Predicting the outcome of a heavyweight mixed martial arts fight at the highest level can often be over-complicated. You can spend hours upon hours breaking down a contest, only for one of the participants to score a shattering stoppage inside the opening seconds. Case study: Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
On the other hand, you can spend similar time delving into each possible outcome, only for one competitor to find themselves under the cosh from buzzer to buzzer — before unleashing a hail mary effort to steal the show. Case study: Jairinzho Rozenstruik vs. Alistair Overeem.
Before either Curtis Blaydes or Derrick Lewis even trade leather in tomorrow night’s UFC Vegas 19 curtain-closer, we’ve already got some added spice to this one. Blaydes is on the cusp of a title tilt in the jam-logged heavyweight division, while Lewis, who sits at #4 could upset the odds and earn his second heavyweight title challenge with a victory — particularly, an eye-catching one.
A juco national champion, Blaydes has turned in four consecutive victories since his last defeat, and if two-time foe, Francis Ngannou hadn’t exacted an incredible winning run of his own — Blaydes would have legitimate claims for a title shot.
Lewis, a fan-favourite on social media, during fight week, and even after his Octagon walk — doesn’t seem to have gained many laughs from his upcoming opponent. Claiming the New Orleans native reaches for low-hanging fruit with his shtick, Blaydes has questioned if the knockout-ace actually takes mixed martial arts seriously, or if he actually trains to the best of his ability. Whilst not the most bad-blooded matchup in recent memory, I can’t imagine things will be majorly tame when these two square off prior to Saturday.
Dominance. A word that we could very easily associated with Elevation Fight Team mainstay, Blaydes during the majority of his Octagon run. Scoring a 9-2-0(1) promotional record since his debut back in April of 2016, Blaydes has only faltered against common-foe, the above mentioned, Ngannou, on two separate occasions, however.
The Cameroonian has proven to be the kryptonite to Blaydes, but apart from Stipe Miocic, and Lewis, nobody has managed to upend Ngannou.
Scoring an incredible fourteen successful takedowns on his way to a unanimous decision win over fellow contender, Alexander Volkov last June, on his day, I believe Blaydes has the ability to significantly wear down any heavyweight elite with his crushing wrestling presence.
Noting the improvements to Volkov’s guard play recently, Blaydes revealed how his inability to reach even half-guard against the lengthy Russian left him unable to pour down with a flurry of ground strikes. In the past, against the likes of Ilir Latifi, Blagoy Ivanov, and Marcin Tybura — granted less than proficient wrestlers when compared to Blaydes — Lewis has been able to, quite bizarrely, more or less utilise power over technique and bring the fight back to a vertical location.
Against Blaydes, Lewis is facing a real smothering force from the top, with the ability lay down some quite significant ground-and-pound strikes, evident in his victories over now-teammate, Overeem, and Shamil Abdurakhimov. Blaydes also isn’t necessarily going to be discouraged in the scenario that Lewis somehow stands straight back up — he’ll likely continue searching for takedown entries to stifle at the very least.
An interesting aspect of Lewis’ game is the fact that no matter how long he features in the Octagon over the course of a fight, or how pressured he may have been, he has an ability to stop his opponent deep into the dying embers.
Faced with some adversity against the likes of Abdurakhimov, Travis Browne, and the aforenoted, Volkov — Lewis sprang with eventual knockout wins against all three. In a record-setting performance, Lewis managed to stop Aleksei Olienik with second round strikes at UFC Vegas 6 in August. Scoring his eleventh knockout win under the UFC’s banner, Lewis became the most prolific knockout-artist in the history of the organization’s heavyweight division.
In the past, Blaydes, most notably struggled with the vast power of Ngannou — granted, who doesn’t in some regards? Whilst largely unrivalled on the power side of an equation, Ngannou, like Lewis will most certainly end your night if presented the opportunity, but I’m not entirely sure Blaydes is going to be receiving end of that kind of damage — particularly in the opening stages of the fight.
Whilst I’m not expecting Lewis to look like a complete fish out of water if taken down by Blaydes, I am, however, pulling in favour of some rather damaging punishment or even control time for the latter — which will see him begin to pull away the longer this one plays out, although massive questions may be asked of Lewis’ seemingly diminishing cardio if he’s forced beyond the second or third frame.
Prediction: Curtis Blaydes via decision