The UFC is off to “Fight Island,” as they leave the United States and head back to the Etihad Arena on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi for UFC 267 this Saturday, Oct. 30. The event will be headlined by a light heavyweight title clash between champion Jan Błachowicz and perennial contender Glover Teixeira. Błachowicz won the vacant title by defeating Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 and then defended his belt when he thwarted middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s attempt at becoming a two-division champion. Teixeira went through a phase in 2016-2017 where he was alternating wins and losses against other top contenders but since then, he has rattled off five straight wins including two consecutive stoppages on his way to this title shot.
The co-main event will determine the interim champion in the UFC’s bantamweight division. Former titleholder Petr Yan was slated to rematch the man who took his title, but Aljamain Sterling was not cleared to fight by doctors after having neck surgery. In his place steps Cory Sandhagen, who most recently fought a five-round war against T.J. Dillashaw in the latter’s return from a two-year suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Despite coming out on the wrong end of a split decision in that fight, Sandhagen more than proved that he is capable of defeating anyone else at 135 pounds.
Also on the main card is a lightweight fight between Islam Makhachev and Dan Hooker. Much has been made about Makhachev being the heir apparent to the lightweight throne after the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov. He has certainly lived up to the hype so far, winning eight straight fights and looking increasingly more dominant each time he steps into the cage. Hooker took this fight on short notice after an injury forced former lightweight champ Rafael Dos Anjos out of the contest. Hooker rebounded nicely in his last fight, after dropping two consecutive fights, when he picked up a unanimous decision win in September over Nasrat Haqparast.
UFC 267 will air in its entirety on ESPN+ with the preliminary card starting at 10:30 a.m. ET, followed by the main card at 2 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Glover Teixeira has amassed a five fight winning streak on his current run; does the 41 year old make it six straight by dethroning champion Jan Błachowicz?
Sumian: It is quite fascinating that the combined age of the two top-ranked light heavyweights in the world is a whopping 79 years old. Despite this, Błachowicz and Teixeira have undeniably established themselves at the top of the division with the likes of Jiří Procházka and Aleksander Rakic just slightly behind them. The light heavyweight division is gradually returning to its former glory with multiple title contenders and numerous exciting bouts to put on. This will is leading the effort to build the division back up to its former strength.
On Saturday, the Błachowicz finally makes his first title defense against a true light heavyweight in the form of the ultra-tough Glover Teixeira, who has undoubtedly been on one of the most impressive resurgences of recent mixed martial arts history. Prior to his arrival to the UFC, Teixeira had already established himself as a significant name in MMA by compiling an impressive 17-2 record outside the Octagon. His pre-UFC record included 15 finishes by submission or knockout. He took the UFC by storm when he continued his winning streak, defeating Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, James Te Huna and Ryan Bader in effort to receive a title shot against then-champion, and divisional kingpin, Jon Jones. Despite coming up short, the Brazilian went all five rounds with Jones and put his resilience and toughness on full display.
After a .500 record between 2014 and 2018, many had written off the former title contender due to his age and brutal defeats courtesy of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson. Instead of giving into the pressures of retirement, Teixeira continued to rally and chase his ultimate dream of becoming a UFC champion. This passion and commitment to excellence resulted in a five-fight winning streak, which includes victories over former title contenders Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos, in effort to receive another shot at UFC gold. Fueled by his hunger for greatness, and still improving at the age of 41, Teixeira will have to dig deep one final time when he takes on Jan Błachowicz, who is quietly building his own legacy in the light heavyweight division.
After a 2-4 start to his UFC career, it is difficult to imagine a fighter becoming significantly relevant at the highest levels of MMA. That is what many believed about Jan Błachowicz after he underwhelmed both the UFC and MMA fans around the world, despite entering the UFC with an impressive 17-3 record. The Poland native quickly altered his course of mediocrity when he compiled a four-fight winning streak, which earned him a title eliminator bout against fellow contender Thiago Santos in Feb. 2019. After a competitive and back-and-forth striking battle, Santos was able to knock out Błachowicz and earn himself a title shot against Jon Jones.
