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Jan Blachowicz was an afterthought three years ago, relegated to undercard and mid-card assignments with no guarantees regarding security on the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster. Times have certainly changed.
Armed with renewed confidence and purpose, Blachowicz will face Dominick Reyes for the vacant light heavyweight title in the UFC 253 co-headliner on Saturday at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The 205-pound throne was left empty when Jon Jones elected to leave his championship on the table to move to the heavyweight division. Blachowicz, 37, has pieced together a three-fight winning streak since an ill-fated encounter with Thiago Santos resulted in his being stopped in February 2019. He now owns a 9-5 record inside the Octagon, having lost just once in his past eight outings.
As Blachowicz prepares for his all-important showdown with Reyes, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Introductory Lesson
In terms of introductions, it could not have gone much better. Blachowicz short-circuited Ilir Latifi with a devastating body kicks and follow-up ground strikes in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 53 light heavyweight showcase on Oct. 4, 2014 at Ericsson Globe Arena in Stockholm. Latifi succumbed to blows 1:58 into Round 1, as he suffered just the second stoppage loss of his career. Blachowicz was surprisingly calm and clinical in his Octagon debut. The former KSW champion chipped away with leg kicks and stayed out of range of the Swedish “Sledgehammer.” A thudding kick to the liver had Latifi seeking escape routes. He found none. Seeing his opponent in distress, Blachowicz bullied Latifi to the mat, forced him into a defensive shell on all-fours and put him away with a volley of unanswered lefts.
2. A Drift Toward Irrelevance
Two-time NCAA All-American Patrick Cummins snapped a two-fight losing streak with a majority decision over Blachowicz in a three-round clash on the UFC 210 undercard on April 8, 2017 at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York. Judges Derek Cleary and Sal D’Amato scored it 29-28 for Cummins, while Douglas Crosby struck a 28-28 scorecard in dissent. Blachowicz nearly finished it in the first round, where he decked the Neil Melanson protégé with a left uppercut and staggered him on numerous other occasions. Cummins fought through the adversity, calling on his resolve and a superior gas tank. Blachowicz’s pace slowed in the middle stanza and he deteriorated further in Round 3, where he yielded a takedown and spent the majority of his time on his back, eating elbows and short punches. The setback was his fourth in five appearances and had the Pole drifting toward irrelevance.
3. Ship Righted
Blachowicz rebounded from back-to-back defeats to Alexander Gustafsson and the aforementioned Cummins when he submitted Devin Clark with a standing rear-naked choke in the second round of their UFC Fight Night 118 feature on Oct. 21, 2017 at Ergo Arena in Gdansk, Poland. A look of sheer panic in his eyes, Clark conceded defeat 3:02 into Round 2. Blachowicz set the tone with a series of body kicks, one of which briefly doubled over his adversary. Clark battled back and staggered the him with an overhand right but never seemed to find his comfort zone. Midway through the second round, the Jackson-Wink MMA export crashed ahead with punches and wandered right into the Blachowicz’s waiting arms. He weaved the choke into place, tightened his squeeze and elicited the quick tapout. It marked the start of a resurgence for Blachowicz, who went on to win six of his next seven fights.
4. Concussive Connectivity
Luke Rockhold was viewed as a stern test for Blachowicz, even as a middleweight moving to 205 pounds. Reality supplied an altogether different narrative, as the onetime KSW champion knocked out Rockhold in the second round of their light heavyweight clash at UFC 239 on July 6, 2019 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Blachowicz drew the curtain 1:39 into Round 2 and for the first time put his name on the list of potential title contenders. Rockhold centered his efforts on kicks to the legs, head and body, then closed the distance and engaged his Polish counterpart in the clinch. His efforts to secure a takedown were thwarted, and in the closing seconds of the first round, Blachowicz wobbled the onetime middleweight champion with a right uppercut and connected with a head kick at the bell that left him badly dazed. Rockhold never recovered. He tried to draw Blachowicz into close-quarters combat again in the second round. When the two men separated, Rockhold was on the receiving end of a sizzling left hook that sent him to the canvas in no condition to defend himself. Blachowicz followed with a quick volley of punches before referee Herb Dean could intervene.
5. Sweet Revenge
Blachowicz avenged a 2015 defeat and staked his claim as the No. 1 contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division by knocking out Corey Anderson in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 167 headliner on Feb. 15, 2020 at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Blachowicz brought it to an emphatic close 3:08 into Round 1, then set his sights on the 205-pound crown. After a tepid start, Anderson marched toward the Polish powerhouse but wandered far too close to the fire. A sweeping right hook sent him crashing to the floor, where he was met with a brutal standing-to-ground hammerfist before it could be stopped.