The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 249 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
Bubble Busters is a limited series examining each division for on-the-bubble MMA contenders who operate just outside of Top 10 contention and outlining their potential paths to ranked recognition. From skills fighters could improve to possible matches for which they should campaign, we attempt to solve the riddles associated with crossing the contender threshold. Next up, the light heavyweights.
Jiri Prochazka: The Czech striker made a name for himself on the regional circuit, where he amassed 26 professional victories, 25 of them finishes. It only made sense for the Ultimate Fighting Championship to come calling in its bid to inject life into the light heavyweight division. There are a few matchups that would make sense in helping Prochazka get a running start in the division, perhaps none better than one with Ryan Spann. The Dana White’s Contender Series alum has pieced together an impressive run in the UFC, with a 3-0 start that includes finishes of his last two opponents. Span has some momentum behind him, and Prochazka would have the opportunity to steal it right out from under him. His professional experience, superior length and stellar striking skills figure to make the Rizin Fighting Federation veteran a major problem for the rest of the 205-pound weight class in short order. A solid performance or two could vault him into fights against Top 10 competition inside the Octagon.
Nikita Krylov: Early in his MMA career, Krylov was thrown to the wolves and plunged into the ranks of the UFC while experiencing mixed results. After some time away on the regional circuit, his return to the Octagon received a lukewarm greeting. However, Krylov’s win over a heavily hyped prospect in Johnny Walker at UFC Fight Night 170 may kickstart a run toward the Top 15, even though his game requires further seasoning. The Ukrainian is an aggressive an opportunistic grappler when action spills onto the mat, but his all-out style often leaves him depleted and vulnerable in the later rounds. If he can refine his standup skills and improve his gas tank, he could return to elite competition sooner rather than later. An opponent who makes sense for Krylov at this juncture: Aleksandar Rakic. Prior to his controversial loss to Volkan Oezdemir in December, Rakic was on the fast track to contention, and Krylov would be in prime position to catch him on the rebound.
Magomed Ankalaev: After suffering through the indignity and heartbreak of a last-second submission loss to Paul Craig in his UFC debut, Ankalaev has buckled down and put together a string of excellent performances. While his most recent outing was sullied by a horrendous referee stoppage, Ankalaev looked stellar against Ion Cutelaba. A rematch with Cutelaba seems likely and would afford the Russian the opportunity to improve upon his 13-1 record and proceed as an emerging contender in the light heavyweight division. Ankalaev brings a smooth striking game to the table, and he has the power to put away most opponents. Meanwhile, he can more than hold his own on the ground. It will be a treat to see Ankalaev test his mettle against some of the upper-echelon strikers—Oezdemir and Thiago Santos spring to mind—at 205 pounds, provided he can turn away Cutelaba once the UFC schedule resumes.
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