Curtis Blaydes has been here before.
Ever since he arrived in the UFC, the former junior college wrestling champion has been scratching and clawing his way to title contention. And yet, the heavyweight division always seems to be enduring some kind of drama.
Whether that’s inactivity from the person holding the title, a trilogy spanning nearly two years that tied up the belt, or Francis Ngannou’s battle with the UFC over his contract, it all adds up to a lot of frustration.
“I’m in limbo,” Blaydes said recently on The Fighter vs. The Writer prior to the booking of his March 26 return against Chris Daukaus.
”Right now, the clarity just isn’t there.”
While Blaydes sympathizes with Ngannou’s stance when it comes to his UFC contract, not to mention the surgery to repair damage to his ACL, the champion’s situation nonetheless delays the heavyweight title picture for the next year in all likelihood, if not longer. Because the UFC previously has pulled the trigger on an interim title bout — having done so in 2021 just four months after Ngannou became champion — Blaydes sees that as a distinct option possibility.
“I get it,” Blaydes said. “If you do have an idea how long he’s going to be out and you think it’s going to be almost a year, yeah, an interim [title], it makes sense. They’ve got pay-per-view fights they’ve got to fill. It sets up automatic opponents. That’s why I like it.
“You know if you win the interim title, yeah, it’s not the real belt, but you know you’re going to get a title shot. So I like that.”
With a win over Daukaus, Blaydes will likely join a short list of potential contenders if the UFC decides to crown an interim champion that includes Stipe Miocic, Jon Jones, Ciryl Gane, and recent UFC 271 winner Tai Tuivasa.
For his part, Blaydes would happily face any of them if he is offered the opportunity.
“Stipe or whoever, I would love to have an interim title shot,” he said. “I think everyone wants the clarity. It just helps. Even fans, they like to project, like, ‘If he wins, then he’ll fight him.’ Everyone likes to do that. It’s hard to do that with all this unknown.”
To make matters more complicated, Jones has been teasing his move to heavyweight for quite some time, though there’s still no word when he’ll actually make his debut. He rarely misses the chance to comment on the top fighters in the weight class whenever a notable matchup is happening. But he’s rapidly approaching two years since he last competed in the octagon.
“It’s almost like Henry Cejudo, how he’s always talking about how he’s going to make a return,” Blaydes said of Jones. “I would love to see Henry move up and take on [Alexander Volkanovski], but if you’re going to do it, let’s do it. The longer you wait, the older you get, the slower you get, the less explosive you get. Like [Israel Adesanya], he talked about it, he did it. It didn’t work out for him, but he did it.
“If you really want to do it, it’s not that hard. That would help with projections also. Like, if I knew he was going to be fighting at heavyweight, that means he’s also going to be a factor, a potential opponent. But right now, I don’t know.”
Feeling as if you’re stuck in neutral is never easy. But then again, Blaydes has seen this story play out time and time again, and he knows how the game is played.
“There’s just a lot of unknowns right now, and it does suck, but it’s part of the business,” he said. “It’s been like this almost my whole career in the UFC.
“I got in 2016 and ever since the first [Daniel Cormier] vs. Stipe fight, it’s been a lot of lack of mobility in the rankings, because it’s always been some type of issue with the guy that has the belt. So I’m used to it.”