The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will head to the Land of Enchantment.
Who Has the Most to Gain?
Jan Blachowicz: In Rio Rancho, New Mexico, Polish powerhouse Blachowicz has a chance to establish himself as the most eligible contender to the throne at light heavyweight with a win over another streaking contender in Corey Anderson. Blachowicz comes into the main event riding a two-fight win streak with victories over Ronaldo Souza and Luke Rockhold; Blachowicz has won six of his last seven bouts. It took Blachowicz a while to hit his stride in the UFC, compiling a 2-4 record with the promotion before he shot out the gate in 2017 a completely different fighter. Blachowicz has made it known he’s looking to go out and finish Anderson to secure a title shot and while it is unknown whether Jon Jones and Dominick Reyes will be running it back after a razor close fight last week in Houston, Blachowicz must impress the powers that be if he wants to get anywhere close to the belt.
Brok Weaver: Charismatic Native American lightweight Weaver is making his UFC debut after impressing on Dana White’s Contender Series with a unanimous decision win over highly-touted prospect Devin Smyth. Weaver is exactly the type of outspoken personality the UFC is looking for these days and evidence of such is Weaver’s main card placement for his first bout within the promotion. Weaver is an excellent boxer with a motor that can rev all night, once he gets his opponent fighting at his pace he’s a hard man to take out. With an intense, but fun personality that will quickly endear him to fans of the sport, it will be interesting to see whether “Chata Tuska” can capitalize on the promotion’s willingness to give him a push and make a statement in what will be his first ever UFC bout on Saturday night.
Nathaniel Wood: England’s Wood has been flawless thus far throughout his UFC tenure and although he entered the promotion a highly-touted striking prospect, in three wins he’s taken three necks home with him, choking out each opponent and proving that his game is developing more and more each time out. With three wins under his belt, Wood now gets a shot against a proven veteran in former “The Ultimate Fighter” winner John Dodson. Dodson is a tough puzzle to solve for even the most seasoned veterans; his elusive style and above average punching power will be a stiff test for Wood and be a good barometer to see if he’s ready to test his meddle against the upper echelon of the bantamweight division. Should Wood emerge victorious in Rio Rancho, he’s got a chance at finding a number next to his name come the next official rankings update.
Who Has the Most to Lose?
Corey Anderson: Riding a four-fight win-streak and coming off what many consider the best finish win of his UFC career over a hyped prospect in Johnny Walker, Anderson is coming into UFC Rio Rancho with a championship mindset and a chip on his shoulder. In Anderson’s mind, he’s already a championship caliber fighter and should be challenging for the belt. While the powers that be may not feel the same, it’s hard to deny that any light-heavyweight other than Dominick Reyes deserves a shot at the title more than “Overtime” does. Save for a possible rematch with the aforementioned Reyes, it seems an impressive win on Saturday could be all Anderson needs to finally secure the title shot that has been eluding him for years now. In his way is Blachowicz, a Polish striker with enough power to put Anderson away at any point in the fight. Anderson has been tagged and finished before so he must tread lightly while still hunting for the finish if he hopes to make it to the top of the mountain.
Diego Sanchez: At 38 years-old, Sanchez is one of the last of the old guard in MMA and needs a win if he hopes to remain with the promotion. Sanchez has made it perfectly clear he has no immediate plans for retirement, but after interchanging wins with loses for the greater part of the last decade, it remains unclear how much “The Nightmare” truly has left in the tank. The matchup with high-flying Michel Pereira couldn’t be better one to showcase the fan-friendly style of both fighters, but Sanchez’s opponent is big, unorthodox and hits very hard. Sanchez’s recent split from Jackson-Wink MMA has caused questions to arise regarding his new training regimen but Sanchez assures he’s going into this bout in his home state firing on all cylinders. It will be interesting to see which version of Diego shows up in the Octagon and how the UFC chooses to handle the twilight of one of its reality show pioneers.
Lando Vannata: Vannata quickly made waves in the UFC following a short-notice war with Tony Ferguson that had all expecting big things out of the hot new prospect from New Mexico. Fast-forward 4 years and more loses and draws than wins and you’ll be left scratching your head on what went wrong. He’s a creative and explosive striker, but too often leaves himself open for counters and finds himself in unnecessary wars due to his “take one to give one” approach. Taking on Yancy Medeiros, Vannata is in yet another matchup that will surely get the crowd going, but more than that Vannata is in desperate need of a solid victory if he hopes to remain with the UFC. An all-action style is all well and good, but at some point you’ve still got to produce victories and that is something that Vannata has struggled with for the majority of his UFC tenure.