Curtis Blaydes is looking to ascend to the title picture at UFC Raleigh, but to do so he will need to overcome a returning former champion in Junior dos Santos.
Unquestionable power! 💪
— UFC (@ufc) January 23, 2020
For Curtis “Razor” Blaydes, Saturday’s bout is much bigger than it might appear at face value. With the MMA world still basking in the after-glow of Conor McGregor’s return, and the event going head-to-head with featherweight legend Cris Cyborg’s Bellator debut, Blaydes’ battle with former champion Junior dos Santos certainly feels as if it’s flying under the radar. However, with the current state of the heavyweight division, a victory for Blaydes could propel him into the title picture.
Regardless of the result, the eventual rubber match between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier will finally move the division along later this year. The winner of Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik in March would be the next in line. A victory for Blaydes would have him arguably next in line should he deliver an electrifying finish. Both he and Alexander Volkov are looking to break into the conversation, but the Russian striker recorded only one appearance in 2019 while Blaydes is riding back-to-back victories going into the fight with dos Santos.
— UFC (@ufc) January 22, 2020
Going into the back-end of 2019, former champion Junior “Cigano” dos Santos was on track to continue his streak of fighting the best as a perennial contender who is never far from another shot at his old title. Despite a setback against Francis Ngannou in June, he was set to take on vaunted striker Alexander Volkov in November after enjoying an entertaining run on Brazil’s version of Dancing with the Stars. However, he pulled out of the fight with a bacterial infection that ended up being more severe than perhaps most of the MMA world was aware of.
As told to Fernanda Prates of The Athletic, dos Santos states:
“(The doctors) said, ‘No, you don’t understand how serious what you just went through was. If you had taken another day, two days to come to the hospital, you could have, at the very least, lost a leg. Or even died, if the infection had spread.”
Despite the severity of the situation, dos Santos is wasting no time in making his Octagon return against Blaydes. The victory would be another big one in a career that has notched too many to count. While “Cigano” continues to express his desire to reclaim championship gold, the path to the top is expected to be a bit longer than his upcoming opponent. With losses to both Miocic and Ngannou, the Brazilian will likely have to take another fight or two before getting back into the conversation for the belt.
— UFC (@ufc) January 24, 2020
While Blaydes can trust his power in a brawl with dos Santos, his best path to victory would be to work behind straight punches to force dos Santos into the fence where he can use the clinch to force the fight to the ground, where his size and wrestling give him a distinct advantage. By comparison, dos Santos should look to follow his usual strategy of using his speed and footwork to get in-and-out with crisp boxing and look to counter with powerful shots.
A victory for either man is expected to set-up a fight with Alexander Volkov in a bout with major title implications. While another victory for Blaydes could secure a title shot if the title remains active in 2020, dos Santos could well find himself needing to face another top contender before his third attempt at reclaiming UFC gold.