Then everything changed. Now Blachowicz and Ankalaev won't have to wait for their shot. They will be going for the belt in the new main event of Saturday's UFC 282 event in Las Vegas.
That turn of events happened as a result of the cancellation of the originally scheduled headline bout, a rematch between 205-pound champion Jiri Prochazka and former champ Glover Teixeira. Prochazka suffered a shoulder injury in training and, because of an expected long recovery time, vacated his title. Teixeira wouldn't accept a new opponent, so the UFC elevated the co-main to the top of the bill and put the title belt in play.
The main card at T-Mobile Arena is on ESPN+ pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET, with prelims on ESPN2 and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. and early prelims on ESPN+ at 6:30 p.m.
Blachowicz (29-9), a former champ, has won six of his last seven bouts, the only loss being last year's submission defeat to Teixeira that lost the Pole his belt. Blachowicz is No. 3 in the ESPN light heavyweight rankings.
The fourth-ranked Ankalaev (18-1) has won nine in a row, most recently a second-round TKO of Anthony Smith in July.
What are the other storylines behind the fights? How are experts breaking them down? What do the fighters have to say? Here is the fight card, how to watch it and a collection of all of the UFC 282 essentials.
UFC 282 fight card
ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET
Light heavyweight championship: Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev
Lightweight: Paddy Pimblett vs. Jared Gordon
Welterweight: Santiago Ponzinibbio vs. Alex Morono
Middleweight: Darren Till vs. Dricus du Plessis
Men's featherweight: Bryce Mitchell vs. Ilia Topuria
ESPN2/ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET
Heavyweight: Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Chris Daukaus
Men's bantamweight: Raul Rosas Jr. vs. Jay Perrin
Middleweight: Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Dalcha Lungiambula
Middleweight: Chris Curtis vs. Joaquin Buckley
ESPN+, 6:30 p.m. ET
Men's featherweight: Billy Quarantillo vs. Alexander Hernandez
Men's featherweight: TJ Brown vs. Erik Silva
Men's bantamweight: Cameron Saaiman vs. Steven Koslow
How to watch the fights
Watch the PPV and all other fights on ESPN+: Get ESPN+ here.
Don't have ESPN2? Get instant access.
Purchased the fight on your phone and want to stream on your TV? Find out how here.
There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
The future is ... this Saturday: Six (possible) stars in the making at UFC 282
Paddy Pimblett made his UFC debut in September 2021. Two months later, the MMA prospect out of England traveled to the United States. Pimblett was accosted for photos in places like Times Square in New York and Yard House restaurant in San Diego.
Fast-forward a little more than a year, and "The Baddy" is no longer just a prospect. He's blossomed into one of the UFC's biggest stars. When he walks the streets now, in his native Liverpool or in cities across the U.S., Pimblett has to wear a hoodie and go semi-incognito, he said, or he'll be standing around taking photos for 15 to 20 minutes.
"Now, it's just a new level," Pimblett told ESPN. "Everywhere I go. But I always said this was gonna happen. If you found interviews of me from 10 years ago, I always said I was gonna be the biggest star in this sport. I'm just proving myself right."
Pimblett (19-5) will be joined on the UFC 282 card by five other names on the rise who are under 30 years old. Here's a look at some of the most exciting prospects featured on the promotion's year-end card.
Ranking the UFC 282 fights: Can Blachowicz-Ankalaev deliver on the big stage?
"There's an enticing aura of unpredictability surrounding the main event of UFC 282."
That was the opening line in my original draft of this story. I wrote it shortly before Thanksgiving, figuring I'd smartly get a jump on assessing the final Octagon pay-per-view of the year. Who knew the unpredictability I spoke of would come back to bite me weeks before any fight could even take place?
The rematch between Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira for the UFC light heavyweight championship didn't just fall apart -- it imploded. Prochazka injured a shoulder in training, and on Nov. 23, he pulled out of what was to be his first title defense. (Unpredictable.) And because he required surgery and a long recovery time, he opted to vacate the throne. (Even less expected.)
Title fights, rematches and slugfests: The must-see MMA fights still to watch in 2022
No one has looked comfortable against Ankalaev. A championship fight between Ankalaev and Prochazka, if that's the way it were to play out, would be one of the most intriguing matchups at light heavyweight in a long time. In my opinion. I have the utmost respect for Blachowicz, though. Ankalaev has been a puzzle thus far, and you have to favor him to win, but if someone is going to disrupt that and figure him out in this spot, it's Blachowicz.
MMA's best fighter of every age, from 21 to 42
Blachowicz will always have that "Polish Power" in his corner, but he's shown much more than just power in recent years, and it doesn't feel like he's slowing down. He surrendered the UFC championship to Teixeira last year, but beyond that one miscue, Blachowicz has been easy money at light heavyweight. At 39, he's no spring chicken, of course, and he'll turn the big 4-0 in February. But 40 might be the new 30 for Blachowicz because he is still looking elite.
Teixeira declined new title bout, says he 'needed more time'
The UFC initially tried to book Teixeira against Ankalaev for the newly vacant title, but Teixeira said the change of opponent was too drastic on such short notice. He offered to face Ankalaev for the belt at UFC 283 on Jan. 21 in Brazil, or face Jan Blachowicz on Dec. 10 instead. The UFC then opted to book Ankalaev and Blachowicz for the championship.
"I told them I needed more time for this guy, that he has a different style," Teixeira told ESPN. "The guy is a southpaw. I said, 'What about fighting him in Brazil?' They denied that and said they needed someone to fight in Vegas. I said, 'OK, I'll fight Jan in Vegas. If you're going to throw me off, Jan has a regular stance. Ankalaev is a totally different game. I need more time.'"