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Jan Blachowicz could not have known his gravest threat would come from below.
The undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight titleholder will defend his crown against reigning middleweight champion Israel Adesanya in the UFC 259 main event this Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. Blachowicz, 38, owns a 10-5 record inside the Octagon and enters his first title defense on the strength of a four-fight winning streak. The Pole has delivered 17 of his 27 professional victories by knockout, technical knockout or submission, and he has tasted defeat just once in the last four years.
As Blachowicz prepares for his blockbuster showdown with Adesanya, a look at five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. First Impressions
It could not have gone much better in terms of an introduction. 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. More Questions Than Answers
Allstars Training Center cornerstone Alexander Gustafsson channeled his inner Jon Jones and laid claim to a lopsided unanimous decision over Blachowicz in the UFC Fight Night 93 co-main event on Sept. 3, 2016 at the Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany. All three judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Gustafsson. Blachowicz held his own in the standup exchanges but could not stay upright long enough to make serious headway in what was always viewed as an uphill climb. Gustafsson took down the Pole in all three rounds and shredded him with elbows, short punches and forearm strikes from inside guard. “The Mauler” spent more than four and a half minutes in top position in the second round, where he opened a cut on Blachowicz’s forehead with a jagged elbow strike. Not much changed in the third, where Gustafsson secured two more takedowns, salted away his first win in more than two years and sent his counterpart back to the drawing board.
3. Hammer Meets Nail
Blachowicz discovered firsthand that mistakes made against Thiago Santos are often fatal. Santos staked his claim as a potential title contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division, as he unwound the former KSW champion with a counter left hook and follow-up punches in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 145 headliner on Feb. 23, 2019 at the O2 Arena in Prague. Blachowicz wilted 39 seconds into Round 3, closing the book on his four-fight winning streak. The first and second rounds were marked by back-and-forth exchanges, Blachowicz operating behind a jackhammer jab and Santos answering with clubbing right hands and kicks to the body and legs. Early in the third, the Pole overextended on an uppercut and left himself exposed. Santos leveled him with a searing left hook, pounced on his fallen counterpart and delivered rapid-fire hammerfists from side control until referee Herb Dean had seen enough.
4. Vengeful Delights
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.
5. Mountain Climber
Thirteen years, seven months and one day after his mixed martial arts journey began, Blachowicz stood at the sport’s summit and smiled. The 37-year-old WCA Fight Team rep put away Dominick Reyes with second-round punches to capture the vacant light heavyweight crown in the UFC 253 co-main event on Sept. 26, 2020 at the Flash Forum in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Reyes succumbed to blows 4:36 into Round 2, failing in his second attempt to strike UFC gold. The vastly more experienced Blachowicz was measured and precise, never straying from his approach. The hyper-focused Pole countered with power punches from both hands, stayed composed and blistered Reyes’ body with crushing kicks; his work left a multi-colored bruise on the Californian’s side that looked more like a shark bite than an impact zone. Blachowicz appeared to break the Cage Combat Academy product’s nose in the second round, continued to bait the trap and unleashed when the time was right. A chopping left hand detonated behind Reyes’ ear, set him on rubbery legs and ultimately dropped him where he stood. Blachowicz then pounced with punches until the job was done.