The co-main event features two 28-year-old fighters each looking to stake claim to a top-ten ranking. Magomed Ankalaev is a winner of five straight fights, and is looking to get one step closer to a light heavyweight title fight. Nikita Krylov is looking to defend his #8 spot following his bounce-back win over Johnny Walker.
Nikita Krylov is a veteran of 34 professional MMA bouts, holding a record of 27-7. Only one of his victories has come by decision, (his most recent over Walker,) as he has amassed 11 wins by knockout and 15 by submission. He is 2-2 in the UFC since returning from a two-year hiatus following his submission loss to Misha Cirkunov in 2016. During that time he went 4-0 in other promotions.
Ankalaev was caught in a triangle by Paul Craig in the closing seconds of what was an otherwise dominant UFC debut. He has been on a warpath since then, winning four of his last five by knockout and the other by unanimous decision, earning himself a place on the list of UFC light heavyweight contenders. The loss against Craig is the lone blemish on his record, he’s 14-1 with nine victories by knockout.
One possible concern I have about Ankalaev is that all he throws every shot with intent, which can cause him to gas out a bit, though he does have great conditioning.
When he gets tired or when he isn’t getting the timing on his power punches, he falls back on his wrestling. Magomed Ankalaev is a talented grappler, an up and comer in the light heavyweight division, and possesses the wrestling ability we’ve come to expect from Dagestani fighters. He’s a disciplined striker and can definitely stand and swing, but he’s an excellent wrestler and can do serious damage from full mount and side control. He has great takedown defense but when he does get taken down, he showcases elite reversal and escape skills.
He has s shown more advanced and effective striking in each of his fights, landing kicks and hooks from the outside and landing devastating uppercuts in the pocket. He dominates in the clinch and on the ground, Ankalaev has developed a complete game and is looking like a future title challenger.
Krylov is a long and quick striker with a lot of tools on the ground. He is light on his feet, athletic and has great footwork. He generally looks to stay on the outside and set up his offense with kicks to the calves and midsection with his lead leg. He has a great jab, looks to follow it with a hook and get back out to range. He also throws effective two-piece combinations behind his lead leg kicks.
He does have the ability to throw punches in bunches in the pocket, but he doesn’t have overwhelming, “one-shot” knockout power, so he doesn’t look to stay in those exchanges for long. Kylov tends to wing his punches in close range, and has been hit clean by disciplined counter-strikers. He is much better suited to circle on the outside, where he can utilize his range and land high kicks and long jabs.
Defensively, Krylov takes more damage than I’m comfortable with, in terms of this matchup. His hands are held pretty low and he is often caught with his head on the center line. Ankalaev’s southpaw stance and boxing when he cuts off angles are going to cause problems for Krylov on the feet.
Krylov’s takedown defense is suspect, and he is a bit too comfortable pulling guard and looking for submissions from his back. He does have some smooth transitions and can move into dominant positions to land ground strikes, but he is mostly looking to sink in chokes on the ground. He has been controlled on the ground for long periods of time by strong wrestlers.
Krylov looked great on the ground against Johnny Walker, but Walker could hardly be confused for a grappler. He also landed some strong shots from range in that fight and Walker is certainly a dangerous striker. Krylov executed a well-designed gameplan in that fight; he landed shots from the outside to work his way in, forced Walker into the fence and controlled him on the ground.
I think another part of that gameplan might have been to find a submission, but it just didn’t seem to happen. Krylov shows no signs of slowing down and is actually still getting better in each of his fights. It has been almost a year off for him, so its tough to tell if the version of Krylov we saw beat Walker is the same guy who will make the walk to fight Ankalaev on Saturday.
Krylov could be implementing one of two plans of attack in this fight, depending on which of his skills he is more confident in as they pertain to this matchup. He will either look to stay on the outside, utilize his slight advantage in reach and out-strike Ankalaev, avoiding his opponent’s power shots; or he will look to get the fight to the ground and control the action until he can find a submission.
If he goes with the striking approach, I think he’s going to get kicked in the gut, clipped with a few hooks and get knocked out by the end of the second round. If he goes with the grappling approach, I think he’s going to get stuffed, put on his back, and elbowed until the referee stops the fight.
I don’t think oddsmakers are paying Krylov enough respect, considering the level of opponents he has faced in the recent past. He also possesses the submission ability to possibly find something sneaky from his back, in line with the only loss of Ankalaev’s career. That being said, a submission from his back is really Krylov’s only avenue to win this fight.