Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) brings its final title fight to the pay-per-view (PPV) airwaves this Sat. evening (Dec. 10, 2022) when former Light Heavyweight Champion Jan Blachowicz squares off with surging contender Magomed Ankalaev at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The co-main event sees fan-favorite Scouser Paddy Pimblett make his first-ever stateside appearance against upset-minded veteran Jared Gordon. Before that, struggling slugger Santiago Ponzinibbio takes on ultra-late replacement Alex Morono, Darren Till makes his long-awaited return to the cage opposite fast-rising finisher Dricus Du Plessis, and Bryce Mitchell battles Ilia Topuria in a clash of unbeaten Featherweights that could easily steal the show.
Our usual main card guy got run over by a reindeer, so I must once again answer the call. As always, you can check out our UFC 282 “Prelims” predictions here and here, our UFC 282 odds and betting guide breakdown here, and many more UFC 282 news and notes here.
Grab your reading glasses and let’s get cracking.
205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz (29-9) vs. Magomed Ankalaev (18-1)
Even in retrospect, Blachowicz’s rise to the top is surreal. He never really stopped doing what led him to a 2-4 UFC start: throwing big single kicks and marching forward with awkward, clubbing hooks. It seemed like there were a boatload of technical striking fixes standing between him and contention, but instead he just tightened up his cardio and takedown defense and suddenly he was the menace we thought he’d be when he kicked Ilir Latifi in half.
Is that enough to get him past Ankalaev, though?
Strange as it is to say about a man who’s won nine straight in the Octagon, I honestly expected more out of Ankalaev. He looked like an absolute killer during his time on the Russian scene, showing off fearsome kickboxing and some of the nastiest ground-and-pound you’re likely to see. We’ve seen bits and pieces of those things since, but hidden beneath a conservative approach that’s done little to endear him to fans of the ol’ ultraviolence.
Seems like it’ll work out for him here, though. Blachowicz is too powerful and durable to get overwhelmed in a firefight, meaning a patient, potshotting approach that takes advantage of the Pole’s ingrained rough edges is the right way to go about it on the feet. If Blachowicz tries to force the issue, Ankalaev is more than happy to lean on his wrestling, which Blachowicz hasn’t done all that great a job of dealing with lately.
Not saying Blachowicz can’t outwork him, but Ankalaev’s ability to take the fight where he wants it figures to blunt any momentum he gets going. Plus, Ankalaev’s proven his ability to go five rounds, so Blachowicz can’t bank on a late comeback. While Blachowicz is much more of a live dog than the odds suggest, Ankalaev’s potshots and top control should be enough to carry him through a relatively dull affair.
Prediction: Ankalaev via unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett (19-3) vs. Jared “Flash” Gordon (19-5)
Way back when I broke down Pimblett ahead of his UFC debut last year, I said that he was nowhere near as good a nail as he was a hammer. Nad Narimani and Soren Bak, the last two men to beat him and the only ones to do so since 2013, made him look worryingly mortal through sheer aggression. The sneaky submissions and power shots just weren’t enough to keep sufficiently skilled and determined fighters from overwhelming him.
Three fights into his UFC career, I stand by my assessment. All three of the men he’s beaten gave him some early trouble by keeping him on the back foot, Luigi Vendramini and Kazula Vargas with strikes and Jordan Leavitt with takedowns. Though “The Baddy” was able to turn the tides each time, I’m not confident in his chances here. Gordon’s a more complete fighter than any of them, a high-output pressure machine with some wrestling chops to back it up.
There’s a reason Gordon’s still the underdog, of course; he’s had his chin checked more than once and his recent loss to Grant Dawson showed that he can be out-muscled. I just think he’s the type of fighter Pimblett struggles against, and “Flash’s” upset of another grappling ace in Joe Solecki should give him plenty of confidence.
Part of Pimblett’s charm is that he’s vulnerable, that he has to dig deep to score those big crowd-pleasing finishes. I know for certain he’ll fight his ass off, but Gordon’s just too aggressive and too seasoned. He outworks Pimblett to an upset decision.
