Jan Blachowicz readies backstage before UFC event

“Sorry for my English,” Jan Blachowicz told me on a drizzly March 2015 morning in London, a few weeks before his unanimous decision defeat to Jimi Manuwa in Krakow. The Polish light heavyweight’s English was in fact impressive but his apologies revealed his shy and modest nature. He sat hunched over as if trying to make himself look smaller and spoke in quiet tones. Still, in the five years since then he has surged to #3 in the UFC light heavyweight rankings, and on Friday, Blachowicz shouted louder than ever.

The 37-year-old challenged the champion, Jon Jones, on Twitter by referencing Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 horror, The Shining. He photoshopped his face over Jack Nicholson leering through the hacked-away doorframe, and warned the belt-holder: “Here’s Jan.” Jones, of course, was pictured as Shelley Duvall cowering on the other side of the door.

“First you try to hide in jail, then you want to change a weightclass,” Blachowicz wrote. “You are really doing everything you can to avoid your destiny but there is no place to hide Jonny. Here’s Jan 👊#LegendaryPolishPower.” He was referring to Jones’s arrest in March, plus the American’s pursuit of a heavyweight meeting with Francis Ngannou. Now on a three-fight win streak, Blachowicz has avenged his defeats to Manuwa and Corey Anderson and the excellent boxer is now primed to give Jones more than a scare or two.

His outlandishness is a far cry from his demeanor when we met on that grey early start in London. Although he was engrossing and friendly company when he talked about learning from watching the Klitschkos, suffering low blows across his fighting life and bullying the competition to grab the light-heavyweight crown in KSW, he didn’t act like a fighter. He came across too clean-cut, too nice. A little like the first time you saw Georges St-Pierre and then learned he could mangle limbs and box heads off.

Indeed, in 2015, Blachowicz struggled against Manuwa as the Brit probed in the clinch, winning a drab fight by scoring knees and punches up against the fence. Still, in 2018 rematch Blachowicz ran through his man with a steely jab, intelligent pressure, and fierce digs to the body. His educated hands have since put paid to the likes of Luke Rockhold and Rolando “Jacare” Souza and today, he is more than worth his position alongside Jones in the MMA fraternity.

Three of his last four bouts have been main events and Blachowicz has eased into the spotlight, now speaking at a slightly more audible level and looking calm and at ease with his status. He’s sharpened his skills, too, by training with former rival Thiago Santos’s TATA Fight Team in Rio de Janerio and occasionally visiting Alliance MMA in San Diego.

Can the modest man from Cieszyn defeat the all-time leader in UFC light heavyweight defenses though? If Blachowicz was to have any chance of dethroning Jones, he’d need to use patience in the stand-up exchanges and a crafty guard, particularly in the early moments. He often scores with firm one-twos but he would need to keep wheeling away from Jones’s power, also staying aware of kicks to the calves and thighs.

It’s clear that Blachowicz has never fought a man like Jones but then again, nobody ever has until they’re in there with “Bones.” It’s hard to overestimate how difficult it must be to prepare for his variety, height, range, dexterity, and pace of fighting. The champion boasts masterful elbows – displayed in defenses over Rampage Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson – and can snare out decisions based on activity and boxing on the back foot, as shown against Santos and Dominick Reyes.

As such, Jones would start as the favorite because of his experience. That said, the New Yorker, who in 2011 became the youngest UFC champion in history, can be tagged on the chin and if Reyes had connected cleaner rather than seeing his punches rolled with, he could have finished Jones. In his own title shot Blachowicz should up the intensity by the middle rounds and mix high kicks with progressively ramped-up punches to the head and body. Indeed, Blachowicz ought to know his most likely chance of taking the belt would be to score a knockout in the latter moments, as Jones might be inclined to coast through the final rounds if he’s ahead.

In these strange times it’s uncertain where and when the championship bout will take place, but Dana White is hoping to seal nearby dates in Las Vegas and at Fight Island. With the world in lockdown UFC events have taken a different, eerily silent feel and Blachowicz and Jones will have to be ready at a moment’s notice to throw down.

It will be interesting to see whether Blachowicz consults TATA Fight Team once more – maybe via video conference calls – after Santos crowded Jones during a razor-thin split decision defeat in July 2019. Moreover, judging how Jones escaped run-ins with Santos and Reyes, is his time as champion up now that he’s planning a trip to heavyweight? These conundrums make the match-up so exciting and Jones should know that after winning seven of his last eight, Blachowicz V2.0 is as dangerous and buoyed as they come. Maybe now the Pole will further his trash-talking game, in perfect English of course.

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