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UFC Raleigh preview: No man is an island (except at heavyweight)

UFC Fight Night Blaydes v dos Santos: Open Workouts Photo by Grant Halverson/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The UFC heavyweight division is a big, ugly mess, which I guess makes sense when you consider that it’s stocked with big, ugly heavyweights. Imagine being ranked in the Top 5 of your respective weight class, beating another fighter who is also ranked in the Top 5, only to have it mean absolutely nothing.

That’s kinda where we’re at with Curtis Blaydes (No. 3) and Junior dos Santos (No. 4).

They’ll go to war in the UFC Fight Night 166 main event this Sat. night (Jan. 25, 2020) on ESPN+, live from inside PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina (see the complete fight card here). Their bout is scheduled for five rounds but I doubt we’ll see more than two, let alone three, simply because “Cigano” has knockout power on his feet, and Blaydes has fight-stopping elbows on the mat

Regardless of who wins, there are only two places to go. One of them is the bench, the other is in reverse. Blaydes already has two losses to Francis Ngannou, both by way of technical knockout, and “The Predator” is ranked above him at No. 2. Similarly, Dos Santos enters this bout on the heels of his own technical knockout loss to the power-punching Parisian.

Simply put, it will take more than a victory in the UFC Raleigh main event to score a rematch against Ngannou, which may (at least for now) be required to land a heavyweight title shot. Or, the winner of Blaydes vs. Dos Santos can wait for Ngannou to fight Jairzinho Rozenstruik this March in Columbus and hope “The Predator” loses, because thumping “Bigi Boy” will likely award him another crack at the 265-pound crown.

Complicating matters, at least for that scenario, is that reigning division kingpin, Stipe Miocic, is already spoken for. Up next for the retinally-challenged fireman is a rubber match against Daniel Cormier, after splitting a pair of fights with “DC” at UFC 226 and UFC 241. I guess now is a good time to point out that we already have our championship main events booked through April and there’s been no word from champion, challenger, or even the promotion about completing their trilogy. It’s not outrageous to think Miocic-Cormier 3 goes down Memorial Day Weekend or perhaps even later.

That puts Ngannou into a title fight at some point in the fall.

If Rozenstruik scores the upset and leaves Columbus with his undefeated streak intact, it would give the winner of Blaydes vs. Dos Santos a potential title eliminator bout, perhaps on the undercard of Miocic-Cormier 3. I just have a hard time believing the promotion would pass on a fighter who would at that point be 11-0 — with a country of screaming fans on his side — to instead pair him against a smothering wrestler like Blaydes, or an aging slugger like Dos Santos.

I think it’s pretty clear that whoever wins the UFC Raleigh main event is going to have some extra time on their hands. And while fighting someone out of the Top 5 is not exactly forward progress, there are some intriguing battles on the horizon. Alexander Volkov and Walt Harris are still in the mix, Fabricio Werdum will be making his heavyweight comeback, and the winner of Derrick Lewis vs. Ilir Latifi is going to have his own say in the matter.

Like Blaydes and Dos Santos, all we can do is wait and see.