Magomed Ankalaev was training at the gym when his manager called him with an offer to fight Glover Teixeira for the title at UFC 282. Then the manager called back and said Jan Blachowicz had stepped in, but the belt was still on the line.
Sitting at the dais for the UFC 282 media day, Ankalaev celebrated his good fortune.
“The day has finally arrived, the day we waited for for so long,” he said via translator. “We will show what we are worth this Saturday. We will come and take what’s rightfully ours.”
Ankalaev has jumped through several hoops to get to this point, most notably a quartet of bookings against Ion Cutelaba after their first meeting ended in controversy. Ankalaev ended the rivalry with a knockout win, putting him on the path to the title. Yet it took him four more wins, two over one-time title challengers, to be in the immediate hunt.
One could understand if Ankalaev lost heart from waiting so long, but the 30-year-old fighter said he stayed the course.
“I basically did step by step, I always fought whoever they put in front of me, I didn’t pick my opponents, and I pretty much knew that at some point, they would not have a choice but to give me a title fight,” he said.
Originally, his UFC 282 fight against ex-champ Blachowicz was the kind of fight that’s considered an unofficial title eliminator, with an impressive win guaranteeing a shot. Now that winner will be considered the UFC’s best light heavyweight after an injury forced Jiri Prochazka to give up the belt.
“Of course, the stakes are much higher now, and I’m more motivated,” Ankalaev said. “I have a goal that I’m going to. I’ve trained really hard for this.”
Blachowicz brings to the octagon a campaign to retake the belt after losing it to Teixeira. He most recently beat Aleksandr Rakic when Rakic suffered a leg injury, but he’s branded himself as the owner of “legendary Polish power,” which he plans to put to use against Ankalaev on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I can’t say anything bad about Blachowicz as an opponent,” Ankalaev said. “He’s a great fighter, a great guy, but this fight is my dream. This is my opportunity. I will do whatever I have to do to make sure I come out of that octagon with a title.
“I’m not really worried about legendary Polish power or anything else. I want to dominate the fight from the beginning to the end. I want to make sure I am the one who is the aggressor. I will do whatever I have to do ... to walk out with that title.”