Magomed Ankalaev is a man of relatively few words, but that won’t get in the way of him making a statement on Saturday night at UFC Fight Night 203.
No. 6-ranked Ankalaev faces off against No. 5-ranked former title challenger Thiago Santos, and said he’s ready to shine in the main event spotlight after being booked as a UFC headliner for the first time in his career.
“I feel great. I’m very excited,” he told reporters ahead of fight night in Las Vegas.
“It feels like an accomplishment. I’m glad that the UFC bosses have given me an opportunity to headline the event and it motivates me.”
After a last-second submission loss to Paul Craig on his UFC debut, Ankalaev has torn through the competition, with his last two wins coming against seasoned contender Nikita Krylov and former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.
Those two fights both went to the scorecards, but despite being known as a finisher of fights, Ankalaev said he appreciated being pushed the full 15 minutes in those two outings.
“I’m glad actually, I’m glad that two of my last fight went for the whole distance because I test myself,” he said.
“It was a challenge for myself and I fought with a top-ranked opponent, so I’m glad that I fought the whole distance.”
Ankalaev faces another former title challenger in Santos, who remains the only fighter to defeat Jon Jones on a judge’s scorecard after he pushed the American to a split decision in an ultimately unsuccessful title tilt back in 2019.
“Thiago is a very tough opponent, a very high-level striker, same as me,” he said.
“So I’m ready to fight, I’m ready to entertain the fans and I’m ready for his style (and) for his techniques. I’m ready.”
And the Russian contender said he hopes his victory is impressive enough to force him into the title discussion by the close of play on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“It’s hard to say, but I feel it depends on the fight (and) depends how I beat Thiago,” he said.
“I hope I will get the title shot after.
“To be honest, I don’t want to look past Thiago because both of us have a very tough violent fight on Saturday night and it depends how it will go. After we can talk and see what we can do.
“Obviously I’m looking for a victory. How I will win, it’s hard to say, but I’m looking to get a violent victory on Saturday night.”