For one final time in 2022, the UFC will host a pay-per-view event, live from the T-Mobile Arena in LAs Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 10. UFC 282 was originally supposed to be a rematch for the light heavyweight championship between Jiří Procházka and Glover Teixeira, after the two men put on an instant classic in their first meeting that saw Procházka claim the title with a late submission victory. However, the new champion suffered a catastrophic shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for over a year, and he has vacated his title.
Teixeira was offered a title fight against Magomed Ankalaev but opted not to take the fight with such short notice to prepare for the Dagestani juggernaut. Instead, former champion Jan Błachowicz will square off against Ankalaev with the vacant title on the line. The two were supposed to fight in the co-main event slot in a number-one contender battle, but they were promoted to the main event after Procházka was forced to vacate the belt due to his injury.
The co-main event will see British rising star Paddy Pimblett take on Jared Gordon. Pimblett has yet to face defeat since signing with the UFC, finishing all three of the opponents he has faced inside the Octagon. This is a definite step-up in competition for the brash fighter from Liverpool, as Gordon has shared the cage with a slew of high-level opponents and has been in top form recently, notching four victories in his last five appearances. Many are considering this clash to be Pimblett’s first real test, and a win would vault his star power tremendously.
Former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler was supposed to take on hard hitting Santiago Ponzinibbio, but a late injury forced Lawler out of the contest, and he has been replaced by Alex Morono. Morono has notched four wins in a row, with three straight unanimous decisions and a first-round TKO over the now-retired gunslinger Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. Ponzinibbio has not fared as well as Morono lately, dropping two straight bouts and three of his last four. He needs to make a statement against his short-notice opponent to remind the division about how dangerous he can be when he’s operating on all cylinders.
The UFC 282 early prelims air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ starting at 5:30 p.m. ET, and the preliminary card airs live on ESPN+ and ESPN 2 starting at 8 p.m. ET. The action moves to the main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Dan Kuhl and Matt Petela preview the action this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
The light heavyweight title is at stakes in the main event; does Jan Błachowicz begin a second run as champion or does Magomed Ankalaev claim the belt?
Kuhl: Jan Błachowicz had a great run to the title in his late 30’s. He has displayed his trademark Polish Power, he has shown he still had good cardio, and he even went five rounds with the striking buzzsaw that is Israel Adesanya. It was amazing when he lost his title to the even older Glover Teixeira, and his last fight, when he scored a win over Aleksandar Rakic due to an injury, got him back in the win column. However, it doesn’t seem like he really did enough to earn the title shot.
Teixeira lost his first title defense to Jiří Procházka, and the two were supposed to be rematching for the title this weekend. However, Procházka is out with a serious injury that had him vacate his title, and Teixeira should be fighting Magomed Ankalaev for the belt. However, Teixeria wanted more time to prepare for Ankalaev, the promotion didn’t want to wait, and Błachowicz slid into the Brazilian’s spot.
Ankalaev has only lost once in his career, which was almost five years ago. Like many of his countrymen, he has that trademark Dagestani Sambo style, but what really sets him apart is his striking. Ankalaev is a murderer on the feet, putting together some solid kicking and striking combinations, and, at only 30 years old, he is arguably not even in his prime yet. Błachowicz, on the other hand, turns 40 in February. While he has shown to hold off Father Time better than most, the clock is still ticking.
Błachowicz got a second chance at life in this one. He’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu, and he has shown his powerful ground game over and over again. He is going to have his hands full with Ankalaev, who has a slight height advantage and crisp striking, but with Polish power and solid wrestling, he does have a good chance in this one. However, Ankalaev is younger, is constantly improving, and is the future of the 205-pound division.
I think Błachowicz will try to close the distance, to try and get Ankalaev to the mat, but I don’t think the Dagestani fighter is going to let him get in without sustaining a lot of damage. I see Ankalaev picking apart Blahowicz early and often, until he scores a TKO win, likely before the end of the second round to earn newfound gold.
Petela: I agree that Jan Błachowicz hasn’t done enough to “earn” another crack at the title, but, with Jiří Procházka out of action for quite some time, he lucked into this opportunity. I expect him to take full advantage of this chance. On paper, Magomed Ankalaev should win this fight, but luckily for Błachowicz and his fans, they don’t fight on paper.
This fight is going to start slowly, with neither man looking to overcommit and put himself out of position and vulnerable to the power coming back at them. It will be reminiscent of the early rounds for both fighters against Thiago Santos. Obviously, the fights against “Marreta” ended very differently for these title hopefuls, with Błachowicz suffering a TKO loss and Ankalaev earning a lackluster decision victory. That will be the pace early, and I expect fans to be a little restless after the first three rounds. Neither man will feel confident with how the judges have the bout scored going into the championship rounds, and that’s when things will start to heat up.
