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UFC Vegas 19 preview, ‘Blaydes vs Lewis’ predictions

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UFC 213: Romero v Whittaker Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will eliminate one top heavyweight contender from the 265-pound title chase when No. 2-ranked Curtis Blades goes to war against No. 5-ranked Derrick Lewis in the UFC Vegas 19 main event this Sat. night (Feb. 20, 2021) inside APEX center streaming entirely on the ESPN+ digital network.

Headlining the UFC Vegas 19 fight card, which airs exclusively on ESPN+, 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, women’s bantamweight veterans Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya hook ‘em up for a chance to break into the division Top 5.

Before we dive into the main and co-main events, be sure to check out the complete UFC Vegas 19 preliminary card breakdown expertly deconstructed by Patrick Stumberg here and 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: -450
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: +350
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

135 lbs.: Ketlen Vieira vs. Yana Kunitskaya

Ketlen “Fenomeno” Vieira

Record: 11-1 | Age: 29 | Betting line: -265
Wins: 2 KO/TKO, 4 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’8“ | Reach: 68” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.10 | Striking accuracy: 36%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.98 | Striking Defense: 56%
Takedown Average: 2.02 (52% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 92%
Current Ranking: No. 6 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Sijara Eubanks

Yana “Foxy” Kunitskaya

Record: 13-5 (1 NC) | Age: 31 | Betting line: +225
Wins: 7 KO/TKO, 1 SUB, 5 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 2 SUB, 1 DEC
Height: 5’6“ | Reach: 68” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 4.49 | Striking accuracy: 54%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.17 | Striking Defense: 51%
Takedown Average: 2.04 (53% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 33%
Current Ranking: No. 7 | Last fight: Unanimous decision win over Julija Stoliarenko

I don’t think anyone is breaking out the party hats for a bantamweight co-main event between Ketlen Vieira and Yana Kunitskaya but to be fair, this is the fight that makes the most sense for the division and could determine which one of these 135-pound contenders positions themselves for a spot in the Top 5. Besides, we can’t complain about dopey, nonsensical matchups that damage the integrity of divisions then whine when matchmakers play it by the book. Vieira is ranked one spot above Kunitskaya at No. 6 and I’m a fan of any bout that helps produce a title challenger not named Germaine de Randamie or Holly Holm.

Vieira was positioned to make a run at the bantamweight belt but lost all of her momentum when Irene Aldana turned off the lights at UFC 245. Fortunately for the Brazilian, the promotion was quick to get her back in the cage at UFC 253, where “Fenomeno” returned to form against the rough-and-tumble Sijara Eubanks. Vieira is now 5-1 under the UFC banner with victories over a pair of ex-title contenders in the form of Cat Zingano and Sara McMann. I know those names have not held up over time, but we can’t punish Vieira for the state of the union — she can only work with the materials she’s given.

Kunitskaya had the unenviable task of making her UFC debut against Cris Cyborg at 145 pounds, but after shaking off her drubbing to the since-banished Brazilian, “Foxy” went on to win three of her next four. Getting planished by fellow contender Aspen Ladd was a huge setback and even though Kunitskaya was able to bounce back with a decision win over Julija Stoliarenko, a loss to Vieira will all but eliminate her from future title consideration. I don’t know if those kinds of stakes will help or hamper the Invicta import, but this fight will show us what’s she’s made of — for better or worse.

Oddsmakers have Kunitskaya as a sizable underdog despite their proximity in the division rankings and that’s because Vieira is considered to be a rising star (despite a minor speed bump) whereas “Foxy” is graded as an inconsistent veteran who performed well enough in recent years to “hang in there.” Based on what I’ve seen thus far, I’m not sure Kunitskaya is going to do enough to counter that assessment when the cage door closes tomorrow night in “Sin City.”

Prediction: Vieira def. Kunitskaya by unanimous decision

MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 19 fight card tomorrow night, starting with the ESPN+ preliminary card bouts at 5 p.m. ET, followed by the ESPN+ main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 19 news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete “Blaydes vs. Lewis” fight card and ESPN+ lineup click here.