UFC 267: Previewing Blachowicz-Teixiera and the Rest of the Card

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2021

UFC 267: Previewing Blachowicz-Teixiera and the Rest of the Card

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    When is a pay-per-view card not a pay-per-view card?

    When it's UFC 267.

    The mixed martial arts conglomerate will add to its numerical list in unorthodox fashion on Saturday from the Fight Island venue in the United Arab Emirates, producing a 15-fight show that'll air exclusively in the United States on ESPN+ at no additional cost to subscribers.

    It essentially serves as an hors d'oeuvres for UFC 268, which goes off the following Saturday from Madison Square Garden in New York City.

    But first things first.

    The bill at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi will be topped by a light heavyweight title match pitting champion Jan Blachowicz in his second defense against ageless top-ranked contender Glover Teixeira.

    Blachowicz, who's seventh in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings, won a vacant title with a stoppage of Dominick Reyes at UFC 253 in September 2020 before defending against rising middleweight champ Israel Adesanya with a unanimous decision at UFC 259 in March.

    Teixeira, who'll turn 42 two days before the fight, lost his lone previous title shot by unanimous decision to then-champ Jon Jones at UFC 172 in 2014. He's 10-4 in 14 outings since that loss, including five straight victories since his last defeat on a Fight Night show in 2018.

    Sharing title-fight status, albeit in an interim fashion, in the co-main event are bantamweights Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen, who'll be vying both for hardware as well as the coveted next-in-line position when full-fledged champion Aljamain Sterling pronounces himself ready to return to action.

    Yan was champion from July 2020 through March 2021, defeating Jose Aldo for a vacant title at 135 pounds before losing to Sterling via disqualification following an illegal knee to a grounded Sterling's head.

    Sterling and Yan were scheduled to meet again before the now-champion withdrew due to lingering neck issues following surgery to address a long-term injury, per MMA Fighting's Mike Heck and Damon Martin.

    The show's other 13 bouts include myriad up-and-comers, familiar veterans and others simply hoping to boost their profiles for the next time around.

    The B/R combat sports team perused the remaining menu and identified a few of the tastier highlights.

                            

    UFC 267 Main Card (ESPN+)

    Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira

    Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen

    Islam Makhachev vs. Dan Hooker

    Alexander Volkov vs. Marcin Tybura

    Li Jingliang vs. Khamzat Chimaev

    Magomed Ankalaev vs. Volkan Oezdemir

                       

    UFC 267 Preliminary Card (10:30 a.m.)

    Amanda Ribas vs. Virna Jandiroba

    Ricardo Ramos vs. Zubaira Tukhugov

    Albert Duraev vs. Roman Kopylov

    Elizeu dos Santos vs. Benoit Saint-Denis

    Shamil Gamzatov vs. Michal Oleksiejczuk

    Makwan Amirkhani vs. Lerone Murphy

    Hu Yaozong vs. Andre Petroski

    Magomed Mustafaev vs. Damir Ismagulov

    Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Allan Nascimento

Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira

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    It's sure to be a weird feeling for Blachowicz.

    After playing the underdog in both his title win over Reyes and the subsequent defense against Adesanya, the powerful Polish champion arrived to fight week as a -300 favorite on DraftKings (bet $300 to win $100) to defeat Teixeira, a 19-year professional who's been in the UFC since 2012 and will be making his 21st appearance in the Octagon.

    And if the incumbent does get it done, it's likely to be at least partially a product of his striking, which has evolved into a strength. No fewer than seven of Blachowicz's 17 pre-UFC wins came via armbar or choke submissions, a stark contrast to the two submissions he's racked up in 11 wins since his arrival to the Octagon in 2014.

    He's conceding, at least publicly, that Teixeira will be the one to try to get it to the floor.

    "I think that he will try to take me down and control me on the ground, finish the fight on the ground," Blachowicz told Submission Radio. "And my game plan will be to keep fighting, stand up and try to knock him out. And I will try to do this. Defend his takedowns, watch out for his boxing skills. But if he takes me down, I will try to stand up.

    "But also my jiu-jitsu is really good. So, I will not panic. If I get a chance to submit him, I will try to do this, because my jiu-jitsu is really good. So, I am not afraid. But anyway, I will try to keep fighting in the stand-up and try to find a way to knock him out."

    As for Teixeira, who'll stand eye-to-eye with Blachowicz at 6'2" and have a slight disadvantage—78 inches to 76—in reach, he's planning to rely more on pressure in his challenge than Adesanya did in his.

    And he's not afraid to chase his own finishes either.