The championship experience of Błachowicz will make the difference, and his poise late will allow him to catch Ankalaev as they break the clinch. The legendary Polish Power will be alive and well, and Ankalaev will be stopped for only the second time in his career – the first due to strikes. There is little doubt that Ankalaev is the future of the light heavyweight division, but the present belongs to Błachowicz, who will claim the title again and have a chance to redeem himself against Glover Teixeira in his next bout.
Paddy Pimblett is one of the fastest rising MMA stars in recent history; how does he fare in his high profile co-main event contest?
Petela: Not well. It won’t be that the spotlight is too big for him, but he will end up getting beat for the first time since joining the UFC. Paddy Pimblett isn’t a bad fighter, and he certainly is a dynamic personality, but this fight against Jared Gordon is a bigger step-up than most people think.
Gordon has won four of his last five bouts, and his last two losses came against rising star Grant Dawson and former champion Charles Oliveira. At 34 years old, Gordon is hitting a stride and shows marked improvements each and every time he steps into the cage. I expect Gordon to have an advantage in the striking realm, where Pimblett has had moments of vulnerability in his UFC run. Pimblett is the more dangerous submission threat, but he won’t be able to run through Gordon on the canvas. Gordon is a brown belt under the legendary John Danaher, and he has only been submitted once throughout his professional career.
Pimblett will get the fight to the canvas, and he may wind up with a decent amount of control time, but the defensively sound Gordon won’t take much damage or find himself in a real threat of being submitted. The amount of damage that Gordon does to Pimblett on the feet will be far greater than the amount that Pimblett doles out on the canvas. Expect to see Jared Gordon get his hand raised after a unanimous decision win that slows down, but doesn’t stop, the “Paddy the Baddy” hype train.
Kuhl: I’m definitely not in agreement with my colleague on this one. Pimblett is a finisher, and Gordon hasn’t put away an opponent since his UFC debut over five years ago. John Danaher does not teach his guys to fight to the final bell, and Gordon hasn’t trained under Danaher in a really long time.
Gordon does, however, train out of Kill Cliff FC with a ton of killers, but that raises more concerns than anything else. When he is surrounded by that level of coaches and training partners, why can’t he finish a fight? He’s not fighting any higher level of talent than Pimblett is, and he’s kind of in that age of prime fighting condition at 34 years old. Yet, he still hasn’t shown that he can get the job done. The Englishman has finished his last five opponents, three of which have been in the UFC. All three UFC wins have also come with a performance bonus.
Pimblett is going to have zero issues with the spotlight. In fact, he thrives on it. And, this is not a Fight Night card at the UFC Apex. It’s going to be in front of a raucous crowd of fans at the T-Mobile Arena, most of which will be going nuts when he makes his way to the cage. At 27 years old, he is young and fun, and he loves what he does. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he is on a hell of a streak and still only getting started. His striking is ever-improving, and he has the advantage on the ground.
Sure, Gordon is his toughest test yet, and he will certainly attempt to bring the heat to Pimblett early. However, Paddy the Baddy will take it in stride, eventually get Gordon to the mat, and pick up a submission, en route to another performance bonus.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 280?
Kuhl: Magomed Ankalaev. Putting Błachowicz away and earning a title could set him up for a long title reign. He has already beaten three top-10 guys in his last three bouts, and a win over Błachowicz will bring that to four top-10 wins in a row. That’s a pretty good spot to be in, and, with Procházka out for the foreseeable future, that puts him halfway through the top of the division, and he’s just getting started.
Petela: Jared Gordon. He is going to pick up a win in the co-main event slot of a pay-per-view, and do it against one of the most popular global fighters and a rising star. That won’t turn Gordon into a superstar overnight but it certainly raises his profile and will earn him a chance to take on bigger names right at the point in his career where he is putting his skills together better than ever and is finally ready to compete with those bigger names.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 281?
Petela: Darren Till. He will go down as one of those classic stories about what could have been. The UFC has done him no favors in fast-tracking him to the top of the class before he was ready, and that really has come back to bite everyone. Till has lost four of his last five bouts, and he hasn’t scored a finish since knocking out Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone back in 2017. His fight against Dricus Du Plessis looks like a step back from the top of the middleweight division, but Du Plessis is a dangerous fighter with serious power. Till’s aggressive striking will make this a fun fight, but also one that has the potential to seriously diminish his potential to return to the top of the division. I expect Till to get knocked out in a fight that he really needs to win. Not a good night for the star from Liverpool.
