Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight hitters Mark Hunt and Curtis Blaydes will collide this Saturday (Feb. 10, 2018) at UFC 221 inside Perth Arena in Perth, Australia.
Despite his position as No. 5 in the world, Hunt is a contender in name only, having lost violently to three of the men ranked above him and even recently considered retirement. Luckily, Hunt has settled into the role of veteran gatekeeper quite nicely, most recently ending Derrick Lewis’ win streak and turning him away from the division’s top-tier. The latest prospect for Hunt to face off with is “Razor” Blaydes, who has quickly put together a four-fight unbeaten inside the Octagon. A decorated junior college wrestler, Blaydes has proven to be an imposing force and is a definite threat to the veteran Aussie.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for both men:
Record: 13-11-1 (1)
Key Wins: Derrick Lewis (UFC Fight Night 110), Roy Nelson (UFC Fight Night 52), Frank Mir (UFC Fight Night 85), Antonio Silva (UFC 193), Stefan Struve (UFC on Fuel TV 8)
Key Losses: Fabricio Werdum (UFC 180), Stipe Miocic (UFC Fight Night 65), Junior dos Santos (UFC 160), Alistair Overeem (UFC Fight Night 105)
Keys to Victory: Once upon a time, “Super Samoan” was a brick-chinned bruiser who chased kickboxers around trying to landing a crushing right hand. Now 43 years old and competing inside an Octagon, Hunt is a patient counter striker who still carries heavy power behind his punches.
Blaydes is a fighter who relies on physicality. His blend of wrestle-boxing is not the slick, well-timed work of Stipe Miocic that plagued Hunt so severely, meaning that Hunt should have a decent chance of defending any shot that is not expertly set up.
With that in mind, Hunt does his best work when moving forward. He’ll be dealing with a significant height and reach disadvantage — worse than normal — and it will easier to nullify that edge if Hunt is able to back up Blaydes. Precocious or no, Blaydes will not like being pressured by Hunt, and there’s every chance he throws a panicky jab back at Hunt, which is precisely what Hunt is looking to counter.
Record: 8-1 (1)
Key Wins: Alexey Oleinik (UFC 217), Daniel Omielanczuk (UFC 213), Cody East (UFC Fight Night 96)
Key Losses: Francis Ngannou (UFC Fight Night 86)
Keys to Victory: Blaydes is a powerhouse wrestler with better conditioning than the average Heavyweight. His striking may be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s undeniably effective and leans more toward basics and fundamentals than sloppy power shots.
Opposite Hunt, fundamentals and range will be important. If Blaydes can immediately power Hunt off his feet with double legs, the fight is won already, but that seems unlikely given Hunt’s strength and low center of gravity.
More likely, Blaydes will have to wear down his foe a bit and set up the shot for it to succeed. In this case, Blaydes and his 82-inch reach would be wise to steal the gameplan of Miocic, who battered Hunt on the feet and mat.
Blaydes doesn’t really have Miocic’s single-leg heavy style, but he definitely tries to work the jab and low kick like the champion. Blaydes’ jab will do wonders to keep Hunt back if thrown sharp and feinted often, and the low kick can be a real game changer. It only takes several hard low kicks from a big fighter like Blaydes to destabilize a stance, and few things are worse in the cage than reaching to counter a punch only to have a shin dig into your thigh.
Bottom Line: Heavyweight will have another face in the title mix.
Does Hunt want to step back in the cage with a Top 5-ranked opponent again? It will probably be bad for his health. At the same time, UFC’s Heavyweight division is rather barren, and this would be his second win in a row against a Top 10 foe. Most would prefer that Hunt continue looking down the ladder rather than up, but victory means he’ll have earned the chance to step up once more if that’s what he desires.
Meanwhile, a loss doesn’t hurt Hunt’s position as gatekeeper — it merely raises Blaydes’ stock. The victory would essentially be his fifth in a row if we ignore the Texas Athletic Commission (generally a wise choice), which is very impressive at Heavyweight. In fact, capping off that type of win streak with the most important win of his career would likely set up Blaydes for a title eliminator match next. If the worst should happen, it’s far from the end of the world for Blaydes, who will undoubtedly have more opportunities in the future.
At UFC 221, we’ll be treated to a classic gatekeeper vs. prospect match up at Heavyweight. Which man will have his hand raised?