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UFC Beijing predictions: Let’s take a closer look at Blaydes-Ngannou, Overeem-Pavlovich

Rise and shine!

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is just a few hours away from its upcoming UFC Fight Night 141 mixed martial arts (MMA) event, held this Sat. (Nov. 24, 2018) on Fight Pass from inside Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China.

Leading the charge are top heavyweight contenders Curtis Blaydes and two-time rival Francis Ngannou, with the latter holding a technical knockout victory over “Razor” — by way of cut — when they first went to war at UFC Fight Night 86 in Zagreb, Croatia, back in early 2016.

In the UFC Beijing co-main event, Alistair Overeem tries to salvage what’s left of his heavyweight title hopes against undefeated newcomer Sergey Pavlovich, who I’m sure would love nothing more than to use “The Reem” as a stepping stone to bigger and better opportunities.

Before we go ahead and break down the main and co-main events, be sure to see what pro fighter and resident analyst Andrew Richardson had to say about some of the featured main card bouts by clicking here. In addition, the UFC Fight Night 141 preliminary fights were dissected by the indomitable Patty Stumberg here and here.

Let’s finish the job here and now.

Heavyweight: Curtis ‘Razor’ Blaydes (10-1, 1 NC) vs. Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou (11-3)

Biggest Win For Blaydes? Technical knockout victory over Alistair Overeem
Biggest loss? Technical knockout defeat to Francis Ngannou
Biggest Win For Ngannou? Knockout victory over Alistair Overeem
Biggest loss? Unanimous decision defeat to Stipe Miocic
Latest Odds: Blaydes (-220) vs. Ngannou (+200)
How these two match up: It’s kind of fascinating to watch what’s been happening to Francis Ngannou over the last year or so. There was a time in the build up to his Stipe Miocic title fight when promotion president, Dana White, was selling “The Predator” — and forgive the cliche — as the next Mike Tyson. The 80’s, first-round killer, not the 90’s, ear-biting lunatic. And why not? Ngannou was a veritable wrecking ball, smashing and trashing whatever the promotion had to offer. That includes violent, first-round knockout wins over Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem. We also know that White despised having Miocic as champion, because the full-time firefighter shied away from the spotlight and sold fights like they were subscriptions to GRIT. Ngannou, meanwhile, was very marketable with his look and devastating punching power, featured here as yet another way to pick up speed on the Cameroonian’s hype train.

Then he got exposed in the UFC 220 main event.

If Ngannou can’t land the killing blow, he can’t land ... well, anything else. There was no ground game to speak of — not uncommon among big men — and his five-round lesson in humility wasted all that money UFC put into the expected passing of the torch. White was subsequently stuck with Miocic for the foreseeable future, which is why he was in such a hurry to pair him against Jones. But “Bones” is about as reliable as a cheesecloth condom, paving the way for Daniel Cormier to slide in and make things happen. Ngannou, of course, had the opportunity to counter his sudden smear campaign by demolishing the equally-one dimensional Derrick Lewis, but that would have required him to throw an actual punch at some point during their 15-minute staring contest at UFC 226.

Can Ngannou kill you with one blow? Definitely. But that’s only going to suffice when his opponent plays along and as we've already seen from opponent Curtis Blaydes, there are zero fucks given about sticking to the script. In fact, “Razor” already laid out his entire gameplan during fight week, simply because he knows Ngannou is powerless to stop it. So is just about everyone else in the heavyweight division, and once Blaydes figured that out, he was probably laughing to himself as to how easy it would be to take over the division. And if the Beijing boo birds think “Razor” is going to be dulled by incessant complaining, they’re in for a rude awakening. He literally does not care about weird fans anything but his win bonus (and I don’t blame him).

The 27 year-old Blaydes earned a full wrestling scholarship to Northern Illinois University before transferring to Harper College, where he captured the NJCAA National Championship as a redshirt sophomore. At 6’4” and 260 pounds he’s both powerful and agile, with an improving striking game that doesn’t make his time on the feet the liability it was back in Croatia. Do I expect him to stand and bang with Ngannou? No. I expect him to do what he’s done to every other power-puncher in the division. Replays of his performances against Mark Hunt and the aforementioned Overeem come to mind.

