Jan Blachowicz has scored nine knockouts and nine submissions among his 29 professional MMA victories. He’s gone 6-1-1 in his last eight bouts in the UFC and has compiled a 12-6-1 record. He also won the UFC light heavyweight title by knocking out Dominick Reyes and defended it once, against Israel Adesanya.
But Blachowicz may be facing the most significant challenge of his career on Saturday, particularly with how he says he wants to fight.
He’s going to face former middleweight champion Alex Pereira in the co-main event of UFC 291 on Saturday at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The winner will likely, though this isn’t set in stone, fight former champion Jiri Prochazka for the belt that became vacant when Jamahal Hill tore an Achilles.
Blachowicz has been as successful as he’s been because he’s rounded out his game. His wrestling and grappling nicely complements his striking.
Pereira, though, is one of the hardest punchers in the UFC. Blachowicz, though, wants to make a statement, particularly since nobody in upper UFC management was pleased with either fighters’ performance in his draw with Magomed Ankalaev in their bout for the vacant title in December. That turned out to be a split draw.
The draw meant the title remained vacant, and Hill won it in Brazil in January by dominating Glover Teixeira.
“I want to test my stand-up against him and try to knock him out,” Blachowicz said. “But if something goes wrong in the stand-up, I can use my wrestling and take him down and finish him on the ground. This is what I want to do. [I want to] win the fight.”
If something goes wrong in the stand-up, there may be no chance for Blachowicz to wrestle. Pereira’s power is such that all it takes is one shot to change the course of history.
Pereira was getting beaten by Adesanya through four rounds in their middleweight bout at UFC 281 last year before a big punch turned it around in the fifth and Pereira won the belt with a dramatic late finish.
Adesanya turned things around in April and reclaimed the belt by knocking Pereira out at UFC 287, but he, too, understands the threat level Pereira brings.
Adesanya broke the fight down on his YouTube channel and picked Pereira by knockout, with a caveat.
“I don’t think this goes the distance, but if it does, Jan wins,” Adesanya said. “I felt [Blachowicz’s power] and I think Alex hits harder. It’s just the way he throws, the technique he throws with and [how] he grounds himself. He’s not running. He’s not moving and throwing. He sits when he gets you where he wants you, especially against the fence. He’ll sit there and throw, so that’s how he’s able to hit harder.
“Jan could definitely learn how to hit harder, and if Jan gets him down, I think he’ll just control him there for three rounds. [But] I’m going Alex by knockout.”
Pereira believes fully in his power and there is a sort of comfort to be gained from knowing that no matter how poorly a bout is going, he has the ability to end it with one punch. It’s not a luxury a lot of fighters have.
But it’s hardly a slam dunk he wins, as other elite middleweights, particularly Adesanya but also Luke Rockhold and Jacare Souza, have learned. They moved up to fight Blachowicz and came out on the short end.
“Very skilled, very talented,” Pereira said of Blachowicz. “I just want to do what I need to do to win.”
A slugfest would seem to favor Pereira, but Blachowicz spoke while wearing a jacket he received for passing 50 anti-doping tests without a positive. It had his name on the left breast and below his name, it said, “Legendary Polish Power.”
It’s a reminder that Blachowicz can crack, too. It might not be the best way to attack Pereira, but Pereira is certainly not invincible, as Adesanya proved.
Both could use a good performance to cement a title shot given Blachowicz’s lackluster draw and that Pereira was KO’d.
“Alex is a great fighter, great sportsman, and [has] knockout punching power,” Blachowicz said. “I have watched almost all of his fights in MMA. Now we’ve got him in 205. When I heard him say he wanted to go to 205, I told my manager to send a message to UFC, ‘I want him.’ Now, we have him.”
It’s a risk, but to get the reward, these are the fights one has to take, and win.