We’re back with another monthly matchmaker and it’s been a quiet month in the UFC. We had the epically stacked UFC 244 from New York and two Fight Night trips to Moscow and Sau Paolo. In this edition, we look at potential match-ups for Darren Till, Kevin Lee, Magomed Ankalaev and Jan Blachowicz.
‘The Gorilla’, Darren Till
The middleweight debut of Darren Till was highly anticipated. Coming off a loss in a title bout, followed by a brutal knockout, fans were certainly sceptical when Till was matched with Kelvin Gastelum. Gastelum himself was coming off an epic fight of the year contender with Israel Adesanya. The sceptics were even more riled up when Till had visa issues, meaning he didn’t arrive in New York until the Thursday of fight week. He certainly arrived in style, however. Till’s comeback and middleweight debut went his way when he edged out a split decision against Gastelum.
Who does Till face next? Although he called out Yoel Romero, he claimed he was ‘blind drunk’ when he did so. Former champion, Robert Whittaker is far more likely to be matched with Till next. The Scouse called out Whittaker on Twitter soon after his bout with Gastelum:
I’m ready to fight now to be honest.
Fuck injuries, fuck time off, fuck it all.
When are you ready @robwhittakermma ? Need to know basis…
— Darren Till (@darrentill2) November 14, 2019
Whittaker, who is not one to turn down a challenge duly replied and got fans salivating:
— Robert Whittaker (@robwhittakermma) November 15, 2019
If the Whittaker/Till bout isn’t the one the UFC wants to go with, Till against Jared Cannonier also works. Cannonier is certainly in the title picture, with an impressive three wins since moving down to middleweight. Cannonier was also the alternative for the co-main event should one of the fighters drop out at UFC 244. The winner of this could become the #1 contender as Paolo Costa is currently out injured.
The ‘Motown Phenom’ got back in the win column at UFC 244 in an emphatic way. Having lost three of his last four, Lee moved to train at Tristar and it is safe to say his stand up certainly improved. Brutally and shockingly knocking out Gregor Gillespie with a head kick in the first round, Lee is certainly back:
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) November 3, 2019
Who should Lee face next? He’s ranked #8 and coming off just one win in his last three, realistically he should be looking down the rankings. There are a number of options at 155lbs and there have already been a few names thrown out there.
The first potential opponent is Islam Makhachev. Makhachev is riding a six-fight winning streak and has recently cracked the top 15. Lee certainly has the more ‘big fight’ experience, having headlined five times. Although Makhachev is lower down the rankings than Lee, he is very well respected.
The teammate of champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, Makhachev is a gold medalist at the World Sambo Championships, highlighting what a quality athlete he is. A win for Lee would put him in higher regard within the division and a win for the Dagestani would likely catapult him into the top 10.
The next potential opponent for Lee could be Charles Oliveria. ‘Do Bronx’ is, similar to Makhachev riding a six-fight winning streak. More importantly, however, he’s notched five performance of the night bonuses and six finishes during his streak. Oliveria is arguably the more exciting fighter and could cause Lee problems in both the stand-up and on the ground. He holds the record for the most submissions in the UFC at 13. Also, he’s ranked two places higher than Makhachev at #13, so may be a more appealing fight for Lee to take.
Magomed Ankalaev is criminally underrated. This is possibly because of his loss at UFC London in 2018. In what was his promotional debut, the Russian dominated Paul Craig but was caught in a triangle and tapped with just one second left in the fight.
Since his first professional loss, Ankalaev has notched three wins, two finishes and two performance of the night bonuses. If we look at the Tapology rankings, there are a number of fighters around Ankalaev who could be potential opponents.
Firstly, coming off his first professional loss is Jimmy Crute. Crute was 2-0 in the UFC when he was submitted by Misha Cirkunov. Both Crute and Ankalaev are fringe top 15 fighters and matching these two together could lead to a future contender. Having only ever fought in Europe, a match-up with Crute in New Zealand could be perfect. The MMA leader returns to New Zealand in February and it could easily feature this exciting fight.
Another potential opponent for Ankalaev could be Michal Oleksiejczuk. Oleksiejczuk has been on a tear since 2015, winning 11 straight, of which two were in the UFC. Oleksiejczuk did, like Crute come up short in his most recent bout. He fell victim to the Von Flue choke of Ovince St Preux. Both Ankalaev and Oleksiejczuk are exciting strikers, with extensive wrestling backgrounds. These two European scrappers could face off at the recently announced UFC London, in March.
BREAKING: We are back at #UFCLondon on 21 March 2020! 🇬🇧
— UFC Europe (@UFCEurope) November 22, 2019
Jan Blachowicz is an impressive 6-1 in his last seven bouts, only losing to title challenger, Thiago Santos. Throughout these six wins, Blachowicz has picked up three finishes and three performance of the night bonuses. Blachowicz far from impressed in his last bout, which was certainly not the most entertaining bout. In a headline slot, he defeated Jacare Souza via split decision.
In a fairly shallow 205lbs division, there are three key contenders for Jon Jones’ title. Dominick Reyes will be the next to attempt to figure out the ‘Bones’ puzzle in February. The logical fight to make for Jan Blachowicz is a #1 contender fight.
Corey Anderson has been on fire following two losses on the bounce. He has rushed to a four-fight winning streak, including taking out the up and comer Johnny Walker. Anderson was extremely active in campaigning for a fight with Jones, however, didn’t get it.
The timelines for Anderson and Blachowicz work out as well, as both men competed just two weeks apart. This could easily headline a Fight Night card or fill in as a co-main event at a PPV. With strong stand-up, good wrestling and effective Jiu-Jitsu, both men promise to put it all on the line in a bid to become the #1 contender at 205lbs.