Despite the setback, Błachowicz was undeterred and continued to hone his skills, so he could once again be able to challenge for the UFC light heavyweight belt. His commitment to greatness ultimately led to another impressive winning streak, climbing his way up to a battle for Jones’ vacated belt against Dominick Reyes. The pair met in Sept. 2020 where Błachowicz blasted Reyes body with powerful body shots before landing a straight right and left jab combo in the second round that sent Reyes stumbling to the canvas. The Polish native quickly followed to the canvas and poured on several more follow up shots before the referee had seen enough and ruled the bout in favor of Błachowicz via TKO.
The newly crowned champion followed up his destruction of Reyes with an impressive and fairly one-sided unanimous decision title defense over middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. After being baited into a striking exchange for the first couple of rounds, Błachowicz quickly adjusted his game plan and used his superior size and strength to control Adesanya on the ground to grind out a dominant first title defense. Fresh off his first title defense, and continuously evolving in the latter half of his successful career, Błachowicz will look to put a stamp on his title reign when he takes on the resilient Teixeira.
Despite both combatants being incredibly well-rounded and seasoned mixed martial artists, the advantage certainly lies with the champion. Błachowicz is a seasoned kickboxer with thunderous power in both his punches and kicks. Pair this with an improving ground game, that allows him to take less powerful opponents into heavy ground-and-pound, and you have yourself a real problem. The champion should look to put Teixeira away early with his superior striking, as the challenger has shown his durability into the later rounds.
On the other hand, Teixeira’s biggest weapon in this bout will be his toughness and heart. He will get smothered by Błachowicz in the first couple rounds, and he will need to be able to weather the early storm that the champion lays on. IF he makes it to the second half of the fight, Teixeira should be able to gradually pepper the the champ’s body with powerful hooks trying to tire him out and possibly secure a takedown where he can implement his top-tier grappling.
After a thrilling back-and-forth bout, Błachowicz will eventually land a picture-perfect combination in round three that sends Teixeira into survival mode and an eventual TKO stoppage. The challenger will put his resilience on display, when he takes a world of punishment from the champion, but it will not be enough. A European showdown with Jiří Procházka is next in line for the champion, which should prove to be one of the most anticipated light heavyweight title bouts in recent history.
Petela: This is going to be a very slow-paced, methodical fight. Both of these men are in the latter stages of their careers and fare much better when they are able to slowly wade into the later rounds. There are certainly exceptions to that, but paired against each other, it is all but guaranteed that this fight will start slowly. The Polish champion will likely have an advantage on the feet as he is the more technical striker and will have the speed advantage when the two men engage in the pocket. The first few rounds will definitely belong to the incumbent, and Teixeira will know he needs a finish to win the title heading into the championship rounds.
That is where this fight will get interesting. To call Jan Błachowicz anything other than an elite jiu-jitsu player would be wrong. He is a black belt under Kamil Uminski, a four-time ADCC European champion, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves globally as a professor and a competitor. Błachowicz has only been submitted once in his career, and that was back in his fifth professional fight all the way back in 2007.
The caveat is that Błachowicz has never fought someone as big as Teixeira, who is also as accomplished on the canvas. The way that he beat Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza was by ensuring that the fight did not get to the mat, and that was a rather uninspired performance by both men. The larger Teixeira will be able to take advantage of a clinch against the cage and drag the champion down to the mat, where he will go to work and secure a fourth round arm-triangle choke that puts Błachowicz to sleep. The title changes hands and the 41-year-old Teixeira will become the second oldest fighter to win a UFC championship.
Petr Yan meets Cory Sandhagen for the interim title in the bantamweight division; does Yan leave with the belt wrapped around his waist?
Petela: No. This is probably the worst matchup Yan could get as a replacement for the injured Aljamain Sterling. The length and unconventional striking of Sandhgen will cause problems for the former champion throughout the duration of this fight. Sterling is certainly an unconventional fighter himself, but in a different sense than Sandhagen. Yan has no doubt been preparing for a rematch with Sterling since their first fight ended in disqualification, and he has spent countless hours fine-tuning his approach. With the news that Sterling couldn’t fight coming just a month before the scheduled contest, Yan will have to abandon that game plan as he heads into this fight.