I’m sure Ngannou will have success in the first frame, at least when it comes to takedown defense, and as we saw in their first go-round, Blaydes can take a punch. But as the fight wears on and “Razor” sharpens his timing, this fight, much like my “fuck this Jersey shit” Grandmother, is headed south for the winter. What Ngannou can do from his back remains to be seen, but based on what I saw in his drubbing against Miocic, I don’t have my hopes up. Instead, expect “The Predator” to live up to his nickname, assuming we’re talking about the same Predator who was pinned under a giant log at the end of the first movie.

Final result: Blaydes def. Ngannou via unanimous decision

Heavyweight: Alistair ‘Demolition Man’ Overeem (43-17, 1 NC) vs. Sergei Pavlovich (12-0)

Biggest Win For Overeem? Technical knockout victory over Junior dos Santos
Biggest loss? Knockout loss to Francis Ngannou
Biggest Win For Pavlovich? Unanimous decision victory over Kirill Sidelnikov
Biggest loss? Currently undefeated
Latest Odds: Overeem (+110) vs. Pavlovich (-130)
How these two match up: I want to focus on the UFC Beijing odds for a moment, because Alistair Overeem, who captured championship titles in DREAM, Strikeforce, and even K-1, is the betting underdog against a fighter who has never stepped foot inside the Octagon, has just 12 pro fights, and never beat anyone that you could pick out of a line up. In fact, I'm willing to bet you couldn’t pick Sergey Pavlovich out of a line up, either. But don’t feel bad, Overeem already told the MMA media he was forced to Google his opponent’s name when presented with the pairing because “Demolition Man,” like the rest of us, had no clue who the Russian was or why he was being imported into UFC.

Yes, I am aware that betting lines are designed to generate wagers and don’t reflect the competitiveness of each match up, but that just goes to show you how far “The Reem” has fallen in the twilight of his career. The hulking Dutchman has been knocked out a staggering 13 times, which is more than Pavlovich has appeared in total pro fights (12). That statistic doesn’t seem to bother anyone in UFC or the stateside commissions who license him, despite being charged with fighter safety, because he’s walking and talking without any visible signs of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). We all know that’s not how head trauma works and I hope that several years down the road, when Overeem is wearing adult diapers and talking to dead animals like Simple Jack, that people in power are forthrightly ashamed of themselves.

It’s hard to provide an accurate scouting report on Pavlovich because he’s been relegated to recycling cans on the international circuit. Should I be oohing and ahhing over finishes against the 38 year-old Ilja Skondric, or the 39 year-old Chaban Ka? The last thing we need is a Russian Todd Duffee and I’m not uncorking any suds for his recent shellacking of Kirill Sidelnikov, who is nicknamed “Baby Fedor” because he fights like “The Last Emperor” did when he was still in Underoos. Calumny notwithstanding, I will admit I like what I’ve seen thus far. Pavlovich is frighteningly fast for a heavyweight, has impressive placement on his punches, and fights with the sort of aggression you might see from a young fighter trying to blast his or her way into the big show.

If he continues that trend tomorrow in Beijing, I would not be surprised to see Pavlovich emerge victorious. Overeem works best when he can do one of two things: either stalk an opponent with his hands low and knees bent, picking his shots (Brock Lesnar), or using his muscular frame to bully his way into the takedown for some punishing ground-and-pound (Stefan Struve). And let’s not forget those sneaky submissions. By contrast, both of those attacks are easily nullified when opponents lumber in with punches in bunches, cutting off the cage and forcing “Demolition Man” to absorb punishment (Bigfoot Silva). Which scenario is most likely to play out UFC Beijing? Based on Pavlovich’s speed and athleticism, I’m leaning toward the latter, which says a lot about where Overeem is at in his career these days.

Final prediction: Pavlovich def. Overeem by knockout

There you have it. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 141 fight card on Saturday (click here), starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” undercard bout at 3 a.m. ET, followed by the main card start time at 6:30 a.m. ET, also on Fight Pass.

For much more on UFC Beijing click here.

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