The sport of mixed martial arts has grown to a point over the years where most professional fighters today, especially those at or near the top of the pile, are able to mix a number of fighting styles together. But when the sport was young and attracted its athletes from various martial arts disciplines, the most fascinating matchups were clashes of specialists.
The UFC Fight Night main event on Saturday at the Apex facility of the graduation in Las Vegas promises a throwback to a bygone era.
Derrick Lewis has 11 KO’s in the UFC, a record for heavyweights. He is at his best as a stand-up fighter and releases his heavy hands.
Curtis Blaydes has 59 takedowns, by far the most in division history. He thrives by bringing his opponent to the canvas and knocking him down.
Of course, neither Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC), who is 3rd in the ESPN heavyweight division, nor fifth-placed Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) got where he is by being completely one-dimensional. Blaydes has improved on his fists and striking defenses, and while Lewis doesn’t pose much of a threat, he has shown that he can stand up nicely when needed. Every man is round enough to keep the fight in his comfort zone for the most part.
But make no mistake: if these two meet in the center of the octagon, Blaydes will try to get Lewis to the canvas and finish him off there while Lewis will try to drop Blaydes to the ground.
But what then?
Although both fighters are in the top five among the heavyweights, neither is close to a shot in the championship. This fight was originally booked for November before Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19. Back then, the heavyweight title picture was cloudy. But since then, UFC champion Stipe Miocic has booked a title defense on March 27 against the second-tallest man in the ESPN rankings, Francis Ngannou. Former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was promised the first shot at the winner. That puts Blaydes and Lewis on hold – at best.
The winner on Saturday will hold his place in line. The loser? His status will falter – as will many of those caged with one of these great men.
By the numbers
29: Career knockouts for Blaydes and Lewis together. Lewis got 19 of them out of his 24 wins and Blaydes got 10 KOs out of his 14 wins. This is how these two men end fights. They only have one template between them – Lewis got it over the armbar 10 years ago in his fourth professional fight.
53: Percentage of UFC opponent shutdown attempts blocked by Lewis, the fifth worst shutdown defense in heavyweight history, and the worst of any active heavyweight (at least five fights and 20 opponent attempts). That prepares Blaydes well, who has the second best shutdown accuracy (56%) of a qualified heavyweight in UFC history. He has an average of 4.9 takedowns per fight, the second most common in a division.
59:44: Top position in 12 UFC battles for Blaydes in minutes and seconds. That’s the highest in the heavyweight’s history, as is his total control time (including standing clinches) of 1:13:28.
1.73: Blaysdes, the second smallest among the active heavyweights, scored 0.73 hits per minute in the UFC after Marcos Rogerio de Limas.
15: UFC wins from Lewis, who linked him with Junior dos Santos as the third most heavyweight of all time, behind only Andrei Arlovski (19), who also fights on Saturday, and Frank Mir (16). Arlovski, Mir and dos Santos are former masters.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five against five
The latest results from Curtis Blaydes
Victory: Alexander Volkov (UD, June 20, 2020; see ESPN +)
Victory: Junior dos Santos (TKO2, January 25, 2020; see ESPN +)
Victory: Shamil Abdurakhimov (TKO2, September 7, 2019; see ESPN +)
Win: Justin Willis (UD, March 23, 2019; see ESPN +)
Loss: Francis Ngannou (TKO2, November 24, 2018)
The latest results from Derrick Lewis
Prize: Aleksei Oleinik (TKO2, August 8, 2020; see ESPN +)
Prize: Ilir Latifi (UD, February 8, 2020; see ESPN +)
Prize: Blagoy Ivanov (SD, November 2, 2019; see ESPN +)
Loss: Junior dos Santos (TKO2, March 9, 2019; see ESPN +)
Loss: Daniel Cormier (Sub2, November 3, 2018)
And the winner is …
Let’s look at this fight through the lens of Alexander Volkov, who fought against and lost to both men. Blaydes beat him 14 times last June and won a unilateral decision despite being delayed. Lewis, who was on the scorecards in October 2018, knocked out Volkov by just over a minute. That tells us what both fighters in Saturday’s main event are capable of: Blaydes can drown you with relentless pressure, and Lewis can get you out with his last breath. It is possible that both things will happen in this fight.
The coaches and fighters ESPN asked for predictions are divided. You are even divided into yourself. “I’m so torn from this fight,” said Tyson Chartier, New England Cartel coach. “Blaydes wants to choose the emotionless side because I think he can beat him. But I don’t want to cheer Lewis on and I rightly think that Lewis can get up every time he is defeated and only has.” hit Blaydes once. “
How to watch the fights
Watch the fighting on ESPN +. If you don’t have ESPN +, Get it here.
There is also FightCenter, Here you can find live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday’s battle card
ESPN +, 8 p.m. ET
Curtis Blaydes versus Derrick Lewis | Heavyweight
Ketlen Vieira versus Yana Kunitskaya | Women bantamweight
Charles Rosa versus Darrick Minner | Men’s featherweight
Aleksei Oleinik versus Chris Daukaus | Heavyweight
Phil Hawes versus Nassourdine Imavov | medium weight
Andrei Arlovski versus Tom Aspinall | Heavyweight
ESPN +, 5 p.m. ET
Jared Gordon versus Danny Chavez | Men’s featherweight
Drakkar Klose versus Luis Peña | Light
Eddie Wineland versus John Castañeda | Men bantamweight
Julian Erosa versus Nate Landwehr | Men’s featherweight
Shana Dobson versus Casey O’Neill | Women’s flyweight
Chas Skelly versus Jamall Emmers | Men’s featherweight
Aiemann Zahabi versus Drako Rodriguez | Men bantamweight
Serghei Spivac versus Jared Vanderaa | Heavyweight
Four More Things to Know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Yana Kunitskaya has a significant 55% hit accuracy in the UFC, the fifth best ever among female fighters (at least five fights and 400 strokes attempted). Her opponent, Ketlen Vieira, is with 37% the eleventh worst hit accuracy of all time among the 72 qualified fighters.
2. Four of Vieira’s UFC victories were decided and ranked second-highest in bantamweight women’s history behind Raquel Pennington (six).
3. Aleksei Oleinik has six submissions to the UFC, most among the active heavyweights, and is the second best of all time after Frank Mirs eight.
4th Charles Rosa won his last fight – his only fight as a lightweight – but has yet to win two consecutive UFC bouts when he begins his ninth appearance.