Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweights Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes will hunt for the knockout this Sunday (April 10, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 86 inside Arena Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia.
As a Heavyweight under the age of 30, Ngannou is something of a rarity. However, his opponent is a few years younger, making this a fairly uncommon clash of young Heavyweights. Regardless, the massive Frenchman is looking to score his third straight knockout win.
"Razor" Blaydes has only been fighting for a few years, but he's already beaten some decent competition and quickly made his way to UFC. Now, the talented wrestler will attempt to announce himself as a major fighter to watch.
Let's take a look at the keys to victory for both men:
Key Wins: Luis Henrique Barbosa de Oliveira (UFC on FOX 17)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Ngannou is an incredibly athletic Heavyweight. He's still a bit raw, but Ngannou has the instincts and skill of a physical specimen who's quickly absorbing the sport.
In this bout, Ngannou's path to victory is reasonably clear, if not easy. Simply put, the Frenchman has to keep this fight standing and use his striking edge to put his opponent down hard. To avoid the takedown, Ngannou needs to focus on speed and movement. If he plants his feet or allows himself to be walked into the fence, Ngannou is in poor position to defend the bumrush double leg of his foe.
If Ngannou can stay standing, opportunities to land powerful shots will open up. His opponent is a strong athlete as well, but he's far less fluid on his feet and is definitely hittable.
That's a recipe for disaster opposite Ngannou.
On a related note, Ngannou showed pretty decent defense from his back in his last bout. If he is taken down, the French fighter should look to stall his opponent and force a referee stand up.
Key Wins: Lorenzo Hood (XFO 51)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: A national junior college wrestling champion, Blaydes is also a fantastic athlete and huge Heavyweight. The wrestler excels at slamming his opponents to the mat with a powerful shot or clinch throw, where he does big damage with ground strikes.
The prospect has finished each of his five opponents.
Once more, Blaydes strategy should be clear here. This is a fairly simple striker vs grappler match up between young prospects, so as the grappler in that equation, Blaydes needs to stick to his guns and overwhelm his opponent on the mat.
Frankly, there's no reason for Blaydes to screw around on the feet with his opponent. He should waste little time in pressing forward and initiating grappling exchanges, as it would only allow Ngannou to find his range otherwise.
Since Blaydes can match his opponent's athleticism, securing the takedown shouldn't be too much of an issue. Once on top, Blaydes has proven to be a dominant finisher. He should be able to do some significant damage with his top position, which will only make any future takedowns come easier as Blaydes wears his opponent out.
Bottom Line: It's really strange to see a real match up of prospects in the Heavyweight division. Both men are actually young -- both in terms of age and career -- and have plenty of room to grow and build from their athletic bases.
Since both fighters are at the same stage of their professional career, the fallout will be similar either way. Since the division is so shallow, the winner will likely receive a pretty significant step up in competition. Whether or not it will be too soon remains to be seen, but it will surely be a big opportunity for the victor, who's likely to do quite well in UFC overall.
On the other hand, it's not like the loser is in danger of being released or really loses any ground. Again, Heavyweight prospects are valuable. Instead, the defeated fighter will end up opposite an opponent on the lowest rung of the ladder and given more time to improve.
At UFC Fight Night 86, Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes will scrap. Which fighter will have his hand raised?