Yan will have to rely heavily on his core technical skills with an abbreviated training camp to prepare for a new opponent. Unfortunately, that won’t bode well against Sandhagen. Yan’s classic technical boxing is some of the best in mixed martial arts, but he will struggle to get inside the reach of Sandhagen. The angles that Sandhagen cuts, as he darts in and out in almost perpetual motion, will puzzle Yan early. By the time he gets the timing and rhythm somewhat figured out, he will be a step slower due to the punishment he has taken. Ultimately, in the later rounds of this fight, Yan will become almost a stationary target, and this will wind up being a lopsided decision in favor of Sandhagen.
Sumian: The bantamweight division has evolved into one of the most talent-rich divisions in present-day mixed martial arts. Yan and Sandhagen are undoubtedly two of the top-five bantamweights in the world, and the two will put on an extremely entertaining fight when they meet for the interim belt. This will be an extremely high-level MMA bout, with both men having their moments. Sandhagen will utilize his unorthodox movement and striking to continuously keep Yan on the outside, as the former champion attempts to march the taller and lengthier Sandhgaden down to close the distance. Yan will look to get on the inside, where he can fire off powerful punches and kicks and possibly look to take Sandhagen down where he can control the taller fighter.
As much as I would like to believe that Sandhagen will win this fight and capitalize on the short-notice call, Yan has simply been far too good to believe he will fall victim to Sandhagen’s style. The former champion will utilize a similar game plan to that of T.J. Dillashaw and, once again, wear UFC gold around his waist. He will meet the undisputed champion Aljamain Sterling sometime in 2022 and soundly defeat the “FunkMaster” to unify the UFC bantamweight title as he becomes the sole champion once again.
Allan Nascimento, Albert Duraev, and Benoit Saint-Denis; do we need to know these names?
Sumian: This is a fairly easy no and yes. Allan Nasicmento is a Brazil native who makes his UFC debut after a 2-2 record in his last four fights. Had it not been for an already shallow flyweight division, it is unlikely the newcomer would have received a chance to fight for the UFC. Tagir Ulanbekov will thoroughly defeat Nascimento, extending his winning streak to five.
Albert Duraev is certainly another story and deserves recognition going into his official UFC debut. The Russian native is riding a nine-fight winning streak and has been nothing short of dominant throughout. He takes on Roman Koplyov who has been out of action since 2019, where he lost his UFC debut courtesy of Karl Roberson. Duraev enters the welterweight division as a highly touted addition and will quickly jump into the conversation of future top-15 welterweights when he submits Kopylov.
Petela: Benoit Saint-Denis is the name I am most excited about this weekend. He has an undefeated record of 8-0 with one no-contest. All of those wins have been by stoppage, with seven submissions and one knockout. This welterweight prospect is only 25 years old and has a bright future ahead of him. He will get off to a fast start with a victory in his debut against Elizeu Dos Santos at UFC 267.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 267?
Petela: Cory Sandhagen. He backdoored his way into an interim title shot with the injury that has hampered current champion Aljamain Sterling and former champion T.J. Dillashaw. Dillashaw recently defeated Sandhagen in a very closely contested decision that could have gone either way. Had it not been for the injuries to those two fighters, Sandhagen would have found himself on the outside looking in at the title picture for quite some time. Now, given this opportunity, he will make the most of it and come away with the interim title and a chance for a rematch with the only fighter to ever finish him, Sterling.
Sumian: Magomend Ankalaev. This man is a future light heavyweight challenger, mark my words. The 15-1 Dagestan native has compiled an impressive 6-1 record since joining the UFC and continues to show his progression as a mixed martial artist in every Octagon appearance. He will score the biggest win of his career when he knocks out former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir and immediately jump into a top-five ranking in the division.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 267?
Sumian: Glover Teixeira. In no shape or form is he a loser, but he will fail yet again to capture the one thing he so desperately desires, UFC gold. Despite an impressive resurgence, and never showing any signs of quit, the number-one light heavyweight contender is simply a step behind the champion and will suffer a second title fight loss.
