UFC Vegas 19: Who Will Prevail Between Blaydes and the Beast?

Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis, UFC
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 19: (L-R) Opponents Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on February 19, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis are looking to establish themselves as the monster waiting in the wings when they finally collide at UFC Vegas 19.

Anything can still happen between now and March.  Anything can still happen afterward.  Curtis “Razor” Blaydes is on his best run in the UFC and one more victory on Saturday should put him in line to fight for the title next.  However, former foe Francis Ngannou is already locked into a championship match with Stipe Miocic that is targeted for March.  Pound-for-pound kingpin Jon Jones is then adamant that he expects to challenge the winner in his debut at heavyweight.  All of which would tie up the heavyweight title with seemingly no room for Blaydes to challenge for the belt in 2021.

Though it would be difficult to deny that he has earned the ability to wait for a title shot, Blaydes has admitted that he would consider a bout with knockout artist Jairzinho Rozenstruik if he does find himself in limbo.  Should that come to pass, it would be the only bout that makes sense considering Blaydes’s resume.  Since 2017, “Razor” is 8-1 with victories over Aleksei Oleinik, Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos, and Alexander Volkov.  Having only lost to Ngannou in that span, a fifth straight victory would leave no doubt that Blaydes is ready to fight for UFC gold.

For as well as he has performed in his career, it would likely go down as the greatest victory of Derrick Lewis’ career if he can stop Blaydes on Saturday.  “The Black Beast” has established himself as one of the most affable personalities, almost unwillingly at times, in the sport today.  But recently, he’s taken strides to improve his physiology to better compliment his natural gifts.  Already one of the most dangerous heavyweights in the division, Lewis has committed to his diet and training and noticeably slimmed down from years past.  The result: a faster and better conditioned Lewis who is on the cusp of his second shot at UFC gold.

Following a 9-1 run that culminated in a short notice title shot against Daniel Cormier, Lewis dropped a fight to former champion Junior dos Santos and subsequently bounced back with his current three fight win-streak.  Since 2019, he has turned back Blagoy Ivanov, Ilir Latifi, and in August stopped perennial contender Alexey Oleinik.  In his six years with the UFC he has fought most of the notable fights in the division with only the current champion Miocic, Blaydes, and Alistair Overeem missing from his resume.  A victory on Saturday would leave little question of Lewis’ credentials going for another shot at the belt.

While it is the hope of many that the two colossal forces will meet in the middle and throw with devastating power, it is expected that Blaydes will look to immediately wrestle Lewis and push his cardio early.  Blaydes has proven to be one of the most effective wrestlers in the heavyweight division in recent years and he showed that he can fight five rounds in his fight with Alexander Volkov last year.  Lewis by comparison has shown an almost supernatural ability to simply power back to his feet when taken down, but the x-factor is that Blaydes is not only a great wrestler but also physically one of the largest and heaviest opponents Lewis has faced.  On the feet, Blaydes should look to pick his spots as he sets up opportunities to take Lewis down while Lewis should look to let his hands go after sprawling and defending the takedown as that will be when Blaydes is at close range.

The winner of the bout will likely be left to evaluate their options in 2021.  A chance to be a backup for Miocic and Ngannou in March is likely an option, or a possible bout with Jairzinho Rozenstruik should “Bigi Boy” defeat Ciryl Gane next week.  Both men already have victories over the next logical top contender in Volkov which means that the winner will have to evaluate their options as they wait to see how the title picture plays out next month.