Big men even for the heavyweight division, slick boxer Justin Willis and wrestling powerhouse Curtis Blaydes faced off tonight (Saturday, March 23, 2019) from inside the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, only on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+, you can sign up here for a seven-day free trial! Blaydes was trying to bounce back from his insta-loss to Francis Ngannou, which had interrupted an impressive six-fight unbeaten run. Willis, fresh off jabbing Mark Hunt’s face off for an easy decision win, had piled up four straight and was looking to establish himself as a contender at 265.
Blaydes opened with a couple leg kicks, then shot in on Willis. He didn’t get his initial shot, but tied Willis up on the cage, trying to chain attempts together, and bundled Willis to the ground with a lateral drop. Willis looked calm as Blaydes began to punch him hard fromt he wrestler’s ride. Willis got his base under him, stood up, then promptly got ragdolled to the ground again. Willis tried to stand as Blaydes kneed him in the butt, then Blaydes tossed him again. One got the sense this could be a long night for Willis. Blaydes put his weight on Willis, alternating between dragging his leg out from under him with his foot to kneeing Willis in the thigh. Willis stood again, tried a back-elbow, got tossed again. Blaydes landed a few arm punches before the round ended.
Blaydes connected on a beautiful straight right that knocked Willis down early in the second! Willis got back up but Blaydes was all over him and landed another heavy takedown. Willis was smiling from the bottom, perhaps amused by his predicament. Blaydes was nearly to full mount, controlling Willis, but ‘Big Pretty’ wasn’t ready to be done just yet, and got to the fence, trying to stand. Blaydes reaped his lag out from under him, and Willis tried a kimura that didn’t work. Blaydes was just smothering him. Blaydes nearly slipped up when he tried a sacrifice throw and nearly ended up on bottom, but quickly got to top position again. Willis had no answers.
Willis countered a leg kick with a flurry of punches to start the third round. He tried a kick off Blaydes’ arms. Blaydes tried a shot, stuffed by Willis. Blaydes tried another shot, was stuffed, faked as if to strike and shot again, driving Willis to the cage. Willis fended off takedowns from Blaydes’ body lock, then dug for underhooks, eating a knee to the gut as Blaydes separated. Blaydes shot and dumped Willis to the mat, landing in side control with a little over a minute left. Blaydes opened up with some ground and pound, nothing too intense. Willis crawled to the fence and tried to stand, but ended the fight as he spent it: unable to break free from the great Curtis Blaydes.
“Big Titty go home!” shouted Blaydes afterwards, very amped. Daniel Cormier, the heavyweight champion, asked him who he was hoping to see afterwards. “Junior, Stipe, or Lewis” he responded. Oddly, he never referenced Cormier himself, perhaps feeling he needs another win to be back in the title conversation.
Official result: Blaydes def. Willis via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-25)
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