Alistair Overeem seeks redemption after being on the wrong end of the Knockout of the Year, but it’s Curtis Blaydes who could enter the title picture at UFC 225 on Saturday.
Stipe Miocic’s dominance of the heavyweight division has brought order to a weight class that previously saw the belt change hands regularly. So dominant is Miocic that his next defense will be against another UFC champion in Daniel Cormier. But while the title war will be waged next month, two other contenders are looking to get in line in 2019 when Alistair Overeem collides with Curtis Blaydes.
For the first time in what feels like a decade, Alistair Overeem is no longer the most feared striker in the heavyweight division. His kickboxing pedigree is well-documented, with titles in K-1 to accompany his belts in mixed martial arts. But last December warped the title picture in ways few could have imagined would be so devastating. Francis Ngannou needed less than a round to deliver the Knockout of the Year with an uppercut that completely shut down Overeem. The physicality of the blow, the ferocity, and the resulting damage of Overeem asleep with his eyes open on the canvas left the MMA world buzzing.
The heavyweight division is also looking forward. Miocic will face Cormier, and with a victory will likely be matched-up with Alexander Volkov or Cain Velasquez. There is question that at 38 years old Overeem’s time as a title contender could be done unless there is a major shake-up in the title picture. His record in the last two years is 2-2, meaning he needs a win over Curtis Blaydes if he wants to keep himself from stumbling lower in the top 5.
No one realized exactly the trial by fire Curtis “Razor” Blaydes was facing when he met Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. He had finished all five opponents en route to the Octagon, but an eye injury ended his bout with Ngannou between rounds. He would bounce back, winning four of his next five and breaking into the top five of the division. Most recently, he entered enemy territory to face Mark Hunt in a bout where he needed to use his complete skill-set to beat the “Super Samoan” on his home turf.
What helps Blaydes most is that Miocic’s domination has left the division searching for new faces to challenge for the belt. With Cain Velasquez’s return still undetermined, a victory for “Razor” would conceivably put him in line for the belt behind Volkov. Depending on the schedule, Blaydes would be in a title eliminator or could find himself as a replacement in case of injury.
Stylistically, Overeem figures to be the more technical of the two but Blaydes is more likely to utilize his complete skill-set. For the Dutchman, the key will be to use forward pressure to not allow Blaydes to properly set up a takedown and to tire him out against the fence. As Blaydes looks to change levels, he should also look for uppercuts and knees down the middle as his best opportunities to score a knockout.
For “Razor” Blaydes, he should look to initiate the clinch to take away Overeem’s striking. From there, he can use his size to drag the fight to the ground where he can look to deliver ground-and-pound. On the feet, he should look to keep Overeem with his back to the fence where the Dutchman has the habit of turning away to get away from exchanges.
A victory for Overeem would find him in limbo in the top five of the division. Because he has faced the majority of contenders in the division, a rematch with a former opponent like Mark Hunt could be in the cards. But, the best option could be a returning Cain Velasquez if he does return in 2018. For Curtis Blaydes, a fight with the winner of Ngannou and Derrick Lewis figures to be a fight that would secure a title shot assuming the division continues at it’s scheduled pace.
The bout has drawn criticism for ending up on the prelims in lieu of CM Punk and newcomer Tai Tuivasa ending up on the pay-per-view portion of the broadcast. However, it is expected to be the perfect lead-in to an exciting night of MMA action.