Magomed Ankalaev was still in the Octagon following a light heavyweight title fight against Jan Blachowicz in the main event of UFC 282 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. He was shocked, angry and confused by the scoring of the bout that left the title vacant.
The bout was a split draw, and Ankalaev thought there was little doubt he’d won. He expressed his frustration to Joe Rogan during his post-fight interview and paced around the cage in shock. Before Ankalaev had even moved to leave the Octagon, Jamahal Hill was on the phone with his manager, and it was great news for Hill but not such good news for either Ankalaev or Blachowicz.
The UFC was offering Hill a bout against former champion Glover Teixeira for the vacant title at UFC 283 at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Hill said yes so quickly that Ankalaev, fully unaware of what was going on behind the scenes, hadn’t descended the Octagon steps to the floor.
And so on Saturday, Hill will get the opportunity of a lifetime when he faces Teixeira for the belt that became vacant when Jiri Prochazka injured his shoulder in November and surrendered it.
“I watched the fight and at first, I thought Magomed was going to get the nod,” Hill told Yahoo Sports. “When it ended in a draw, I was like, ‘Oh, me and [Anthony] Smith for the title?’ I was just joking around, but honestly, it was right after Magomed talked, he hadn’t even left the cage; he was leaving the cage and I got a call from my manager. They just had a boring fight and they wanted an exciting fight for the title; they knew where to call.”
But that created another twist. Hill had been training for a March 5 fight at UFC 285 with Smith, who that night was working on the analyst’s desk for ESPN. Smith learned on the air live that the UFC had offered Hill the title fight at UFC 283 against Teixeira.
Hill, though, reached out to Smith to work with him given Smith had fought Teixeira and had an intimate understanding of Teixeira’s strengths and weaknesses. Hill said he’s all about improving and he had no hesitation and said it wasn’t awkward even though the two had been preparing to fight each other.
“I called him because he had knowledge that I wanted,” Hill said. “There was no need for me to feel weird about that.”
Smith, who is serving as the backup and will weigh in on Friday, raved about Hill’s talent and his mentality. He said Hill and his team welcomed him in with open arms, and he saw there was no awkwardness on his end, either.
Hill is a slight favorite at BetMGM — Hill is -135 and Teixeira is +115 — and Smith said that’s no shock despite Teixeira being a former champion and having vastly more experience.
“As far as the challenges Jamahal brings, he’s very tricky on his feet, man, he really is,” Smith said. “It’s probably less about the things he’s been taught and really about the things he’s adapted for his body style and what he’s been given naturally. He’s got crazy power and he’s deceivingly fast. He manages his range really well. He’s hard to hit. He’s got really good eyes. He’s hard to get to, but it’s not because of his [ability to manage] his range, but he sees everything.
“And he’s a really fast learner. If you’re going to be successful at all with him on the feet, it’s got to be right away because once he sees it for a second, he’s already got you figured out. If you show him something one time, he can do it right away. He’s an athlete like that. I’d be showing him something, a technique, and five minutes later he’d be hitting it on a training partner.”
Hill has great respect for Teixeira and knows it’s not going to be an easy fight.
“I think he’s an OG, man,” Hill said.
By bringing in Smith — who will likely fight the winner of Saturday’s bout between Paul Craig and Johnny Walker in March if he’s not needed in the main event — Hill showed his respect for Teixeira. Smith is one of the sharpest minds in the sport and had the knowledge of Teixeira from an insider’s perspective.
As Hill has worked to ready himself, he’s done so with the understanding that even small mistakes could prove fatal against an opponent like Teixeira.
“He’s dangerous,” Hill said. “He’s got good hands. He’s got a really good ground game. He’s got good jiu jitsu. He’s got good wrestling. He’s formidable everywhere. He can give you problems and give you fits everywhere and that's what I like to test myself against. He’s been at the top of the game for a while, but I just think it's my time.”
Part of winning a title is dealing with the moment. Championship fights are at an entirely different level and the mental, as well as the physical, pressure increases.
Smith, though, said he doesn’t believe Hill will be swallowed by the moment.
“He has a different type of mentality to be honest with you,” Smith said of Hill. “And with all due respect, Jamahal doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. He doesn’t really pay attention too much to the outside noise. I’ve been hanging out with him for the last couple of days. We’ve been hanging out at the beach. We’ve been in the ocean and we’ve been sitting around just chopping it up.
“And he is just kind of in his own world. I’m not even sure he realizes the magnitude of this, if I’m being very honest. That’s because his team is very tight. They’re very close and they’re very much in their own bubble. They don’t really have a lot of outside distractions and a lot of other b.s. going on. He’s just doing his own thing.”