If the UFC needs to go to Russia to secure some of the country’s best talent, they may want to return soon. That appears to be the only thing that allowed the UFC to pick up talented welterweight Alexey Kunchenko and lure Nikita Krylov back into the light heavyweight fold for UFC Moscow. They aren’t the only ones the UFC picked up for this card, but they are the most notable names. They aren’t the only talents the UFC is interested in out of Mother Russia, though they do represent a nice start if this is a sign of things to come. Here’s hoping it is as I admit I selfishly want to see Russia’s best make their way to the world’s premier MMA organization.
The main card begins at 2:00 PM ET/11:00 AM PT on Saturday.
Jan Blachowicz (22-7) vs. Nikita Krylov (25-5), Light Heavyweight
It’s good to see Krylov back in a UFC cage after nearly two years away plying his craft in Russia. He was never seen as a transcendent talent, but he was one of the few youthful 205ers who looked like they could become longtime players in a division badly in need of fresh blood. His time away appears to have done him some good as he appears to have tamed some of the wildness that was always abundant in his attack. That hardly means Krylov is no longer an aggressive fighter; only that there is more of a method to the madness. His defense is nonexistent, though he does know how to make good use of his length on the offensive end.
Blachowicz’s recent run has been as improbable as they come. He had a 2-4 record in the UFC following a tough loss to Patrick Cummins in April 2017, looking like he might not be long for the organization. He has since put together a three-fight win streak, including avenging a loss to Jimi Manuwa most recently behind the strength of his probing jab. Another element that has been key to the Pole’s recent string of success has been his willingness to go for the occasional takedown, opening up further opportunities on the feet for him because of that threat. However, Blachowicz’s Achilles heel is his takedown defense and he hasn’t been facing opposition looking to expose that. Fortunately for him, Krylov is unlikely to do so either, despite his long list of submission victories.
There is no doubt Blachowicz is the more technical striker. He puts together clean strikes and is double-tough. However, Krylov’s unpredictability is immensely difficult to prepare for. He could come out firing head kick after head kick. He can brutalize you in the clinch with knees. He can snake around your back and cinch in an RNC while you’re standing. Wait… that last one was Blachowicz. Regardless, Krylov is just as capable of pulling that off, if not more capable. Regardless of who wins, I’m excited to see a light heavyweight contest for once. I’ll go with a hyped up Krylov looking to make good on his return in front of his countrymen. Krylov via submission of RD2
Andrei Arlovski (27-16, 1 NC) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov (18-4), Heavyweight
Don’t let Arlovski’s 2-6 run over his last eight fool you. He may not be a contender anymore, but the former UFC heavyweight champion is still a legit gatekeeper. He’s simply been pit against some of the toughest competition in the division. As Arlovski approaches his 40th birthday, he’s still amazingly spry for a man his size and continues to improve. His boxing appears to be at its sharpest, making greater use of not just his left hand; he’s working his opponent’s body to great effect too. Forever and always, the question will be his chin, though it isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be as he’s gone the distance in each of his last four contests.
At 37, Abdurakhimov doesn’t appear likely to break into contention as some believed was possible when he first signed with the UFC about four years ago. While the big Russian doesn’t excel in a single area, he is proficient enough in all areas that he doesn’t have a real weakness either. Against Arlovski, it’s likely he’ll look to search for takedowns, a strategy he used to take three rounds off Derrick Lewis before the Black Beast finished the contest in the fourth round. Arlovski has never been easy to take down, so expect to see plenty of Abdurakhimov’s counter boxing.
Abdurakhimov stands a very good chance of securing the biggest win of his career. In fact, I’d probably pick him to win prior to Arlovski’s move to ATT. However, the Florida-based camp has done a fantastic job of bringing out the best in Arlovski in the twilight of his career. Win or lose – and I think he’ll win – look for Arlovski to go to his fifth straight judges’ decision. Arlovski via decision
Alexey Kunchenko (18-0) vs. Thiago Alves (22-12), Welterweight
Kunchenko is an interesting case. At 34, he’s incredibly old for a prospect. However, he only turned pro in 2013. Regardless of how you choose to look at Kunchenko, there is no doubt he’s UFC ready. The M-1 Global welterweight champion belies the stereotypical picture of a Russian powerhouse looking to bulldoze through opponents. Instead, Kunchenko is a highly technical Muay thai practitioner who relies on technique and accuracy as opposed to winging heavy hooks while pressing forward.
Alves is a far cry from the man who challenged Georges St. Pierre for the title at UFC 100. He’s had more cancelled fights over the last six years than actual contests and can only take a fraction of the abuse he used to. That doesn’t mean Alves isn’t dangerous anymore. In spurts, he can still unleash a brutal combination or a single powerful shot. His leg kicks are still amongst the best in the sport too. However, Alves’ confidence seems to come and go as he’s been tentative in some contests while showing glimpses of the animal he once was at other times.
Even if Alves is having a good night, I struggle to see him overcoming Kunchenko. Kunchenko is a smart, durable, and technical fighter. He may not be a great athlete, but he doesn’t need to be to defeat Alves in his current state. Kunchenko via decision