UFC 267: Blachowicz vs. Teixeira

The UFC is back with an early start this Saturday, a 15 fight card headlined by a light heavyweight title fight between champion Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira. The action gets started early at 10:30am and streams on ESPN+.

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Jan Blachowicz (-305) vs. Glover Teixeira (+240)

In the main event, UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz will defend his title for the second time against Glover Teixeira.

Blachowicz won the vacant title with a second round knockout of Dominick Reyes and then successfully defended it over Israel Adesanya by unanimous decision. After a rough stretch where Blachowicz lost four of five fights, he’s won five in a row and nine of his last ten.

This will be Teixeira’s second crack at the UFC light heavyweight title. He’s coming off a third round submission win over Thiago Santos. Teixeira has won five in a row with four finishes, three by submission.

This is a solid matchup for the light heavyweight title with each fighter having slight advantages over the other. Blachowicz is a slightly better striker and more durable, while Teixeira is a slightly better grappler. Both Teixeira and Blachowicz are Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts, but Blachowicz has had issues getting out-wrestled and out-grappled in the past. It hasn’t been an issue for him lately, but something that Teixeira might certainly be able to capitalize on.

I mentioned Blachowicz’s durability edge earlier and that should be the deciding factor in this fight. Teixeira has only been knocked out twice in the UFC, but he’s been hurt on several occasions. Blachowicz’s defensive wrestling has improved enough that I expect the majority of this fight to play out on the feet, where he has a better shot of hurting Teixeira and possibly finishing him.

PREDICTION: Blachowicz by decision

Petr Yan (-235) vs. Cory Sandhagen (+190)

After UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling wasn’t medically cleared to defend his title, the UFC decided to book an interim title fight between Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen.

Yan lost the title to Sterling after being disqualified for an illegal knee to a downed opponent in the fourth round. He won the vacant title with a fifth round ground and pound stoppage of Jose Aldo. Yan is 7-1 in the UFC with four wins by knockout and three by decision.

Sandhagen is coming off a close split decision loss to TJ Dillashaw, but Dillashaw was unable to take the fight so Sandhagen gets his first crack at a title. Sandhagen is 7-2 in the UFC with five finishes, four by knockout.

This is a fantastic fight between two of the best bantamweights in the world. Both prefer to strike with Sandhagen being the more busy and technical of the two, while Yan holds a power edge. Sandhagen will have a four inch height and three inch reach advantage. Yan is the better wrestler, but he’s not going to land powerful double leg takedowns and maul you with top control. Instead, Yan is more likely to use trips and dump you to the ground. Sandhagen is a solid grappler, but he doesn’t defend takedowns well and this issue likely cost him the Dillashaw fight.

In a pure striking match, I favor Sandhagen since he has the edge in technical skill, volume and length, but Yan does have the power to sway judges in his favor. Yan also has the ability to mix in takedowns, but without much top control, those shouldn’t count for much. The pick will be Sandhagen.

PREDICTION: Sandhagen by decision

Islam Makhachev (-630) vs. Dan Hooker (+450)

Islam Makhachev was originally supposed to face Rafael dos Anjos, but after dos Anjos withdrew with an ankle injury, he’ll now face Dan Hooker.

Makhachev is coming off back to back submission victories over Thiago Moises and Drew Dober. He has won eight fights in a row and nine of ten in the UFC. Makhachev has five finishes, four by submission.

Hooker snapped a two fight losing streak with a unanimous decision win over Nasrat Haqparast just four weeks ago. Since moving up to lightweight, Hooker is 8-3 with five finishes, four by knockout.

Makhachev is one of the best lightweights in the world and I would not be surprised if he’s holding the gold very soon. He’s a dominant wrestler and submission grappler. He’s a solid striker as well and takes hardly any damage.

Hooker is a dangerous striker and he’ll enjoy a two inch height and a five inch reach advantage over Makhachev. Hooker also has very solid takedown defense, but Makhachev will certainly put it to the test. Hooker times knees well so maybe he can catch Makhachev on a takedown attempt, but I’m not counting on it.

Outside of Adriano Martins knocking him out years ago, no one has been able to stop Makhachev and his relentless ground attack. Hooker may be able to keep the fight standing longer than recent opponents, but eventually Makhachev is going to get this fight to the ground and go to work. Hooker’s defensive grappling should be enough to keep him from getting submitted, but Makhachev has been aggressive in pursuing the finish his last two fights.

