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Curtis Blaydes: Beating Junior dos Santos means more than a win over Derrick Lewis

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Curtis Blaydes isn’t big on callouts, but after proclaiming Derrick Lewis was an ‘easy money’ fight last year, he thought for sure it was going to happen.

The comment came after Lewis earned a split decision over Blagoy Ivanov at UFC 244 and Blaydes was looking for an opponent after earning back-to-back wins over Shamil Abdurakhimov and Justin Wills. Lewis even acknowledged the callout and said he would be more than happy to face Blaydes in his next fight.

Then a funny thing happened.

The UFC called Blaydes and asked him to face former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos instead as the main event for the upcoming event in Raleigh, N.C. He was admittedly surprised after the buzz started building for that potential fight against Lewis but Blaydes definitely wasn’t disappointed with the change of opponents.

“Not going to lie, I was a little shocked because I thought the Derrick Lewis fight was going to happen,” Blaydes explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “He kind of gave a verbal agreement so I was like OK. I was thinking I was going to have that.

“Junior’s a legend. He’s had those wars with Cain Velasquez. He used to have the belt. I think of him as a legend just like Alistair [Overeem] and Mark Hunt. It’s another opportunity for me to go up against one of the best ever. I relish it. I look forward to adding another legendary scalp to my list.”

Calling out Lewis brought Blaydes some attention but he knows deep down that actually ended up with the more meaningful fight.

Dos Santos is not only a former heavyweight champion but he also holds a TKO win against Lewis from last March while he maintains a higher ranking in the division as well.

While Lewis may be a favorite with fans, Blaydes knows dos Santos has the much deeper resume in the division and that will ultimately get him much closer to his goal to one day become UFC champion.

“I think [casual fans] might value a win over Derrick Lewis a little more because of his brand and how over the last two or three years he’s kind of blown up with casuals. If you ask the hardcore fans, who respect the game and know [Junior dos Santos], he’s the better fighter in my opinion. They’ll value a win over a him a little more because he’s a tougher fight,” Blaydes said.

“He may be getting older but he still has the skills to put guys in the heavyweight division away. He still has those quick hands, good counters, good feet. I have seen he has decent takedown defense so I’ll be putting that to the test. I think he’s a legitimate opponent. I value a win over him. It’s going to put me at the very least in a No. 1 contender’s fight.”

In many ways the heavyweight division remains on hold while current champion Stipe Miocic recovers from an eye injury and he’s expected to face Daniel Cormier in a trilogy once he’s healthy. Meanwhile, Francis Ngannou might secure his spot for another crack at the belt if he can get through Jairzinho Rozenstruik in March.

Despite those obstacles, Blaydes still feels like an emphatic win over dos Santos could get him where he wants to be in the division.

“I think if I can finish him impressively like my last couple of finishes, and I don’t know what’s going on with [Francis] Ngannou or Anthony Johnson or [Daniel Cormier], I don’t know so it’s kind of hard to project but I think it gives me a legitimate argument that I deserve a title shot,” Blaydes said.