Kuhl: I’m not going to call him a loser, by any means, but a loss to Magomed Ankalaev will certainly knock Jan Błachowicz out of any chance at another title run. Ankalaev is going to win, and he will fight Glover Teixeira next Spring. While it sounds like Jiří Procházka might be quite a way out from a return to action, if one at all, if he is ready by next Fall, he will have a chance to get his title back. With Anthony Smith facing Jamahal Hill next Spring, one of them could get in the title hunt with a solid finish. Ryan Spann made waves in his last fight. Nikita Krylov is moving up the ladder. I just don’t see a spot for Błachowicz will some new blood already in, or moving toward, the top five. The Polish former champ had a great run, but he’s fast approaching 40 years old, and, after he loses to Ankalaev, his chances to maintain a top position will have dwindled to nearly none.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Kuhl: It seems weird to say, but we might be getting to the end of the long and storied career of the king of the Von Flue choke, Ovince Saint Preux. OSP, who turns 40 years old in April, is 4-6 in the last five years, and hasn’t strung together two wins in a row in that time. After back-to-back losses in Dec. 2020 and Jun. 2021, he didn’t fight for 11 months, and, when he was finally back in the cage in May 2022, he barely squeaked by Mauricio “Shogun” Rua by split decision. Granted, in the last five years, he had a couple performance bonuses, but there isn’t any real place for him in the division at this point. He will be welcoming newcomer Antonio Trocoli to the Octagon, and if he can’t pull off a win, he will certainly be in danger of the proverbial pink slip.
Petela: Edmen Shahbazyan. He started out his UFC run looking like the next big thing at middleweight, but it didn’t take long for that to collapse. He has lost three straight fights and been knocked out in two of those losses. He comes out looking like a world class mixed martial artist in the first round but has struggled mightily to manage his energy and looks exhausted by the midway point of each and every fight. If he can’t correct that problem, we might not see much more of him in the UFC. He is now training out of Xtreme Couture and is no longer under the tutelage of Mr. head movement himself, Edmund Tarverdyan so things may improve but this is a big spot for the young fighter.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Billy Quarantillo vs. Alexander Hernandez. Not too long ago, it looked like both of these guys were on track to go from prospect to contender. They have both had a few stumbles along the way and they might never reach the top of the featherweight division but they will both put on a bunch of fan-friendly fights for quite some time. This one will have a ton of long striking exchanges and some wild scrambles in the grappling realm and is a fight you should tune in early to watch.
Kuhl: There is one fight on the preliminary card that should be getting a lot more hype. Joaquin Buckley and Chris Curtis are both coming in with huge chips on their shoulders, and both are chomping at the bit to get back in the win column.
Buckley most recently lost to Nassourdine Imavov by decision, and he plans for this to be his last middleweight fight before permanently dropping to welterweight, where he used to fight. Curtis lost to Jack Hermansson last July, and that was not only the first loss of his UFC career, but his first since the 2019 PFL season.
Between the two of them, Curtis and Buckley hold a combined 27 knockouts, and neither of them are fond of going to the mat. This is going to be a wild fight for as long as it lasts, and this one should not see the end of the third round.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Kuhl: I mean, how can it not be Paddy Pimblett? He is facing Jared Gordon, who hasn’t stopped anyone since his UFC debut in 2017, even though he has been stopped in all four of his UFC losses. The Enlgishman is on a five-fight winning streak, all by stoppage, and another finish should definitely earn him a nice bonus.
Petela: Bryce Mitchell. His fight against Ilia Topuria is going to be an incredible display of submission grappling and I expect Mitchell to come out on top in this one. He may not notch a second submission win by twister but he will become the first person to beat Topuria and he will submit him which should be more than enough to earn a post-fight bonus. This main card opener could be the best and most exciting fight of the event.
Pair this card with…
Petela: The story of the night is going to be the legendary “Polish Power” of Jan Błachowicz and reclaiming the title. Crack open an ice cold Żywiec and enjoy the night as Błachowicz pulls off the upset to become a two-time champion and solving the puzzle that is Magomed Ankalaev.
Kuhl: Top-to-bottom, this card has a ton of potential for strong finishes. So, what’s better than an English bitter? I know Paddy comes from Liverpool, so this might carry some level of sacrilege, but Fuller’s London Pride sounds like a nice easy-drinking bitter beer to compliment plenty of bitter fight finishes.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW Championship: Jan Błachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev
LW: Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon
WW: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Alex Morono
MW: Darren Till vs. Dricus Du Plessis
FW: Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria
Preliminary Card (ESPN 2 and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
HW: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Chris Daukaus
BW: Jay Perrin vs. Raul Rosas Jr.
MW: Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Dalcha Lungiambula
MW: Chris Curtis vs. Joaquin Buckley
Early Prelims (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 5:30 p.m. ET)
FW: Billy Quarantillo vs. Alexander Hernandez
LHW: Ovince St. Preux vs. Antonio Trocoli
Ovince St. Preux
FW: Erik Silva vs. TJ Brown
FlyW: Daniel Da Silva vs. Vinicius Salvador
BW: Cameron Saaiman vs. Steven Koslow
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