Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.
Prochazka was forced to relinquish the title after suffering a severe shoulder injury. Fortunately for UFC matchmakers, two other elite light heavyweights – Jan Blachowicz (29-9 MMA, 12-6 UFC) and Magomed Ankalaev (18-1 MMA, 9-1 UFC) – were also scheduled to fight each other on the 282 card. But before that was turned into a title bout, Ankalaev expected to see a different opponent.
"My manager called and told me I'd be fighting for the title," says Ankalaev, speaking through a translator. "I was told my new opponent was Glover Teixeira."
That Ankalaev-Teixeira matchup did not last long. Teixeira requested more time to prepare for a new opponent, and he was ultimately replaced with Blachowicz.
"Then I got another call and I was told I was still in the title fight, but it would be against Jan Blachowicz," says Ankalaev. "I don't care who I'm going to fight. A title fight is a title fight."
Throughout the whole process, Blachowicz was aboard a flight. He was traveling from Poland to London, England, then relaxing on a connecting British Airways flight from London to Las Vegas
"I had 10 hours to enjoy," says Blachowicz. "I didn't pay any attention to what was happening on the ground. It was time to play Syberia on my console and watch movies."
Once Blachowicz reached the luggage terminal, he finally turned to his cell phone. He was immediately inundated with a barrage of text messages, including one specific text from his manager that seized his attention.
"I had to read it four times," says Blachowicz. "I thought to myself, 'Whoa, what the f-ck? I'm fighting for the belt?' I couldn't believe it."
Already in Vegas, Ankalaev felt a similar explosion of joy upon receiving the news. He had just finished an exhausting training day, and he was especially spent from sparring.
"I was so tired I had to close my eyes when I ate," says Ankalaev. "That all changed when I got a phone call. All my tiredness was gone. I called my family to tell them about the title fight. I was very excited. I had so much energy. Even though it was late, I was ready to train again."
This bout is an interesting clash of styles. Blachowicz is a former light heavyweight champ, but his last complete performance came four fights ago when he won the title – which was vacant – in a bout against Dominick Reyes. He then defeated Israel Adesanya, giving him his first loss in MMA, primarily on account of his size, pinning Adesanya down. Blachowicz lost the title in a disappointing showing against Teixeira, then defeated Aleksandar Rakic in May by TKO, a bout that ended prematurely after Rakic injured his knee.
Ankalaev has been on a tear. After losing his UFC debut against Paul Craig, he has won nine straight fights.
"That loss was one of the best things to ever happen to me," says Ankalaev. "I made sure to never make the same mistakes again. I became a gym rat after that loss. I knew I needed to prepare better. That is what I have done."
Ankalaev is going to be a tough puzzle to solve. He holds an advantage with his wrestling, his striking, and his ability to control an opponent on the ground. Ankalaev is also hungry to get his first taste of gold in the UFC.
"I'm going to do everything in my power to get this title," says Ankalaev. "I need to be champion."
Blachowicz is seeking to become the division's first two-time champion since Jon Jones accomplished the feat four years ago. A victory will help further define his legacy, and despite the challenge, he is confident that he can overpower Ankalaev.
"The feeling of being a champion, I know how great it is–and I want it even more than before," says Blachowicz. "I never wish injury on someone, and I am sad about Prochazka's injury, but this is a great chance for me and my team.
"I'm ready for everything, and I'm going to beat him. This belt is going to be the best gift for Christmas."
Retirement is best option – for now – for Dillashaw
T.J. Dillashaw's retirement became official this Monday, and the former two-time bantamweight champ was removed from the UFC roster.
At least for now.
Two months ago, Dillashaw lost to Aljamain Sterling in a bantamweight title bout. It was a one-sided affair, with an undisclosed shoulder injury preventing Dillashaw from ever truly being competitive. Watching Dillashaw struggle was a far cry from the fighter who won 16 of his first 19 bouts, with two of those three losses coming in extremely close decisions (a split decision loss to Raphael Assuncao in 2013, and another controversial split decision in 2016 against Dominick Cruz). But the end is supposed to be ugly in MMA.
If this is the end for Dillashaw (17-5 MMA, 13-5 UFC), his career ends on a sour note. He tested positive for a banned substance after losing to Henry Cejudo, which forced him to be stripped of the bantamweight title. And with increased attention now focused on MMA (particularly the UFC) following the controversy surrounding James Krause, it is best for Dillashaw to step away after failing to disclose information about his injury before the fight against Sterling.
Especially considering he is not healthy, the 36-year-old Dillashaw has the best chance for a full recovery by retiring, exiting the USADA testing pool, then rejoining once he is back at full strength. But I expect Dillashaw to return and attempt to go out on his own terms. He will need his body to agree in order to accomplish that, but he is a very strong candidate for a brief retirement.
The Pick 'Em Section:
UFC 282 light heavyweight bout: Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev
- Pick: Magomed Ankalaev
UFC 282 lightweight bout: Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon
- Pick: Paddy Pimblett
UFC 282 middleweight bout: Darren Till vs. Dricus du Plessis
- Pick: Darren Till
UFC 282 featherweight title bout: Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria
- Pick: Bryce Mitchell
Bellator 289 bantamweight title bout: Raufeon Stots vs. Danny Sabatello
- Pick: Danny Sabatello
Last week: 2-3
2022 record: 141-76
This story first published at SI.com/MMA.