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Sports Illustrated Notebook: Jan Blachowicz aims for redemption vs. Aleksandar Rakic at UFC on ESPN 36

Returning to the cage with a renewed spirit, Blachowicz restarts his climb to the top of the light heavyweight division.
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Jan Blachowicz (28-9 MMA, 11-6 UFC) returns to the cage Saturday for the first time since dropping the UFC light heavyweight title last October. He fights Aleksandar Rakic (14-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC)in the main event of UFC on ESPN 36 in the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, a fight that represents his entryway back into a title shot – but it is also against an extremely dangerous opponent.

Glover Teixeira defeated Blachowicz for the title at UFC 268. Since then, there has been plenty of reason to worry from the Blachowicz camp. Blachowicz revealed he suffered temporary paralysis in the months leading up to this bout.

"They put some medicine in my neck, and I'm ready," said Blachowicz, who did not go in-depth about his injury. "I came back to the gym and it was just like before. I'll be 100 percent for this fight."

Blachowicz also worked with a sports psychologist, which he says reignited his passion for MMA. It is also another potential indicator that this bout favors Rakic, who is hungry to perform in his first UFC main event.

"This is my job and my passion," Blachowicz said. "It's what I love to do. I feel the fire inside me again to get the belt back.

"Winning back the belt, that motivates me. I'm coming for a test."

The loss to Teixeira ended an outrageous stretch for Blachowicz where he had won nine of 10, and defeated top opponents like Israel Adesanya, Jared Cannonier and Corey Anderson. While he had his moments in the opening round, Teixeira controlled the fight over the final three minutes.

"The plan was to put him away, but the engine was empty," Blachowicz said. "Without fuel in your engine, you're not driving anywhere. That wasn't my day. Glover beat me. He deserves to be champion."

Blachowicz and Rakic should combine for an entertaining bout, one that should feature some ferocious striking.

"People are going to love this fight," Blachowicz said. "Ninety percent of this fight is going to be on the feet. I'm focused on my target, and target is Rakic.

"I'm ready to knock him out, I'm ready to submit him. I'm ready for 25 minutes, and I believe him I will finish him."

Luke Trainer enters Friday's Bellator 281 against Simon Biyong looking for breakout moment

Luke Trainer (5-0 MMA, 2-0 BMMA) has finished all five of his fights, yet none have come against an opponent as skilled as Biyong (7-2 MMA, 0-1 BMMA). Despite coming off a loss against Christian Edwards, he is the toughest test thus far for Trainer.

"He's a savage, I'm a savage," Trainer said. "We're going to find out who is more of a savage."

This is a three-round light heavyweight bout that is destined not to go the distance. Considering the power that both Trainer and Biyong possess, it should end–early–in a knockout.

"The only thing I'm worried about is finishing," said Trainer. "That's all I have in my head."

"My goal is domination. I want to destroy everyone who's put in front of me, so my goal is to take care of business. If you like violence, you better tune in."

Carla Esparza is the new UFC women's strawweight champion

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Carla Esparza (19-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC) defeated Rose Namajunas (11-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) last Saturday at UFC 274 by split decision, winning one of the most disappointing title fights in modern-day UFC history. There was absolutely no action through the first three rounds, which was followed by minimal contact over the final two.

Namajunas expressed frustration after the fight that she didn't retain the title, but she was playing with fire by allowing that decision to go to the judges. And while it is certainly easy to claim that Esparza did not do nearly enough to win the fight, the exact same statement can be made about Namajunas.

Again, this was as lackluster a fight as could be. Esparza pushed the grappling, but she never accomplished anything with it. Whenever she did land a takedown, Namajunas easily returned to her feet, even landed one strong escape, a momentary moment of action in the 25-minute bout. Namajunas should have forced at least some action, especially with Arizona's notoriously bad reputation when it comes to judges scoring fights.

It was a head-scratching performance, but we should see some clarity in a third fight. The division is thin, and Namajunas did just defeat Zhang Weili twice before this.

Hopefully their third fight exceeds what we just witnessed. Sadly, that won't take much to accomplish.

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.