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UFC 254: Ankalaev v Cutelaba Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 282’s Magomed Ankalaev

Dagestani standout, Magomed Ankalaev, will battle former Light Heavyweight kingpin, Jan Blachowciz, this Saturday (Dec. 10, 2022) at UFC 282 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It sucks that Jiri Prochazka vs. Glover Teixeira 2 fell apart how it did. The first fight was one of the greatest title fights in UFC history, and Prochazka’s shredded shoulder ended his title reign so abruptly. Meanwhile, Teixeira lost out on his chance to recapture the title and retire at the top — an opportunity the legendary Brazilian certainly deserves. The silver lining is that Ankalaev is getting the title shot he deserves as a result. Fighters shouldn’t have to win 10 bouts in a row to earn such an opportunity, especially not in thinner divisions like Light Heavyweight. The Combat Sambo specialist has clearly been elite for years now, and through a strange series of events, he’ll now get to prove it.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:

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Striking

When we hear Combat Sambo, the immediate image that comes to mind is Khabib or Islam Makhachev mauling someone on the canvas. Despite that connotation, however, Ankalaev does a bulk of his work on the feet.

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.

UFC Fight Night: Santos v Ankalaev Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

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).

Against Anthony Smith, feints made the difference (at least until Smith’s ankle imploded). Neither man scored anything overly significant on the feet, but Ankalaev consistently landed better kicks because he was the man feinting and drawing reactions from Smith. Then, when Smith came up short, Ankalaev would take the opportunity to quickly kick the calf or occasionally fire back with the 1-2.

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.

UFC 267: Ankalaev v Oezdemir Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

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.

Wrestling

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 strike.

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.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Ankalaev has yet to land a submission in his professional 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.

UFC Fight Night: Craig v Ankalaev Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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!

Conclusion

Despite his winning ways, Ankalaev has yet to really score a breakthrough performance that proves he’s the future of the 205-pound class. Blachowicz seems unlikely to allow him to win this one on narrow margins, so this reads like a moment Ankalaev will be forced to rise to the occasion and go above his recent low volume approach.


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.


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 282 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 (on ESPN2/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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