PREDICTION: Makhachev by decision

Alexander Volkov (-310) vs. Marcin Tybura (+245)

Prior to losing a five round unanimous decision to Ciryl Gane, Alexander Volkov had won back to back fights by knockout, both second round stoppages of Alistair Overeem and Walt Harris. Volkov is 7-3 in the UFC with four knockouts and three decision wins.

After losing four of five fights and getting knocked out three times, Marcin Tybura has won five in a row. He’s stopped Walt Harris and Greg Hardy with ground and pound in back to back fights. Tybura is 9-5 in the UFC with five wins by knockout and four by decision.

Volkov is a tall heavyweight at 6’7″ and he’ll enjoy a four inch height and three inch reach advantage over Tybura. Volkov uses his length well on the feet and he’s a pretty busy striker, but his takedown defense is a concern. Tybura is a strong grappler with solid wrestling and he has some striking skill. Durability has been a concern in the past.

Volkov struggles with strong wrestlers so there’s a solid path to victory for Tybura. He’ll need to get inside on Volkov and look for takedowns against the cage. If he can’t force the fight to the mat, Volkov should pick him apart on the feet and possibly get a stoppage.

PREDICTION: Volkov by decision

Khamzat Chimaev (-600) vs. Li Jingliang (+435)

Khamzat Chimaev burst onto the UFC scene last summer with three wins in two months, his last two coming in a span of ten days in a combined three minutes and twenty six seconds. He’s been sidelined since with serious health complications due to COVID-19, but now he’s finally ready to return after three cancelled bouts with Leon Edwards. Chimaev is 9-0 with nine finishes, five by knockout.

Li Jingliang picked up a big win earlier this year with a first round knockout of Santiago Ponzinibbio. Li has now won four of five and eight of his last ten. Six of those eight wins have come by knockout. In his six career losses, he’s only been finished once, getting submitted by Keita Nakamura.

Chimaev comes from a Sambo background and has great wrestling and submission grappling. He’s done most of his damage in the UFC on the ground, but he did put away Gerald Meerschaert standing in just 17 seconds.

Jingliang is a powerful striker and a solid grappler. He’s been pretty durable, but he does take more damage than I like. In his last loss to Neil Magny, he was taken down four times and controlled for five minutes so he’s likely to continue to struggle against strong wrestlers and grapplers.

Chimaev was definitely dealing with serious enough health concerns that he was contemplating retirement. I’m going to assume he’s completely healthy now. Jingliang is a step up from his previous competition, but it’s still a favorable matchup for him. Chimaev should be able to do exactly what Magny did, but get the finish on the ground.

PREDICTION: Chimaev by second round knockout

Magomed Ankalaev (-310) vs. Volkan Oezdemir (+245)

Since tapping to a triangle choke with just one second left in the fight in his UFC debut, Magomed Ankalaev has won six straight fights and is one of the best light heavyweights in the world. Four of his six wins have come by knockout, with the other two by unanimous decision.

Volkan Oezdemir won his first three fights in the UFC with first round knockouts over Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in a combined 50 seconds. Since then he’s lost four of his last six fights and been finished three times, twice by knockout.

Ankalaev is a powerful striker with good wrestling skills and vicious ground and pound. His biggest flaw would be his lack of aggression striking and wrestling.

Oezdemir is a powerful and dangerous striker early, but there are concerns with his defensive grappling and cardio. Both of those issues were exposed in his losses to Anthony Smith and Daniel Cormier.

Oezdemir is always live for a knockout early, but Ankalaev is just a far superior fighter overall. Oezdemir is wild on the feet so Ankalaev could just look to counter him. The longer the fight goes, the more it favors Ankalaev. He’s only landed more than one takedown in one of his UFC fights so it’s likely this will be primarily be spent on the feet. If Oezdemir doesn’t fade, he can make this fight competitive as Ankalaev doesn’t throw a ton of volume.

PREDICTION: Ankalaev by decision

Amanda Ribas (-165) vs. Virna Jandiroba (+145)

In the featured prelim of the night, Amanda Ribas takes on Virna Jandiroba in the women’s strawweight division.

Ribas is coming off a second round knockout loss to Marina Rodriguez after winning her first four fights in the UFC, two by submission and two by decision.

Jandiroba has won three of her last four fights since losing her UFC debut to Carla Esparza. All three of her wins in the UFC have come by finish, twice by submission. She’s 17-2 overall with 14 finishes, 13 by submission.

Ribas is a well-rounded fighter. She’s a good striker and very strong on the ground as she’s a black belt in both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo. She has good striking metrics, but both of her career losses are by knockout so durability could be a concern.

