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UFC Vegas 19 in-depth: Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis forced to tread water ... indefinitely

Looking passed the usual ranking implications, predictions, and week-to-week momentum shifts ...

UFC Fight Night: Blaydes v Volkov Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

The Heavyweight division has never been one for change.

Take a look at the roster and rankings, and many of the same faces have stuck around for more than a decade. Prospects come, sure, but they go just as often. Even the ones who stick around to become well-known and established veterans tend to find one successful strategy and stick to it forever.

Andrei Arlovski fights this weekend, and he’s won three of his last four after going on multiple seemingly career-ending losing streaks. At this point, Arlovski has a fair-to-decent chance of out-lasting Junior dos Santos on UFC’s roster, yet “Cigano” made his professional debut roughly the same month as Arlovski lost his UFC strap all the way back in 2006.

In short, you will not find a more static division.

What does that mean for Saturday’s main event, a battle between two veteran Heavyweights ranked inside the Top 5? Specifically, it’s a wrestler versus striker match up, as the best young wrestler among the big men, Curtis Blaydes, will challenge the man who has scored the most knockouts in the knockout division, Derrick Lewis.

The bout was supposed to go down back in Nov. 2020, but a positive COVID-19 test from Blaydes delayed the affair. (Un)Fortunately, the four-month delay doesn’t matter a bit, as the division has yet to move forward in any meaningful way.

Aside from a paycheck, victory gains neither man much of anything. Stipe Miocic will defend his title vs. Francis Ngannou at UFC 260, and supposedly the winner will square off win Jon Jones in the summer — an optimistic schedule. Based on past defenses of the Heavyweight crown, we can expect at least six months delay between each defense, which schedules the next available title fight for men like Blaydes and Lewis somewhere around ... March 2022?

That’s barring any COVID-19 delays or instant rematches.

Blaydes rides a four-fight win streak. He’s dominated every opponent barring Ngannou, who is responsible for his two career losses. “Razor” has yet to turn 30, and he’s very likely going to be a long-term title threat.

To score his first title shot, however, Blaydes will likely end up needing six or seven victories in a row. That’s an unreasonable challenge when the UFC Heavyweight win streak record stands at nine (held by “JDS”), and everyone hits plenty hard. Even as there are no more rungs above him on the division climb, Blaydes will be forced to turn away dangerous fighters.

Lewis is the perfect example, the perfect fight for Blaydes to show his talents and still lose. On one hand, Lewis is absolutely wrestle-able. Blaydes will surely land a half-dozen takedowns in the opening two rounds, suplex Lewis at some point, and generally make “The Black Beast” look very tired.

However, it is hard to throw around 260 pounds of Texan. Dating all the way back to his regional career and knockout of three-time D1 All-American wrestler Jared Rosholt, Lewis has excelled at destroying tired wrestlers. It doesn’t matter if he’s exhausted, too, Lewis will rally the energy to brutalize his heavy-breathing foe.

Indeed, Blaydes has to stay sharp for 25 full minutes.

A dangerous fight for a top prospect and contender who gains almost nothing from it — that’s the modern Heavyweight division. Until the belt does not have an extended queue, athletes like Blaydes and Lewis will be forced to tread water indefinitely for any hope of a title shot.

Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 19 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 19: “Blaydes vs. Lewis” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.