Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight contenders Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes will clash TONIGHT (Sat., Feb. 20, 2021) inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Lewis is a man with several traits that standout in the Heavyweight division: the ability to generate power while fatigued, stand up from beneath opponents almost at will, and fight multiple times per year consistently. As a result, Lewis has seen ups-and-downs in his UFC career, but “Black Beast” has fought for the title once before ... and he may just do it again. Blaydes is in an unenviable position, a dangerous contender without much name power. He’s pretty much dominated every opponent aside from Francis Ngannou, who remains the sole reason “Blaydes” is without a title shot. Until the division sorts itself out, Blaydes just has to keep building his win streak against tough opposition.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Francis Ngannou (UFC 226), Alexander Volkov (UFC 229), Aleksei Oleinik (UFC Vegas 6), Blagoy Ivanov (UFC 244), Marcin Tybura (UFC Fight Night 126), Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC Fight Night 102)
Key Losses: Daniel Cormier (UFC 230), Junior dos Santos (UFC Fight Night 146), Mark Hunt (UFC Fight Night 110), Shawn Jordan (UFC Fight Night 68)
Keys to Victory: Lewis is a bruiser. There’s nothing particularly complicated about what Lewis does in the cage, forcing foes into exhaustion then capitalizing with powerful swings. Lewis has leaned out a bit in the last year or so, which seems to be helping him maintain a higher pace.
Against Blaydes, the path to victory is clear, though it may not be fun. Lewis has five rounds to secure one of his infamous come-from-behind knockout wins. Blaydes will almost surely wrestle him to the mat early on, at which point Lewis’ goal is to make his opponent work and create opportunities to land big.
Lewis’ habit of “just standing up” will work to an extent, but hand-fighting is a major key here. If Lewis powers his way to a stand up, but Blaydes is allowed to keep his hands locked around the waist or in two-on-one on a wrist, Lewis is getting thrown right back down. That’s helpful for tiring his foe, but it will fatigue Lewis, too.
Instead, Lewis has to really focus on separating his opponent’s grip then controlling one of those hands before standing up. Controlling a hand would greatly increase the odds that Lewis fully frees himself from the grasp of his foe, which subsequently means Blaydes must either 1) strike with Lewis or 2) at least work much harder to ground him.
Record: 14-2 (1)
Key Wins: Alexander Volkov (UFC on ESPN 11), Alistair Overeem (UFC 225), Junior dos Santos (UFC Fight Night 166), Mark Hunt (UFC 221), Aleksei Oleinik (UFC 217), Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC 242)
Key Losses: Francis Ngannou (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86)
Keys to Victory: Blaydes already has one hell of a resume, and he built it on the strength of his wrestling. Blaydes can blast opponents off their feet, chain wrestle along the cage, and has a slew of mat returns in his arsenal, which makes him very capable of overwhelming the defenses of most of his peers.
Before diving toward the legs, I’d like to see Blaydes fire some punches. He’s got a seriously long reach with real power in his right hand, and he’s only growing more fluid. If Blaydes can stun Lewis with a clean punch early, he may just be able to finish him, and should Lewis prove durable, it will at least help him set up takedowns.
In top position, the end goal should be taking Lewis’ back. As Daniel Cormier demonstrated. Lewis may be able to explode to his feet a few times, but committed mat returns will slow that approach. In that case, Lewis is more vulnerable as he goes to stand, and the choke becomes available.
Blaydes is a big man. He has the size, strength and skill necessary to throw in hooks from the turtle and flatten his foe out. If he can take the back of a man built like Mark Hunt, he can very likely do the same to Lewis.
A submission in the first 15 minutes ends any chance of a last-second rally.
The Heavyweight title picture is still a mess.
In fact, I wrote an entire article on just how stuck in place the victor of this fight is right here. The short of it, however, is that with both Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones in line ahead of tonight’s victor, the winning man is still likely at least a year away from potentially fighting for the belt. There’s really nothing to do but keeping winning fights and hope to be in the best possible position whenever the title settles, and opportunities actually open up.
That is a silver lining for the defeated fighter. Sure, he loses out on the (nonexistent) immediate title shot, but he likely has a full year (or longer) to build a new win streak and return to the title mix.
Heavyweight! It’s the division with no consequences (besides potential brain damage).
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.
At UFC Vegas 19, Derrick Lewis and Curtis Blaydes will finally throw down. Which man will earn the victory?