Jandiroba is an elite Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who has improved her striking since joining the UFC. She’s a solid wrestler as well.

Ribas has a big edge on the feet on this fight. Ribas and Jandiroba have a common opponent in Mackenzie Dern, who is not a strong striker by any means and Jandiroba was out-struck by her. I know, MMA math isn’t something to put too much stock in, but Ribas out-struck Dern badly. Jandiroba was able to take Esparza down three times so her wrestling is legit. She’ll need to get multiple takedowns and ground control because she isn’t winning a striking based decision. If she can’t score takedowns, Ribas is going to run away with this fight.

PREDICTION: Ribas by decision

Zubaira Tukhugov (-165) vs. Ricardo Ramos (+145)

Zubaira Tukhugov won his first three fights in the UFC, but since then he’s just 1-2-1 in his last four fights and coming off a split decision loss to Hakeem Dawodu. In his seven UFC fights, all but two have gone to decision.

Ricardo Ramos is coming off a tough unanimous decision over Bill Algeo since joining the UFC. He has four wins by decision, while both of his losses have been first round knockouts.

Tukhugov has good kickboxing skills, but he’s just so low volume that he’s almost always involved in a split decision. He’s also a solid wrestler, but again doesn’t attempt enough takedowns.

Ramos is a strong grappler and is coming off a fight where he completed eight takedowns. He’s a decent striker, but durability is a concern.

Tukhugov and Ramos are evenly matched and both have cardio concerns. In the end, I’m leaning towards Tukhugov because he has more paths to victory. Ramos isn’t likely to take him down and Tukhugov could knock him out. If he doesn’t, I see Tukhugov edging out another close decision.

PREDICTION: Tukhugov by decision

Albert Duraev (-365) vs. Roman Kopylov (+280)

Albert Duraev returned from a three year layoff to compete on this season of the Contender Series and dominated Caio Bittencourt, submitting him with a neck crank in the first round. Duraev is 14-3 overall and gets a quick turnaround of about six weeks. Twelve of his fourteen wins are by finish, nine by submission.

Roman Kopylov is stepping up on fairly short notice, replacing Alessio Di Chirico and this will be his first fight in two years. In his UFC debut, he was submitted by Karl Roberson in the third round via rear naked choke. Kopylov is 8-1 overall with seven knockouts.

Duraev is a dominant grappler as we saw on the Contender Series and I’m excited to see more of his skills in the UFC. He’s a capable striker, but he has been knocked out twice earlier in is career.

Kopylov comes from a Sambo background. He excels as a striker and has good kicks. His ground skills are a bit of mystery and it’s concerning that he was submitted by Roberson.

This seems like your typical striker versus grappler match and I’m expecting Duraev to score an early takedown and dominate Kopylov on the ground and get a first round finish.

PREDICTION: Duraev by first round submission

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos (-235) vs. Benoit Saint-Denis (+190)

Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos lost his UFC debut by split decision, then rattled off seven straight wins, four by stoppage. However, he’s now lost two of his last three and coming off a controversial split decision loss to Muslim Salikhov. Dos Santos comes from a Capoeira background and is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt.

Benoit Saint-Denis is 8-0 and making his UFC debut. All eight of his wins are finishes, seven by submission. Most of his fights have ended inside of two rounds. Saint-Denis has a background in Judo and jiu-jitsu and has been competing lately in the Brave FC promotion. He’ll look for takedowns, hunt for an early submission and he’s been pretty successful.

Dos Santos doesn’t have the greatest takedown defense so Saint-Denis does have a path to victory if his skills are indeed legit at this level. If they aren’t, dos Santos is going to chew him up on the feet. I’m leaning towards Saint-Denis not being ready for this level.

PREDICTION: Dos Santos by second round knockout

Shamil Gamzatov (-125) vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk (+105)

Shamil Gamzatov hasn’t fought in two years since winning a split decision over Klidson Abreu in his UFC debut. He’s had four fights booked since then, but all have been cancelled either to visa issues, injuries or a global pandemic. Gamzatov is 14-0 overall with ten finishes.

Michal Oleksiejczuk snapped a two fight losing streak with a tight split decision victory over Modestas Bukauskas. Oleksiejczuk is 15-4 overall with eleven finishes, ten by knockout. He’s been finished in all four of his losses, three times by submission. Both of his losses in the UFC have come by submission.

Gamzatov comes from a Sambo background. He prefers to strike, has average power and questionable takedown defense although that shouldn’t be a factor in this fight.

Oleksiejczuk is mostly a boxer with knockout power early, but he has poor takedown defense and cardio. He’s also a small light heavyweight and better suited for middleweight.

