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Coach Conversations: Top trainers break down Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev

Elite MMA coaches break down Saturday's light heavyweight main event in Las Vegas.
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Ahead of every championship fight, UFC staff writer E. Spencer Kyte will sit down with some of the sharpest coaching minds in the sport to break down the action and provide UFC fans with insights into each championship pairing from the men that spend their days getting these elite athletes prepared to compete on the biggest stage in the sport.

For UFC 282, Kyte called upon Eliot Marshall, co-owner and head instructor at Easton Training Center in Denver, Colorado, and Tyson Chartier, the head coach of the New England Cartel, to dissect and discuss the light heavyweight title fight between Jan Blachowicz (29-9 MMA, 12-6 UFC) and Magomed Ankalaev (18-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC).

Here's what the coaches had to say.

Best trait of each fighter

At a time in the sport where everyone is pretty solid everywhere, generally speaking, what is the one thing that each of these competitors do better than anyone else?

Marshall: The best trait of Blachowicz is obviously this weird, "legendary Polish power," which goes along with his awkwardness in striking style.

Keith Jardine used to be like this. Remember Keith Jardine's striking style? The movement is very awkward, and I can remember sparring with Keith, and unless you were doing multiple rounds in a row with him, it was very difficult because everyone else had this more fluid style that they did – it was rhythmic in a way – where his was so different.

If you did one with Nate Marquardt, and two with Rashad Evans, and your third was Keith – no one is the same, but to pick up on Keith's movement was so hard, and I think it's the same with Jan. That's why I think he catches people – because it's so awkward – and he has massive power.

Chartier: With Jan, I think it's that one-punch power. I'm not saying Magomedov doesn't have power, but Jan's got that Polish hammer in his fist that, at any point, he can put your lights out.

Marshall: Ankalaev's best trait is his ability to control the fight.

He dictates where the fight happens. If you're going to grapple, he's going to win the grappling. If you want to strike, he's going to win the range battle. He's not some crazy knockout artist – he's more of an ‘I'll control the range, I'll control the pace, and I'll win the fight' guy, but it goes along with his ability to be able to wrestle and grapple if he wants to, and control you on the mat, as well.

You have to worry about the grappling aspect and that changes the striking game. This is a big thing for me with my fighters that want to strike: I'm like, ‘I need you to feint takedowns, because that changes the game.' The idea that you might take them down changes everything.

Chartier: For Ankalaev, it's got to be his confidence – he's on what, a nine-fight winning streak in the UFC?

He's got to have that "I can't lose" confidence because he's fought some big names and hasn't lost. And I think he's a little more technical on the feet than Jan, so he has the ability to move around and point-fight if he needs to.

Path to victory for each fighter

Everyone would love a 10-second knockout or a quick submission, but that's not often how these things go, especially not at the championship level. Instead, it's usually the competitor that has crafted the better game plan and did the better job of executing things inside the octagon that comes away with their hand raised and the gold around their waist.

So, how does either man get it done on Saturday night?

Chartier: I think Ankalaev has to stay out of a firefight – he has to touch-and-move, touch-and-move, and maybe mix in some takedowns to keep Jan honest, but not play a jiu jitsu game with him. Touch-and-move, maybe get some wrestling in, but don't commit to a firefight.

For Jan, he's got to close the distance, try to get big paws on him, look to get that clean shot, but also, I think he's got to wrestle. I think if he can wrestle, get on top, make him work a little bit, that adds stress, so I think he's got to mix it up.

Marshall: Blachowicz has to get into long exchanges and make it a brawl, in my opinion. If he can make it a brawl; a brawl-ish style fight.

If you watched the fight this past weekend between "Wonderboy" and Kevin Holland, I know Holland lost, but that was his path to victory. We have never seen Stephen Thompson's face look like that after a fight. That was Kevin Holland's path to victory and he was executing, and then his hand broke and we was getting tired.

Same thing with Blachowicz: he's got to have more of that ugly, dirty style fight because if Ankalaev – Ankalaev could make this fight ridiculously boring if he wants, and his path to victory is to control it. I could see a late stoppage if Jan is really pushing that brawl style and getting tired later in the fight.

X-factor

If there were one thing that was going to significantly impact how this fight plays out – that swings it in one direction or the other – what would it be?

Marshall: It's the power of Blachowicz; that's the X factor.

Somebody that has that "sleep touch," as I like to call it. Francis (Ngannou) has it. Derrick Lewis has it. That's where things always get weird. The punch that Francis put Rozenstruik out with – his chin is up in the air, he's falling, leaning, barely hits him, and he's out-out; unconscious out; same thing with Stipe.

Jan has that kind of power too, and it's weird and awkward, and the herky-jerkiness of Jan's style – what I said are his strengths are also the X factor because it's so hard to prepare for. You can't prepare for it whatsoever because when you spar with bigger gloves, when you have boxing gloves on, they block things and don't hit the same way, so you think you're safe in a way from that power, and when you put that four-ounce glove on, you're not.

That's always the X factor with guys with power in MMA.

Chartier: I think it's the power of Blachowicz.

Again, I'm not saying that Ankalaev doesn't have power, but Jan's got that hammer, and that's the X factor. He could be losing four-and-a-half rounds, but he's still got the ability to put your lights out at any time.

One coaching curiosity

Coaches see the sport differently and look at the sport differently than anyone else, picking up on different things and paying attention to movements, habits, or intangible pieces that others might not notice, but that could have a significant impact on the action inside the octagon.

Every matchup offers its own unique collection of elements that might pique a coach's interest and get them paying a little closer attention to once the fight gets underway.

So what is that one thing in this matchup?

Chartier: I'm interested to see how Ankalaev approaches a five-round fight. Is he going to be more conservative? Does he come out and look to finish it early because he doesn't want to go five rounds? I'm interested to see his approach in another five-round fight.

I also want to see if he does mix in some wrestling, just to keep Jan honest on the feet.

Marshall: I want to see the way Jan makes this a brawl and if he can get into this brawl approach by backing Ankalaev up. If he can be the one pushing Ankalaev to the fence, cutting off the angles, Ankalaev is going to have to brawl more and he'll be a little more tired.

If Jan can do that to Ankalaev, that's the thing – that's what will make Jan's gameplan be able to work a little more. If Ankalaev is the one pushing Jan back, Jan is going to make these big rushes, and Ankalaev will be able to move, angle off, and get back to his style of winning.

This story first published at UFC.com.