Prediction: Gordon via unanimous decision
180 lbs.: Santiago Ponzinibbio (28-6) vs. Alex “The Great White” Morono (22-7)
I feel like I’m still locked in 2017 when I watch Morono. I instinctively superimpose the unremarkable slugger of those days over the fringe contender of today, like my brain can’t process the concept of “Alex Morono, Genuinely Good Fighter.” Those ugly swings are still there, but he’s built a cohesive and effective striking attack around them, improving without losing what made him fun and effective in the first place.
But man, I just don’t think this will end well for him.
Under ideal circumstances, he’d have a solid shot. Age and injury have stolen much of Ponzinibbio’s former venom, and a peak Morono might just be able to stay on the outside and pepper him to a decision win. He’s pulled off these sorts of upsets before, including last out against another murderous puncher in Matt Semelsberger.
Problem is, “peak Morono” isn’t showing up on a few day’s notice with a 10-pound weight allowance baked in. He could still pull it off against an older, more weathered veteran, but it’s worth remembering that Ponzinibbio’s recent losses were split decisions against beasts in Geoff Neal and Michel Pereira. A dialed-in Ponzinibbio is still a problem for most of the division, Morono absolutely included.
Morono still can’t wrestle well enough to take Ponzinibbio out of his comfort zone, and even if he can survive a slow start, Ponzinibbio carries his power late. Odds are “The Argentine Dagger” gets his first finish since 2018 before Morono shakes the rust.
Prediction: Ponzinibbio via first-round TKO
185 lbs.: Darren “The Gorilla” Till (18-4-1) vs. Dricus “Stillknocks” Du Plessis (17-2)
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m rooting for Du Plessis with all my heart.
That’s not out of any antipathy towards Till, to be clear; he’s a fine fighter who’s faced a ton of adversity in his career and kept on trucking. The closest thing to ill will I have is a speck of residual grumpiness over the judging when he fought Stephen Thompson.
I just love watching fighters succeed with approaches that by all rights should not work. Du Plessis fights like he’s piloted by Twitch chat and yet here he is, a genuine contender in the world’s largest fight promotion. I want to see how high he can fly.
That’s the emotional reason I’m picking “Stillknocks.” The technical reason is that he won’t give Till the fight he wants. “The Gorilla” is at his best when he can slow the pace and sharpshoot at a distance, which is remarkably hard to do when there’s a wired-up South African berserker trying to tear your head off. This is especially true when said wired-up South African berserker has a height and reach advantage and you’re coming off a truly horrendous streak of injuries.
In Till’s defense, he’s only lost to top-notch fighters whom I’d rate above Du Plessis. Between the stylistic clash and the wear-and-tear, though, I like Du Plessis to posterize him sometime in the first.
Prediction: Du Plessis via first-round TKO
145 lbs.: Bryce “Thug Nasty” Mitchell (15-0) vs. Ilia “El Matador” Topuria (12-0)
This is a matchup so perfect it feels weird that it’s happening at all. Something really should have gone wrong at some point, or they should have been matched against different opponents on the same card. Things aren’t supposed to work out this smoothly in combat sports; I’m terrified we’re going to somehow end up with a snoozefest to compensate, though I’m not sure that’s actually possible considering the way these two fight.
It’ll be a car crash, and for my money, Topuria has more horsepower. Beyond the monstrous power and sheer strength at his disposal, he’s unique among Mitchell’s Octagon opponents in that he has the wrestling pedigree and scrambling skills to hold his own in “Thug Nasty’s” world. I actually wouldn’t be terribly surprised to see him put Mitchell on his back, as the last two men who tried doing so, Bobby Moffett and Tyler Diamond, did so on multiple occasions back in the day.
Even if Topuria can’t dominate the wrestling, he’s good enough to keep it on the feet, where his power boxing is far more dangerous than Mitchell’s still-developing standup.
The real question is how Topuria’s body will hold up. That weight cut can’t be getting any easier for him, and if his conditioning isn’t up to snuff, Mitchell’s going to put him through hell. Still, I’m optimistic enough that Topuria can shrug off a few early shots, get Mitchell to commit to some striking exchanges, and take his head off from there.
Prediction: Topuria via first-round knockout
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 282 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard (on ESPN2/ESPN+) at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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