This is a tough fight to call. Both fighters are pretty similar and Gamzatov has been out of action so it’s hard to know what improvements he’s made, if any. Oleksiejczuk hasn’t looked good in his last three fights so it’s hard to have any confidence in him either. It’s a toss up and I’m going to side with the undefeated Gamzatov.

PREDICTION: Gamzatov by decision

Lerone Murphy (-305) vs. Makwan Amirkhani (+240)

Lerone Murphy, stepped up as a short notice replacement, after Tristan Connelly had to withdraw a few weeks ago. Murphy is unbeaten in the UFC in three fights with wins over Douglas Silva de Andrade and Ricardo Ramos and a split draw with Zubaira Tukhugov. He’s 10-0-1 overall with six wins by knockout and four by decision.

Makwan Amirkhani has lost two in a row and three of his last four fights. He’s 6-4 overall in the UFC with four finishes, three by submission. Three of his four losses have come by decision.

Murphy is a low volume striker with poor takedown defense. He was taken down six times against Tukhugov, but rallied back in the third round to force a draw.

Amirkhani is a wrestler with limited striking skills and poor cardio. If he can score takedowns early, he’s dangerous as a submission grappler. However, if the fight gets extended, he tends to fall apart.

Connelly was a much better matchup for Amirkhani as he’s not as physical and dangerous as Murphy. Amirkhani does have a path to victory through wrestling since Murphy is so poor at defending takedowns, but I’m just not very confident in Amirkhani. If Murphy can survive the early takedown assault by Amirkhani, all he has to do is push a moderate pace on the feet and Amirkhani will wilt.

PREDICTION: Murphy by decision

Andre Petroski (-235) vs. Hu Yaozong (+190)

Andre Petroski is stepping up on short notice, replacing Alen Amedovski. Petroski was a favorite to win the middleweight contract on this past season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, but he was submitted by eventual winner Bryan Battle in the semi-finals. Petroski won his UFC debut, defeating Michael Gillmore by third round knockout. He is 5-1 with all of his wins coming inside the distance, four by knockout. 

Hu Yaozong hasn’t fought in three years and is winless in two fights in the UFC. He’s 3-2 overall and this will be his middleweight debut, after competing at heavyweight and then light heavyweight in his first two appearances.

Petroski is a strong grappler with cardio issues and even though he dug deep in his UFC debut to finish Gillmore late it’s still a big concern going forward. Yaozong is still very raw and could have made improvements in the last three years, but I’m really not impressed with the talent coming out of China. I’m not sold on Petroski as a prospect, but he should be good enough to dominate Yaozong early on the ground and get a finish.

PREDICTION: Petroski by first round submission

Damir Ismagulov (-280) vs. Magomed Mustafaev (+225)

Damir Ismagulov has won four straight fights since joining the UFC, all by unanimous decision and is currently on an 18 fight winning streak. He’s one of the best prospects in the lightweight division. Ismagulov is a good technical striker and has solid wrestling skills. He doesn’t have many flaws except for his lack of finishing ability at this level.

Magomed Mustafaev has lost two of his last three fights and coming off a split decision loss to Brad Riddell. He’s 3-2 in the UFC and finished all three opponents. Mustafaev is a dangerous striker, especially early, but his cardio is an issue the longer the fight goes.

I’m writing this as the weigh-ins are happening and Ismagulov just came in at 163.5 pounds, missing weight by 7.5 pounds. He didn’t look good on the scales and this fight could be in jeopardy now. My initial pick was going to be Ismagulov by decision, but now I’m not very confident. I’m going to change my pick and go with Mustafaev to get the early knockout.

PREDICTION: Mustafaev by first round knockout

Tagir Ulanbekov (-400) vs. Allan Nascimento (+300)

Kicking off the card is a flyweight bout between Tagir Ulanbekov and Allan Nascimento, who will be making his UFC debut. Ulanbekov defeated Bruno Silva by unanimous decision to improve his overall record to 12-1. He has seven wins by submission and five by decision.

Nascimento’s last fight was three years ago when he lost by split decision to Raulian Paiva on the Brazilian version of the Contender Series. He’s 18-5 overall with 15 finishes, 14 by submission.

Ulanbekov is a strong wrestler and a solid striker, while Nascimento is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt so he’s obviously a strong grappler. He’s not a very strong wrestler and an average striker.

Ulanbekov is a better wrestler and striker than Nascimento and he’ll be the pick by decision.

PREDICTION: Ulanbekov by decision

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