UFC “Raleigh” came and went without any massive impact. There were some decent fights and a couple cool finishes, but outside of Michael Chiesa handing Rafael dos Anjos his fourth loss in five fights, no new contender was crowned nor major underdog victorious.
To me, the biggest story of UFC “Raleigh” was Curtis Blaydes, who picked up arguably the biggest win of his career by knocking out Junior dos Santos (watch highlights). Divisionally, it’s not a huge victory — Blaydes is still behind both Francis Ngannou and Daniel Cormier in the line for Heavyweight title shots, which is unchanged. From the perspective of watching a prospect develop, however, this was a huge moment for him.
Both times that I’ve written about Blaydes’ skill set in-depth, I noted that Blaydes was doing all the correct things that one would like to see in a wrestler learning how to strike. He led with the jab well, moved his head after firing, and used level changes to land strikes. It was all a bit stiff, sure, but that’s hardly unexpected for a man who hasn’t been throwing punches against top opposition for all that long — particularly when we’re talking about Heavyweight power coming back at him.
Against dos Santos, Blaydes took a significant step forward on the path to becoming a dangerous and technical striker.
Between the two, “JDS” may be known as the boxer, but Blaydes was the one who did not load up his punches. He moved smoothly and stuck out his long jab often, landing at a good rate early in the fight. Meanwhile, he still mixed his takedown attempts into his offense, using the failed shots to score on the break with punches and knees. Dos Santos landed some good shots of his own, but he was really focused on the uppercut, which he was pulling back too much. Blaydes made the correct read and repeatedly countered with his cross, a faster weapon that covered more distance. Blaydes cross beat dos Santos uppercut to target multiple times, and Blaydes kept at it until the strike badly hurt dos Santos.
The fight ended moments later.
Recognizing an opportunity, capitalizing on it, and sticking with what works — all very good signs from Blaydes. His consistent progress on the feet is just another marker that makes Blaydes stand out from his Heavyweight peers, as most of the men in the Heavyweight top 15 have been fighting roughly the same way for ... well ... as long as anyone can remember.
At 28 years of age, Blaydes is absurdly young for the division. The average wrestling level at Heavyweight is somewhere between abysmal and mediocre, whereas Blaydes has already advanced way up the ranks for total takedowns scored in UFC history. Finally, Blaydes has proven his ability to push a pace over 15 minutes and seems well-prepared for a fight to go the full five rounds.
How many other Heavyweights can say the same?
In short, Blaydes is a special fighter and talent. He’s only getting better, and he’ll be a contender for much of the coming decade — a championship should be expected at some point.
For complete UFC Fight Night 166: “dos Santos vs. Blaydes” results and play-by-play, click HERE!