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UFC Vegas 15 preview, ‘Blaydes vs Lewis’ predictions (Updated)

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UFC heavyweight Derrick Lewis Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Digital First Media/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images

*** UPDATE: Curtis Blaydes has tested positive for COVID-19 and his fight against Derrick Lewis has been postponed. Read more. ***

Derrick Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will try to capitalize on Thanksgiving weekend — and go head-to-head with the Mike Tyson pay-per-view (PPV) — by bringing combat sports fans the UFC Vegas 15 mixed martial arts (MMA) event this Sat. night (Nov. 28, 2020) from inside the promotion’s APEX facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Headlining the UFC Vegas 15 fight card, which airs on both ESPN+ and ESPN2, are heavyweight hurters Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis, who collide for a spot atop the ever-shrinking list of 265-pound title hopefuls. Prior to that titanic tilt, hot-and-cold light heavyweight veteran Devin Clark looks to break into the Top 15 by turning away former title contender Anthony Smith.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the complete UFC Vegas 15 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by Patrick Stumberg here and here. Resident MMA champ Andrew Richardson did most of the heavy lifting for the rest of the main card right here. For the latest “Blaydes vs. Lewis” odds and betting lines click here.

Let’s get to work ...

265 lbs.: Curtis Blaydes vs. Derrick Lewis

Curtis “Razor” Blaydes

Record: 14-2, 1 NC | Age: 29 | Betting line: -345
Wins: 10 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 80” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.55 | Striking accuracy: 53%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 1.73 | Striking Defense: 57%
Takedown Average: 6.98 (55% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 33%
Current Ranking: No. 2 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Alexander Volkov

Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis

Record: 24-7, 1 NC | Age: 35 | Betting line: +285
Wins: 19 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 4 DEC | Losses: 4 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 6’3“ | Reach: 79” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.64 | Striking accuracy: 50%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.09 | Striking Defense: 44%
Takedown Average: 0.54 (26% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 52%
Current Ranking: No. 4 | Last fight: Technical knockout win over Alexey Oleynik

I think we need to get the obvious out of the way and concede that Derrick Lewis is not a martial artist, but rather a barroom brawler who trains MMA. The fact that he’s been able to get this far in his combat sports career is astonishing but also indicative of how stale the UFC heavyweight division has become after years of recycling the same top contenders. To his credit, Lewis is incredibly agile for a fighter of his size and he packs a wallop, which continues to be the great equalizer against more skilled opponents. Go back and look at his last 10 fights and try to find an impressive performance. Lewis scored four knockouts but he was losing all four of those fights before landing the big punch, including last August’s finish over Alexey Oleynik. Prior to that were a pair of dreadful — and very close — decision wins over Ilir Latifi and Blagoy Ivanov, two super tough guys but c’mon, let’s get real, he melts in the face of superior technique. Both Junior dos Santos and Daniel Cormier exposed “Black Beast” for exactly what he is and don’t get me wrong, he’s wildly entertaining and a reliable source for heavyweight highlight reels, but we aren’t weighing his merits as a fan favorite, we’re trying to build a case for his victory against Curtis Blaydes.

That’s proving to be a tough sell when you look at what Blaydes has done to the bulk of the heavyweight division. Unlike Lewis, “Razor” does not fall behind on the scorecards and Hail Mary his way out of trouble. Instead, he dominates from bell-to-bell and takes high-level strikers like Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt — two heavyweight who smashed Lewis — and turns them inside out. If you want to lodge a complaint against Blaydes you can say his style is boring and not be wrong, but at the same time he absorbs very little damage and fights to win. It’s a common gripe for high-level wrestlers and Blaydes captured an NJCAA national championship as a redshirt sophomore out of Harper College. Wrestling is one of the core foundations of MMA and like knockout power, it’s particularly potent at heavyweight. How do you stop a double-leg takedown from a 260-pound athlete barreling straight at you at full speed? And pretty or not, it’s hard to knock a guy like Blaydes for doing whatever it takes to work his way to a division title shot. We should acknowledge the pair of knockout losses to Francis Ngannou because they stick out like a sore thumb, though I’m not sure how crazy we wanna get over losing to “The Predator,” who is just straight-up murdering everyone at 265 pounds. Yes, Lewis holds a win over Ngannou, thanks to a 15-minute staring contest that saw the Cameroonian land a whopping 11 strikes.