Petela: Petr Yan. Circumstances couldn’t be worse for the former champion with a loss this weekend. Not only will he no longer be able to claim he is the rightful champion, he won’t get a title shot for at least a couple more fights, after he comes up short against Cory Sandhagen. First, there will be the unification bout between Sandhagen and Sterling, which won’t be for several months due to Sterling’s recovery from neck surgery. Then, there will be another former champion in line, once T.J. Dillashaw recovers from the knee injury he suffered in his win over Sandhagen. With the bantamweight division as deep as it is, Yan could very well stumble along his path back to the belt and wind up having to take the long road to another title shot. That all starts with a loss this weekend against a stylistic nightmare on short notice.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Zubaira Tukhogov. The main reason that Tukhogov is still on the UFC roster is because of his relationship with Khabib Nurmagomedov. Had it not been for Khabib, Tukhogov would have been cut from the promotion after jumping into the cage at UFC 229 in the post-fight melee. Since that incident he has gone 1-1-1 and needs a win to remain even somewhat relevant. With Khabib Nurmagomedov retired, Tukhogov has no leverage outside of his fighting skills.
Sumian: Makwan Amirkhani is probably the combatant most in need of a win, due to his two-fight losing streak. “Mr. Finland” has been in a number of exciting fights throughout his UFC career, including bouts against Jason Knight and Shane Burgos. Most recently, he has dropped two unanimous-decision losses to Edson Barboza and Kamuela Kirk. After compiling a 1-3 record since Nov. 2019, he will need a big win come Saturday to salvage his roster spot.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: The women’s strawweight bout between Amanda Ribas and Virna Jandiroba is the preliminary headliner and for good reason. This bout will likely be forgotten by the end of the card, due to an incredible main card, but will certainly have fans clamoring for more after the pair put on a “Fight of the Night” candidate. Both Ribas and Jandiroba are established finishers, with impeccable ground games, who will force an exciting and action packed bout, providing a perfect appetizer before the main card.
Petela: That Ribas-Jandiroba fight is definitely one I will be keeping a close eye on, but so is the light heavyweight matchup between Shamil Gamzatov and Michal Oleksiejczuk. Gamzatov is undefeated and coming off a split-decision win over Klidson Abreu in his UFC debut. This showdown against Oleksiejczuk will be a real test to see how high the ceiling is for the 31 year old Dagestani fighter. Oleksiejczuk is rarely in a boring fight and has had flashes of brilliance inside the Octagon. This one should be a technical slugfest and a ton of fun to watch.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Islam Makhachev. Props to Dan Hooker for taking this fight just shortly after fighting Nasrat Haqparast, but he will be no match for the surging Makhachev. A dominant performance, capstoned by a ground-and-pound finish that leaves Hooker’s face mangled, will be more than worthy of a “Performance of the Night” bonus and likely a title shot to face the winner of the title showdown between Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier.
Sumian: Albert Duraev. The UFC newcomer will pull off a first round submission over Roman Kopylov and earn himself a well deserved “Performance of the Night honors.” Expect more to come from the Russian athlete as he begins his UFC campaign.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: A hearty breakfast dish of your choice. If you are on the West Coast, like myself, then this card takes off at 7:30 a.m., with the main card beginning at 11 a.m.. Thus, be prepared to get up early for one of the best cards of the year and whip up a nice omelette or French toast dish to satisfy your morning needs. Expect an entertaining and memorable main card, that will cap off with two incredibly action-packed title fights.
Petela: Here on the East Coast, it is more of a brunch card so it is fully acceptable to pair this card with an adult beverage. What could be better to represent the beating that Islam Makhachev is going to put on Dan Hooker than a Bloody Mary? This is going to be a violent affair that solidifies Makhachev as the rightful next title contender, and will force Hooker to take extended time off to recover. As I mentioned earlier, major kudos to Hooker for taking this fight under the circumstances he did, but this fight is not going to go well for him.
Main Card (ESPN+, 2 p.m ET)
LHW Championship: Jan Błachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira
BW Interim Championship: Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen
LW: Islam Makhachev vs. Dan Hooker
HW: Alexander Volkov vs. Marcin Tybura
WW: Li Jingliang vs. Khamzat Chimaev
LHW: Magomed Ankalaev vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 10:30 a.m. ET)
Women’s StrawW: Amanda Ribas vs. Virna Jandiroba
FW: Ricardo Ramos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov
WW: Elizeu Dos Santos vs. Benoit Saint-Denis
MW: Albert Duraev vs. Roman Kopylov
LHW: Shamil Gamzatov vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk
FW: Makwan Amirkhani vs. Lerone Murphy
MW: Hu Yaozong vs. Andre Petroski
LW: Magomed Mustafaev vs. Damir Ismagulov
FlyW: Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Allan Nascimento
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