Best bets for UFC 282: Blachowicz vs. Ankalaev
Saturday’s UFC 282 in Las Vegas is the organization's last pay-per-view event for the calendar year. The 13-bout card begins at 2:30 p.m. PT, with the main card starting at 7 p.m. PT.
Last week Phil Rowe got his hand raised as a +120 underdog padding 2022 profitability to 26-19 +9.77 units entering the remaining two events of the year.
Jan Blachowicz (+185) vs. Magomed Ankalaev (-210)
Light heavyweight (205 pounds) championship | Main event
Finocchiaro: Third-ranked Blachowicz is the former champion who lost his belt late in 2021 to Glover Teixeira. Blachowicz has been in the octagon with the elite of his division, he’s deeply experienced and skilled, though now 39 he faces a man every bit his size but nine years younger.
A deft black belt in BJJ, Blachowicz possesses striking precision and power, evidenced by his nine wins via submission, nine via KO and 10 via decision. Blachowicz is a prototypical fighting machine.
Both men come with complete fight arsenals, though their specialties vary greatly. Where Blachowicz is BJJ trained and has naturally powerful striking, Ankalaev, the fourth-ranked athlete in the division, is less a power-based striker and more a steady, determined grappling vise grip.
Both are able strikers and though Ankalaev’s striking is less power-based, he does have deft strike defense and a granite chin. Blachowicz still has that natural pop in his punches, but he also has been finished in the past.
Ankalaev’s pressure wrestling must be on display early to both test Blachowicz’s takedown defense and force him to expend effort and energy. Ankalaev must find a way to sap Blachowicz early in order to turn this fight in his favor late.
Blachowicz is wily, savvy and always carries the threat of that power, but it’s my judgment that Ankalaev has the pressure style required to defeat Blachowicz and become the unofficial titleholder until he can defend it against the aforementioned former champion Teixeira, the fighter most of the MMA world considers to be the rightful titleholder.
Total in this fight: 3.5 Under -115 and one can also find 4.5 Under -165
Kuhn: Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira certainly defied the usual odds against older champions, but a changing of the guard felt overdue when Jiri Prochazka took the throne. However, now with a shot to win back his belt, Blachowicz will have to face a very different animal in Ankalaev. The Dagestani is a younger, dual-threat opponent with few holes in his game.
Blachowicz isn’t lacking in power, but neither is Ankalaev. On a per-strike basis, Ankalaev actually has better knockdown power, and he also has better strike accuracy, despite mixing in a lot of kicks. That gives Ankalaev a sizable advantage on the feet, but he also has one on the ground.
Akalaev is the more persistent grappler and spends one of every five minutes of fight time controlling opponents on the mat. That’s more than double ground control the rate of Blachowicz.
Kuhn’s picks: Ankalaev to win, Fight Does Not Go the Distance
Paddy Pimblett (-200) vs. Jared Gordon (+170)
Lightweight (155 pounds) | Co-main event
Finocchiaro: The UFC is owned by an entertainment entity and this fight is Exhibit A for proof of that.
Pimblett is a magnanimous personality from England who has the “it” factor. That’s the UFC’s belief based on the eyeballs he brings to any event he is featured in.
As a fighter, Pimblett has a decent arsenal though his striking is still very much in the development stage. He’s huge for the weight class and drops unusual amounts of weight to compete. At 27, he is able to execute the cut to 155 pounds, but how much longer can he keep that up?
Pimblett has ample power in his hands, he moves well and is willing to get after opponents on the feet. He is a sound grappler and besides improving each fight, he does have a logical maturity to him, which is an asset in the cage.
Gordon is a solid UFC professional sporting a 19-5 pro record. He's more stoic, premeditated and experienced than Pimblett and he has been prepared for this opportunity through the tough life situations he’s overcome.
Gordon is more well-rounded but also has accrued more wear and tear over his career. He’s giving away reach and height advantages and is six years older than the Englishman.
Gordon’s forte is wrestling and while Pimblett can grapple, he’ll be looking to touch Gordon and put him out. Gordon has been finished via strikes more than once.
I look for Gordon to try to force the action on Pimblett, which is exactly how Pimblett needs this fight to unfold as his speed and youthful power are exactly what he wants to present to viewers.
Pimblett is squarely on my future fade list, but in this situation, where it seems the organization is contributing to his ascent, I’ll wait for a more realistic opportunity with a more capable opponent before I go full throttle on the Paddy Pimblett fade.
Total in this fight: 2.5 Under -140
Edmen Shahbazyan (-280) vs. Dalcha Lungiambula (+230)
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Finocchiaro: Lungiambula, 13-5 professionally, has a chiseled physique and he’s an explosive, power striker with bludgeoning power. But big-time success has been fleeting. He’s 2-5 in the UFC, having dropped his last three bouts. So while there is pressure on him, there is also desperation, which is often good for a positive performance.
Lungiambula sports a solid Judo base to go with his power striking, but his compact physical stature and relatively awkward/incomplete footwork make it difficult for him to navigate into the pocket fluidly against more diversely skilled and physically taller, longer opponents.
Shahbazyan, 4-3 in the UFC, enters the cage every bit as desperate and motivated as Lungiambula. Shahbazyan has lost his last three bouts after winning four straight in the organization.
Shahbazyan, who recently switched camps to train in Las Vegas with coach Eric Nicksick at Xtreme Couture, is three inches taller than Lungiambula, 10 years younger and more diversely skilled and athletic.
After meteoric early success, Shahbazyan was then thrown into high-level bouts too early for his stage of development, and his results show that. Yet that experience may help push his career forward now. This fight will go a long way in determining his ability to persevere through diversity.
Shahbazyan has competed against more skilled fighters than Lungiambula, he enters with more weaponry and I expect he’ll compete Saturday with every bit the desperation of his opponent.
Considering the major upgrade in training facility/partners providing him diversely skilled, world-class competition to train with daily, complemented with today’s most astute trainers forging his conditioning and confidence, Shahbazyan is poised to explode Saturday night.
Total in this fight: 1.5 rounds Over -140
Shahbazyan -280 is a bit steep.
Finocchiaro’s pick: Shahbazyan via KO/Sub/DQ -110.
Chris Curtis (+140) vs. Joaquin Buckley (-165)
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Kuhn: We’ll definitely see some leather traded as neither Buckley nor Curtis has attempted many takedowns in their UFC careers. Curtis has plenty of finishes and has fared well in victory, but he also eats a lot of strikes along the way.
The result is that Curtis is a tit-for-tat striker, and that could be a problem against a younger, slightly bigger and more dangerous opponent. Buckley may not have high accuracy, but he throws a lot, and he throws it hard. This matches up well against the poor head strike defense of Curtis.
The lean on the feet for Buckley is aided by a slight advantage on the ground. While takedowns aren’t his first choice, Buckley does land more than one per fight, and that could help him secure a round or tire out an older opponent. But that’s only if he doesn’t land some bombs on the feet that lead to an early finish. Buckley is both affordable and in a good position to win.
Kuhn’s pick: Buckley to win