    The Brazilian out-struck Anthony Smith (138-86) and Thiago Santos (46-40) before getting a TKO and a rear-naked choke in his two most recent victories, but he trailed in that category against both Karl Roberson (24-6) and Ion Cutelaba (74-30) before scoring submissions to secure Nos. 1 and 2 of his five-fight win streak.

    Teixeira beat Roberson by arm triangle in January 2019 and handled Cutelaba by rear-naked choke three months later.

    "My strategy is to impose my game," he told Ag Fight (h/t Bloody Elbow). "We can't give away too many details, how it's going to be, what he does and how we'll (work) around it. But it's to pressure all the time. Pressure more than Adesanya. Adesanya likes to play on the outside, I like to move in.

    "Sure, I take more risks, but it's pressure all the time. Grappling, too. You need to respect him, he's coming off good wins, and follow the plan. Get in, hit him, get out and take him down at the right time so we can work our ground game."

Petr Yan vs. Cory Sandhagen

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    Officially, it's not a full-fledged title fight. But don't tell that to Sandhagen.

    The 29-year-old Colorado native has never competed in a championship fight during his three-plus years in the UFC, and he has actually lost two of four fights since starting his time in the Octagon with five wins.

    Still, though he dropped a competitive split decision to TJ Dillashaw in a Fight Night main event three months ago, he thought it wise to stay ready for an opportunity in case Sterling couldn't make it.

    "I think everyone sees Yan as the champ of the division, the best in the division," Sandhagen told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. "I started (training) maybe like super hard six weeks (ago). Then I was kind of in the gym helping teammates, not pushing myself to the point of a five-rounder because that would be really heavy to do just in normal life. I've been getting ready for it for a little bit.

    "I've been thinking about Yan and fighting Yan for a really long time. The pieces are falling together and I'm really grateful for it."

    Sandhagen was submitted by Sterling in just 88 seconds on the UFC 250 show in Las Vegas, but he rebounded with TKO defeats of Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar over four months before the loss to Dillashaw.

    He's been a pro since 2015 and also has wins via decision (five) and submission (three), in addition to four previous KO victories. Still, he'll have a daunting task in facing Yan, who'll stand four inches shorter (5'7" to 5'11") and has a three-inch reach deficit (67 inches to 70) but had gone 7-for-7 in the UFC before the infraction loss to Sterling, whom he'd taken down seven times in three-plus rounds.

    The 28-year-old Russian is 15-2 overall since 2014, with seven KOs and a submission.

    He's ranked first among Sterling's contenders at bantamweight, two slots above Sandhagen, and is No. 13 in the UFC's pound-for-pound rankings.

    Nevertheless, Sterling, who's been in the cage with both men, thinks Sandhagen will win.

    "I saw Cory Sandhagen at UFC 266 in Vegas, and we spoke after the fights," he told Helwani.

    "And like I said, I'm a very honest man. I asked him if he was taking the fight. He said yes. I said good luck. And I said, 'I know you're gonna smoke him.' And I said, 'The only thing about this that annoys me is that you're gonna be the first one to do it, and that bothers me. Because I know I can beat this guy.'

    "And I said it just like that to his face."

Islam Makhachev vs. Dan Hooker

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    Never let it be said that Dan Hooker isn't a gamer.

    The popular New Zealander is barely a month off a stirring UFC 266 defeat of Nasrat Haqparast that ended a two-fight skid, and he's jumping in with one of the most feared fighters on the promotional roster.

    And not only is he down for a main-card battle with Khabib Nurmagomedov protege Islam Makhachev, but he'd like to extend the would-be three-rounder by another 10 minutes.

    "I feel like a five-rounder," he told Submission Radio.

    "I just finished one of the last hard sessions of my camp and I'm feeling like a five-rounder. If we can make that happen, then I'm 100 percent in. Let's make it five. I feel like people are as intrigued by this matchup as the co-main and main, so let's do it justice."

    Hooker has split two trips across the main-event distance in his career, defeating Paul Felder by split decision atop a Fight Night show in February 2020 before losing a unanimous nod to Dustin Poirier four months later.

    He was stopped by Michael Chandler in less than a round in his next fight past the Poirier loss, then returned for the palate-cleanser against Haqparast in September.

    The date with Makhachev arrived after the Dagestani's initial opponent, ex-lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos, pulled out with an injury. The fight had already been scrubbed twice before, initially when Dos Anjos tested positive for COVID-19 and subsequently when Makhachev developed a staph infection.

    Scheduling issues are about all that's slowed the soon-to-be 30-year-old—he'll celebrate a birthday on Wednesday—who's won nine of 10 bouts since arriving to the UFC in 2015, including eight victories in a row.

