UFC Raleigh: What’s Next
By Ross Markey
Curtis Blaydes is establishing himself as somewhat of a ‘legend killer’ – and in quite a timely fashion. The 28-year-old has now managed to overcome three former world champions, and three of the sport’s most recognizable and respected names. Mark Hunt was handed a dominant unanimous decision defeat, kickboxing standout Alistair Overeem was brutally finished, and to this list – we add former UFC heavyweight best, Junior dos Santos.
Despite failing to land a single takedown against the Brazilian – which I predicted would be his best route to success on Saturday night, the Illinois native displayed his evet improving striking to time dos Santos with a counter right hand, before finishing with a second-round barrage. I envisioned a similar performance from Blaydes to the one he lodged against Shamil Abdurakhimov – in which he secured a second-round knockout victory, via a barrage of ground-and-pound strikes. It’s two straight wins for the Juco national champion, but the quest for merited Octagon gold is quite a puzzling one.
Stipe Miocic vs. Curtis Blaydes:
A heavyweight title clash between reigning champion, Stipe Miocic, and Curtis Blaydes is a possibility, albeit an unlikely one. Recent reports suggest Miocic is still mulling over a trilogy clash with Daniel Cormier ahead of a summer return – and also a rematch with Francis Ngannou, who we’ll get to later. I personally believe we see that rubber-match play out between Miocic and Cormier first. The stalling of such a trilogy closing bout may be a negotiating tactic – which may result in Blaydes losing out on a deserved title shot, for the time being.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik:
Yes, Suriname native Rozenstruik is already paired with Francis Ngannou in the main event of UFC Fight Night Columbus – but the only possible matchup for Blaydes from this pairing is a clash with the surging Rozenstruik. It seems like Cameroonian power-puncher, Francis Ngannou is Blaydes’ only legitimate kryptonite among the heavyweight ranks. Blaydes is 0-2 against the one-time title challenger – losing via a doctor’s stoppage in his 2016 Octagon debut, and then a first-round knockout in their November 2018 rematch. The convincing nature in which Blaydes was finished at the second time of asking makes a trilogy bout between the pair, extremely difficult to market at this moment in time.
Curtis Blaydes vs. Alexander Volkov:
This one may be perceived as a step backward for Curtis Blaydes after his victory over dos Santos – but a clash with the ever-improving Volkov, and more importantly, a triumph would leave him simply undeniable as the next in line to receive a heavyweight title tilt. The former M-1 Global heavyweight best, and Bellator MMA heavyweight tournament victor has only dropped a single loss in the Octagon, in a bout he was comfortably winning until Derrick Lewis pounced. Apart from the defeat, Volkov has managed victories over former heavyweight best, Fabrício Werdum, submission specialist, Stefan Struve, and power-puncher, Roy Nelson, since his UFC bow back in late 2016.
Junior dos Santos vs. Alexander Volkov:
This potential pairing would provide a real gauge as to where dos Santos and Volkov are, at this stage of their respective careers. Saturday’s defeat marks a second-straight knockout loss for dos Santos, following a first-round loss to Ngannou. As proven before that loss, dos Santos can still hang with the division’s dangerous prospect, evident in his victories over Blagoy Ivanov, Tai Tuivasa, and Derrick Lewis. Alexander Volkov was scheduled to meet dos Santos in the main event of UFC Fight Night Moscow recently until a staph infection forced the Brazilian off the card. Volkov continued, and in a co-headliner, outclassed Greg Hardy on his way to a unanimous decision victory. Let’s reschedule this one again for the summer if the promotion elects against pairing the Russian with the aforementioned, Blaydes.