UFC 267: Blachowicz, Yan, Makhachev, Chimaev and must-see bouts in Abu Dhabi

UFC's latest installment takes place at Etihad Arena on October 30

The UFC returns to Abu Dhabi this week, with UFC 267 on Saturday night. Headlined by two title bouts, we give the lowdown on five of the standout fights on the stellar card at Etihad Arena.

Jan Blachowicz (c) v Glover Teixeira (light-heavyweight title)

The powerful Pole returns to the scene of his title triumph last September, when he defeated Dominick Reyes via second-round TKO in Abu Dhabi for the vacant strap. Blachowicz (28-6) has since defended his crown once, in March, when he inflicted middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s first pro MMA defeat.

In Teixeira, he’s taking on the division’s No 1-ranked challenger, and a long-time title hopeful. The Brazilian (32-7) may be 41 now but, like Blachowicz, he rides a five-fight win streak – with two victories against former title contenders. Still, it’s been seven years since Teixeira last competed for UFC gold.

Blachowicz heads into the match-up as undoubtedly the favourite, as he looks to cement his position as the division’s king in the post Jon Jones era. A five-rounder given the belt is on the line, few will expect this to go the distance considering the respective arsenals.

Petr Yan v Cory Sandhagen (interim bantamweight title)

Initially slated for an immediate chance to reclaim the bantamweight title, Yan must make do for now with contesting the interim strap. Aljamain Sterling’s withdrawal last month through injury was unfortunate – Yan claims it was expected – and so Sandhagen stepped in. Yan (15-2) was enjoying a 10-fight win steak before he was disqualified in March for an intentional illegal knee against Sterling and thus relinquished the title he clinched against Jose Aldo in Abu Dhabi in July last year.

Sandhagen, meanwhile, should not be underestimated: the American (14-3) landed an astonishing flying knee to KO Frankie Edgar in February, only to lose an extremely close split-decision in July to former champ TJ Dillishaw. Has fond Abu Dhabi memories also, when last October he landed an incredible second-round spinning wheel kick and punches TKO against Marlon Moraes. A genuine Fight of the Night contender.

Islam Makhachev v Dan Hooker (lightweight)

One of the night’s most eagerly anticipated bouts pits against one another arguably the promotion’s hottest prospect and a hugely talented title contender. Makhachev (20-1) is being tipped widely as lightweight champion at some point in 2022, no great surprise given he has won his past eight bouts. In fact, his only pro loss arrived five years ago. An elite grappler, the Dagestan native is viewed as heir apparent to teammate and now coach Khabib Nurmagomedov, and comes into the clash on the back of July’s submission win against Thiago Moises. Has competed in Abu Dhabi previously, defeating Davi Ramos in September 2019.

Hooker, though, offers his sternest test to date. The New Zealander (21-10) accepted the bout days after his fine victory against Nasrat Haqparast on September 25, much to his immense credit. Hooker’s striking is supreme, and he will no doubt be looking to avenge his Abu Dhabi loss in January to Michael Chandler.

Li Jingliang v Khamzat Chimaev (welterweight)

There is an argument to say Chimaev’s return - finally - could be the most intriguing subplot of the night. The Chechen-born athlete was perhaps the biggest breakout star of 2020, when he debuted in the UFC at the inaugural Fight Island in Abu Dhabi and then set a record for winning again 10 days later – also in the capital. Chimaev (9-0) won once more, 17 seconds into his Las Vegas bow, before he contracted Covid-19 and his fast-rising career stalled dramatically. At one point, Chimaev publicly suggested retirement.

On Saturday, he faces his first ranked opponent in the promotion, with No 11 contender Li coming off a stunning knockout win against Santiago Ponzinibbio in Abu Dhabi in January. The Chinese star (18-6) will be seeking to break into the top 10 in the welterweight standings, and knows a statement success against the much-hyped Chimaev will see his profile skyrocket.

Magomed Ankalaev v Volkan Oezdemir (light heavyweight)

A potential light-heavyweight blockbuster kicks off the main card. In Ankalaev, the division has one of its most intriguing athletes, even if his defeat on UFC debut to Paul Craig in March 2018 halted some serious momentum. Since, the Russian (15-1) has gone on a tear, winning on his past six outings – including a quick-fire KO of Ion Cutelaba in Abu Dhabi last October. Three of those fights were awarded Performance of the Night bonuses.

Oezdemir, though, represents a hefty challenge. The robust Swiss (17-5) has not competed since losing to hyped debutant Jiri Prochazka in Abu Dhabi, but he is a former title challenger with victories against skilled combatants in the likes of Aleksander Rakic and Ilir Latifi. Previous to those, Oezdemir went up against stud rivals in then-champion Daniel Cormier, Anthony Smith and Dominick Reyes. He has finished 13 of his 17 wins. Fireworks are anticipated.

Updated: October 26th 2021, 9:52 AM