Lewis does not have a particularly nuanced striking attack and any wrestling advantage he held against other combatants has been neutralized against Blaydes. That means “Black Beast” will have to follow the blueprint laid by Ngannou and strike from the hot balls of his feet so that he doesn’t get caught flat-footed and driven into the mat. It’s certainly possible ... but plausible? Blaydes has the highest takedown percentage in the division, a staggering 6.98 per fight with a 55% accuracy rating, even hitting double digits against Mark Hunt and Alexander Volkov. It’s always risky betting against a slugger like Lewis who continues to prove he can never be counted out, I just have a hard time picking him for the upset when he routinely struggles against opponents who are smaller and less talented than Blaydes. And that’s before we even talk about his rapidly shrinking gas tank, which is so small it could be sponsored by Briggs & Stratton. Assuming “Razor” doesn’t start to get comfortable and coast, I would expect him to grind Lewis into exhaustion and pound on him until the referee mercifully intervenes. Somewhere in the third round sounds about right.

Prediction: Blaydes def. Lewis by technical knockout

185 lbs.: Anthony Smith vs. Devin Clark

Anthony “Lionheart” Smith

Record: 33-16 | Age: 32 | Betting line: -140
Wins: 18 KO/TKO, 13 SUB, 2 DEC | Losses: 9 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 3 DEC
Height: 6’4“ | Reach: 76” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.97 | Striking accuracy: 46%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 4.43 | Striking Defense: 42%
Takedown Average: 0.41 (25% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 51%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Aleksandar Rakic

Devin “Brown Bear” Clark

Record: 12-4 | Age: 32 | Betting line: +120
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 6’0“ | Reach: 75” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.40 | Striking accuracy: 57%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.47 | Striking Defense: 48%
Takedown Average: 2.76 (36% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 83%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Alonzo Menifield

Anthony Smith is in that weird grey area where we’re trying to decide if he was great and simply fell off the athletic cliff, or was never really that good to begin with and just happened to have a torrid run at exactly the right time. This fight will no doubt help us pick one scenario over the other. I will say that his victories over Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Volkan Oezdemir have not aged very well, especially when you consider where those fighters ended up in the 205-pound division. And we may as well add Alexander Gustafsson to that list, who looks completely lost after losing to Jon Jones for a second time. The good news is that Smith is still just 32 and has finally put some distance between the multiple hand surgeries that nearly cost him a finger. One of “Lionheart’s” most impressive stats comes by way of his insane finishing rate: 31 stoppages in 33 wins. But you know what they say about living by the sword, which is why Smith has also been finished in 13 of 16 losses. Great for the Just Bleed’rs, not-so-great for his longterm health.

No question Devin Clark knows what he’s up against coming into what is his highest-profile fight to date. “Brown Bear” migrated to UFC after racking up six straight wins on the regional circuit — four of them for Resurrection Fighting Alliance — but got stiffened in his Octagon debut back in summer 2016. Since then, Clark has been consistently inconsistent and his UFC record stands at a ho-hum 6-4. I should also point out that all six wins were the result of unanimous decisions while all four losses have by way of knockout or submission. Against Smith, Clark will attempt to win three straight for the first time under the Endeavor umbrella and build on his recent preliminary card victory at UFC 250. I know the new trend is to compete at your natural weight, but at 6’0” and no finishes in his UFC career, I’m starting to wonder if “Brown Bear” would have been better off sticking to the middleweight division. Perhaps he’ll answer that for us when the action comes to a halt this weekend in “Sin City.”

To be honest, I’m a little surprised the odds are this close. Smith hasn’t been lighting the world on fire in recent fights but one thing he has been doing is fighting the best light heavyweights in the world. His last three losses came against Jon Jones and the No. 1 and No. 4-ranked title contenders. Prior to that, he was defeated by the No. 2-ranked Thiago Santos. Clark has yet to beat anyone in the Top 15 which makes it even more worrisome that he’s yet to score a finish inside the Octagon. A win is a win, yes, but I’m not breaking out the party hats for unanimous decision victories over Dequan Townsend and Alonzo Menifield, who are a combined 2-6 under the UFC banner. Smith is a prolific finisher, has big-game experience, and is facing an opponent who hasn’t done anything to write home about. As far as I’m concerned, this is “Lionheart’s” fight to lose.

Prediction: Smith def. Clark by submission

Remember, the rest of the UFC Vegas 15 main card predictions are RIGHT HERE.

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 15 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+/ESPN2 preliminary card bouts at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+/ESPN2 main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 15 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete UFC Vegas 15 fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.