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Curtis Blaydes had to be a ‘shark’ on the ground to beat ‘lion’ Mark Hunt

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UFC 221: Hunt v Blaydes
Curtis Blaydes has his hand raised after a unanimous decision win over Mark Hunt at UFC 221
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Facing one of the heavyweight division’s most feared strikers, Curtis Blaydes had no intention of fighting fire with fire.

Blaydes’ wrestling was on display for three rounds in his win over Mark Hunt in the co-main event of UFC 221 at the Perth Arena in Perth, Western Australia on Saturday. It was a performance that drew the ire of the local fans, most of whom were in support of Hunt, a resident of Sydney.

Hunt rocked Blaydes in Round 1 and it looked like the 26-year-old was about to become the 11th knockout victim of “The Super Samoan”. However, Blaydes was able to survive and put Hunt down on the mat, which was exactly what his team saw him doing heading into the fight.

“That was always my game plan. I am not a fool,” Blaydes said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “I had no aspirations of standing and trying to bang with Mark Hunt so he can knock my head off. That was always the game plan. I am the better wrestler, why not use it? And I train in Denver, we’re a mile up in the air. There’s no elevation here in Perth, I knew I’d be the better conditioned athlete, I knew wrestling would gas him out a lot faster than standing and banging at his own pace, so I wanted to dictate where we went.

“On the feet, he’s a lion; on the ground, I’m a shark. I wanted to drag him into deep waters. That’s what I did.”

While Blaydes expressed confidence in his chin, having previously taken punches from the notoriously dynamite-fisted Francis Ngannou, he figured out early on that standing and banging with Hunt would be a bad idea. Fortunately for Blaydes, he was able to buy himself some time with his grappling until he could decidedly turn the fight in his favor.

“When he landed those heavy strikes, he definitely rocked me,” Blaydes said. “My vision went black for like, two seconds, and I heard my cornermen screaming ‘takedown!’ I knew I should get the takedown and that’s why he was able to get up so quickly because I wasn’t really in it so I got the takedown, it gave me enough time just to recover and then from there I kind of knew my range and I knew where not to be. From there, I knew I had to continue with the takedowns. I knew it would gas him out and help me get the W.”

Blaydes has now won four straight fights (not including a TKO win over Adam Milstead that was overturned to a no-contest when Blaydes later tested positive for marijuana), the second-longest streak in the UFC heavyweight division trailing only world champion Stipe Miocic (6). He declined to call out any opponent in particular, only stressing that he would like to fight a top-five contender and, more importantly, be booked on the upcoming UFC 225 event that is scheduled to take place in his hometown of Chicago.

Regarding where he feels he currently stands in the rankings, Blaydes stuck to the aquatic imagery to explain how he and his fellow prospects are progressing.

“I feel like every division goes in generational cycles,” Blaydes said. “We had the Frank Mir, Brock Lesnar, Alistair (Overeem), all those guys, they’re all nearing the end, some of them are already gone, the Roy Nelsons and the Josh Barnetts, a couple of them still hanging around.

“But I think it’s time for the next wave to get in there and make names for ourselves.”