    Four of those eight opponents have failed to make it to the final bell, including Drew Dober and Thiago Moises, who were choked out in consecutive bouts in March and July, respectively. Overall, in 20 career victories, he has nine submissions and three knockouts.

    And as for the idea of stretching the fight from three to five rounds, Makhachev was menacingly direct.

    "It's worse for you," he tweeted.

Other Attractions: The Return of Chimaev

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    At some point, the jury on Khamzat Chimaev will return a verdict.

    Either the Swedish-based Russian mauler will be exposed upon finally meeting someone on his competitive level, or he'll blissfully continue a rampage that moved the needle with unprecedented alacrity in 2020.

    The next piece of evidence comes Saturday, when he faces 11th-ranked welterweight Li Jingliang.

    For those who've forgotten, Chimaev burst onto the Octagonal scene following an early run that yielded six consecutive victories across three international promotions.

    He choked out middleweight John Phillips and cashed a Performance of the Night check following his UFC debut at Fight Island in mid-July 2020, then he was back at the bank 10 days later thanks to a first-round TKO of Rhys McGee at welterweight.

    Bonus check No. 3 followed in mid-September, when he vaporized rugged veteran Gerald Meerschaert in just 17 seconds on the main card of a Fight Night show in Las Vegas and established the fastest three-fight win streak in the promotion's history—66 days.

    Since then, though, it's been more recovery than rampage.

    A would-be December 2020 bout with Leon Edwards was scrubbed by Chimaev's positive test for COVID-19, and subsequent replacement dates have fallen victim to lingering complications from the illness.

    Still, another walkover against a fighter of Jingliang's quality would surely reignite Chimaev's fire. 

    Problem is, the Chinese veteran isn't so keen on a role as kindling.

    "I'm used to this, being an underdog," he told MMA Junkie. 

    "So believe in your team, believe in your family, believe in your friends and have faith in yourself. At the end, only the fist does the talking. Other people's opinions don't matter."

    His own street cred includes four performance bonuses and two more Fight of the Night checks across a 14-fight run that began with his UFC arrival in 2014. He's emerged a winner from 10 of them, including a first-round stoppage of Santiago Ponzinibbio on Fight Island in January.

    Seven of the wins have come by KO, creating a perception that it'll come down to Jingliang's striking against Chimaev's grappling, a mindset the +410 underdog on DraftKings (bet $100 to win $410) doesn't wholeheartedly endorse.

    "This is MMA," he said. "It's not one thing vs. another thing. People who've seen me striking just haven't seen me doing grappling before, and I cannot wait to show you. I don't think the fight will go to a decision. I believe we leave with a win. I have everything."

Best of the Rest

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    Alexander Volkov vs. Marcin Tybura

    A crossroads fight is intriguing enough.

    A crossroads fight with mammoth human beings is even more so.

    That's what the main-card bout between heavyweights Volkov and Tybura ought to provide. The combatants are ranked fifth and ninth, respectively, and have combined to knock out 31 foes.

    The 6'7" Volkov, who turned 33 on Sunday, established his UFC street cred with a fourth-round stop of former champ Fabricio Werdum atop a Fight Night card in March 2018. He's split six fights since but has only lost to the best of the best, including reigning interim champ Ciryl Gane (UD), ex-title challenger Derrick Lewis (KO) and division stalwart and current No. 4 contender Curtis Blaydes (UD).

    The needle has most recently been moving up on Tybura, a Polish-born jiu-jitsu black belt who stands 6'3" and was 4-5 in his first nine UFC appearances but has since reeled off five straight victories, including finishes of Greg Hardy (TKO) and Walt Harris (TKO) in December and June.

                        

    Amanda Ribas vs. Virna Jandiroba

    You know you've got a strong card when a fight involving ranked contenders is among the prelims.

    That's precisely the case with the duel between Amanda Ribas and Virna Jandiroba, who are slotted 11th and 12th among the UFC's strawweights and anxious to make a move into the top 10.

    The 28-year-old Ribas is seeking redemption after a second-round loss to Marina Rodriguez at UFC 257 in June, which was her first blemish in the Octagon after four consecutive wins. She was 6-1 in seven fights across three smaller promotions before arriving and has three KOs and four submissions among her 10 wins.

    As for Jandiroba, the Brazilian veteran is seeking consistency after her own arrival to the UFC followed 14 consecutive victories with multiple companies, including a pristine three-fight run in Invicta FC.

    A unanimous decision loss to Carla Esparza was the first blemish of her career in April 2019, but she's won three of four since, including submissions of Mallory Martin and Felice Herrig and a TKO win following a doctor's stoppage against Kanako Murata in June.

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