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Magomed Ankalaev makes case for title shot vs. Alex Pereira

Magomed Ankalaev refuses to accept the notion UFC champion Alex Pereira has cleaned out the light heavyweight division.

Pereira (11-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC) registered his second consecutive title defense this past Saturday with a second-round TKO of Jiri Prochazka in the UFC 303 main event. Afterward, there’s been discussion about “Poatan” moving up to the heavyweight division to pursue a historic third divisional title under the UFC banner, but Ankalaev (19-1-1 MMA, 10-1-1 UFC) isn’t having it.

With a 12-fight unbeaten streak at 205 pounds, Ankalaev, No. 3 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie light heavyweight rankings, is the only highly-ranked fighter left in the weight class who No. 1 Pereira hasn’t beat.

“It’s been a good run so far in UFC, 12 fights, and obviously Alex Pereira got up there – he had two, three fights (in the division) and he skyrocketed,” Ankalaev told MMA Junkie through an interpreter on Wednesday. “Now he holds the title and now I feel I deserve with all my past credentials to get a title shot. I’m definitely looking forward to this opportunity now.

“I don’t know why people are saying he’s going to move up to the actual heavyweight division. I don’t see that. As a guy who has no wrestling I think it’s going to be really hard for him. Maybe just one fight. But I think once he came up to light heavyweight, he went through the division, but I’m still there. He didn’t fight me. If you want to be the champion of the division I think he definitely has to face me first. Then maybe he can consider other moves.”

On paper, Ankalaev, 32, is arguably the worst matchup in the division for Pereira, 36. The Brazilian is a decorated and dangerous striker with a perceived weakness on the ground, while Ankalaev has proven to be highly competent both on the feet and the ground.

With so much attention paid to Pereira’s recent success, pitting him against Ankalaev is a risky bit of matchmaking, especially if the current champion were to be exposed on the ground.

However, Ankalaev’s social media posts in the aftermath of UFC 303 have explicitly stated he thinks he would win a striking-only affair. He stood behind that notion, though admitted he’s also aware his advantage in grappling situations would be significant.

“With Alex you just have to watch a couple of his past fights: With (Jan) Blachowicz, his wrestling was on the level and Alex didn’t have much to offer. Same with (Israel) Adesanya. They’re both strikers, but Adesanya was able to show him some wrestling,” ankalaev said. “I think he is a great striker, but he is the kind of guy that always moves forward, and that’s sometimes where he might make mistakes, where I might catch him. There is strategy we have if he’s going to be doing striking. But also, if we add wrestling here, I think he doesn’t stand a chance and I have a few potential options how to finish him.

“He definitely has a strong punch, but overall his standup is overrated. Watch his fight with Jamahal Hill. He had something to offer to counter him. Same in the fight with Prochazka. You could see he is also moving forward with the same style. He was lucky he didn’t face serious opposition. Wrestling is there, but I’m ready to fight with him standing up, to test him out.”

Ankalaev said he would be ready to accept a title shot with Pereira at any point. He rejected the rumor spread by former champ Hill that he is unable to competed in the United States due to visa issues, but said he his ideal situation would be to book it for UFC 308 on Oct. 26 in Abu Dhabi.

“As of now we don’t have any certain dates set,” Ankalaev said. “I do not have any problems with visa right now. I have a valid visa, so if it’s going to be (in the U.S.) that’s one option. I would love it to be in Abu Dhabi, that’s a better place for me.”

UFC CEO Dana White was open to the idea of Pereira vs. Ankalaev when proposed with the matchup at the UFC 303 post-fight news conference. Pereira also said he will fight “whoever” the UFC wants him to compete against next.

Ankalaev is optimistic he will get the call sooner than later, and when he does, he will be prepared to maximize his moment.

“I think I’m going to be the next one for the title shot because if you look at the top five, everyone had a loss recently, and just logically I’m going to be stepping up and having this title fight next,” Ankalaev said. “When it comes to light heavyweight, I put a lot of hard work here. I have a stellar record. He moved up to our division. He got lucky. He had a good run, but it’s just fair that he has to face me.

“We have to settle this with him. It’s going to be a great fight. We both have our personalities and I think people should expect fireworks in that one.”

Be sure to visit the MMA Junkie Instagram page and YouTube channel to discuss this and more content with fans of mixed martial arts.

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