GIF).
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 against 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 versus 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 Cummins (GIF), and Blachowicz always follows up with more heavy punches after landing.
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.
Blachowicz has really come a long way in the wrestling department compared to his early UFC career.
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.
Blachowicz’s ability to run through a high double/low body lock proved pivotal against Adesanya as well. Early on, Adesanya’s defense was still sharp, and he was able to stop this relatively simple shot. Add in a bit of fatigue, however, and Blachowicz was able to gain more of an entry on his opponent’s hips.
Once that happened, Blachowicz drove through his legs and was too strong for the Middleweight kingpin (GIF).
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 relatively 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).
It’s hard to fault Blachowicz too heavily for his submission loss to Teixeira (his first tapout loss since 2007!). Blachowicz was already hurt by strikes, and the Brazilian is incredibly heavy from top position with his strikes and submission attempts alike — it was pretty much a worst-case scenario.
Blachowicz is still one of the best 205-pound fighters in the world. If he’s to have a shot at regaining the belt, however, Blachowicz has to be victorious here and immediately get back into the title mix. Otherwise, his window of opportunity will likely be closed for good.
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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