LAS VEGAS — Jan Blachowicz knew he had to change things up in his approach after losing the UFC light heavyweight title to Glover Teixeira last year. The joy had disappeared from the game for Blachowicz and he knew that at 39 he would have to find it quickly.
Blachowicz on Saturday looked like the guy who had five straight wins and nine of 10 before losing his title at UFC 267 to Teixeira on Oct. 30.
He stopped Aleksandar Rakic in third, but it’s a victory that will live with an asterisk. Blachowicz kicked and left handed Rakic. As Rakic walked away, his right knee collapsed and he fell.
Referee Mark Smith immediately stopped the fight at 1:11 of the third round at Apex and handed Blachowicz an absolutely critical win. He dreams of reclaiming the title and is now positioning himself to face the winner of the Teixeira-Jiri Prochazka fight, which will take place on June 11 in Singapore.
A UFC spokeswoman said Rakic will undergo an MRI on Monday to check for damage to the MCL and LCL.
It was a disappointing end to what was shaping up to be a fantastic fight. The first round, in particular, was a lively, back-and-forth affair that showcased the skills of both men.
“Sure [it is disappointing to win via an injury]”, Blachowicz said. “I’m a fighter and a warrior and it’s better when you win by knockout or a clean submission. My body was harder tonight. I was ready for three, four, five tough rounds.”
Blachowicz was kicking Rakic hard in the legs, trying to bring them down and take away his power. Rakic is one of the best forwards in the UFC and he pushes forward relentlessly. Given the quality of Rakic’s chin, he can eat shots that allow him to set up his own.
Blachowicz’s strategy for attacking the legs was therefore solid. And while it’s impossible to say whether the kicks led directly to Rakic’s injury – “That’s a question for him,” Blachowicz said – it certainly didn’t hurt.
More than anything, however, Blachowicz has found the fire in his game that for some reason wasn’t there at UFC 267 when he lost his title to Teixeira. There were a few dozen Polish fans in the building and they were making a lot of noise to cheer on Blachowicz.
He also gave them something to rejoice about. He caught Rakic with a combination with just over two minutes left in round one, and followed that up with a big hook a minute later.
Rakic, however, was no puncher and scored on his own. He hit Blachowicz in the left eye early in the first which opened up a cut around him. That didn’t bother Blachowicz too much.
Both guys had the pedal on the floor and were going hard, clearly not keen on doing five laps. And it was a good test for Blachowicz, whose work with a sports psychologist has clearly paid off.
He looked full of energy as he walked to the Octagon and he fought like another world title shot was riding on his performance. Against an elite opponent who had come through many of his previous opponents, Blachowicz not only gave his best, but his body language suggested there was nowhere else he would rather be.
And as he showed on his 9-1 streak before the Teixeira fight, a focused and prepared Blachowicz is as dangerous as anyone.
“I’m processing that response, but this fight gave me the response that I wanted,” Blachowicz said. “I feel what I felt before Glover, when I was fighting Israel [Adesanya] and Dominick Reyes. I’m just happy. I’m going out there inside the Octagon with a job to do and a great fight, but also to have fun. And I got it. I liked that.”
He’ll likely enjoy what’s next, especially if the 42-year-old champion can defeat the much-loved Prochazka in Singapore next month. Prior to the fight, Teixeira tweeted that he would give Blachowicz a rematch if they both won.
These are the words Blachowicz most wanted to hear.
“I hope the UFC gives me another title shot,” he said. “I was No. 1. Rakic was No. 3. For me, that’s a no-brainer. I’m the No. 1 contender now.
He certainly fought like that on Saturday.