Curtis Blaydes made a thunderous leap into title contention with his third-round knockout win over Alistair Overeem at UFC 225. Having effectively won six straight fights, Blaydes afterward called for his chance at the UFC heavyweight strap to be next, however there’s one other matchup besides a title shot that the 27-year-old contender has his eyes on.
“I’m only open to [taking another fight] it if it’s (Francis) Ngannou,” Blaydes said recently on The MMA Hour. “That’s really the only one that wouldn’t really be about the money. That would be about, like, I just want to run that back. And I’m not [making excuses], he won fair and square. I let him hit my eye too many times and that’s what happens, the doctors have to be involved. So he did a great job, but I would like to get a full 15 minutes with him.
“But that’s only if I don’t get the title shot, because I think I’m ready. I think you can make the argument it makes sense based upon the rankings and the current matchups. Ngannou’s already had his turn, and to be honest, he didn’t even look good. And I think me beating Alistair in the fashion I did is a bit, on paper, looks better than (Alexander) Volkov beating (Fabricio) Werdum in the way he did. Not taking anything away from Volkov, I just think my win is slightly better than his, so I think it puts me ahead of him.”
Blaydes debuted in the Octagon back in April 2016 in a matchup against Ngannou that in retrospect was a prophetic meeting between two men who may very well form the backbone for the future of the UFC heavyweight division. Ngannou ultimately defeated Blaydes via second-round doctor’s stoppage after Blaydes’ right eye completely swelled shut, then went on to pick up four straight first-round victories before losing a title shot to Miocic at UFC 220. Blaydes, meanwhile, rebounded from his first career setback in masterful fashion — he’s undefeated since getting stopped by Ngannou.
Blaydes’ run into title contention culminated at UFC 225 with a bloody victory over Overeem. After overcoming early danger, the Illinois native finished Overeem in violent fashion to pick up the biggest win of his career in front of his hometown Chicago crowd.
“It’s still processing. It’s still almost like a dream,” Blaydes said. “It’s almost like the more I think about it, the more I think about all the things I did right, like my footwork, my movement, taking the knee to the jaw and still being able to finish the double, getting out of those heel hooks, and then just the finish, that last round, putting it all together — I’m just happy I could do it in Chicago at the United Center. I think out of all the scenarios, that was the best one, the best way it could’ve gone down, hands down.”
Blaydes’ finishing sequence over Overeem, in particular, was a nasty one. The massive up-and-comer bombed on “The Reem” with a flurry of hard elbows from top control, opening two deep gashes across Overeem’s forehead and completely separating the veteran from his consciousness before referee Dan Miragliotta was able to step in. Afterward, Blaydes called the sequence the bloodiest stoppage of his career.
“It was weird,” Blaydes said. “It’s like I’m watching it, but it’s not bothering me. Like, when I watch the video, it bothers me a little bit, but I’m doing it. It’s almost like it’s not enough, like I wanted a little more just to get the ref, because I could see the referee out of my peripheral, and I could see him edging in. I knew he was almost about to stop this, so I knew that the more blood, the faster he’ll stop it.
“I feel a little different about it [now],” Blaydes continued, “because like I said, when I watch it, I can see that he goes out like after the third one. I think I gave him like eight, so like the last five, maybe the last three, he really didn’t need.”
Moving forward, Blaydes said he’ll be keeping a close eye on July 7’s title fight between Miocic and Cormier. He isn’t rooting for one man or the other; rather, he’s only hoping for a “clean fight” with no controversy so there’s no talk of a rematch.
And when he considers the stylistic matchups at play, he ultimately expects Miocic to walk away from UFC 226 with his record-breaking reign atop the heavyweight throne intact.
“He would be my pick,” Blaydes said, “because I think his length, his kickboxing, he’s got a pretty head good kick. We’ve already seen DC’s been a bit susceptible to head kicks in his last fight; not his last fight, but his last one with Jon Jones. The height, he’s already down there, you don’t really have to bring [the kick] up too high. And I think DC is the better wrestler, but I think Stipe’s boxing will offset the slight advantage DC has in the wrestling department. I think it goes to Stipe regardless.”