For the first time in a long time, Heavyweight prospects are in vogue. Heavyweight has long been the division of the same five dudes for 10-20 years, but that trend finally seems to be bucking. Men like Ciryl Gane, Tom Aspinall and even Tai Tuivasa are on their way up the rankings, disposing of the familiar faces many of us have known for years. Even as the oldest and most accomplished of the bunch, champion Francis Ngannou is also part of this wave.
For the most part, the current crop of young Heavyweight talent has been instant gratification. Gane pops up on the “Prelims,” then two years later he has an interim belt. Aspinall and Tuivasa tend to win inside the opening seven minutes. “The Predator” had a run where he won four fights in a grand total of roughly 180 seconds.
Curtis Blaydes isn’t that guy. He’s never finished an opponent in the first round in the UFC. Though he still stops his opponents more often than not in victory, a few wrestling-heavy grind matches have given Blaydes a bit of a reputation for lay-and-pray.
I won’t pretend Blaydes has never held someone down and counted on the “control” portion of the scoring criteria to win fights, but what’s often missed in this narrative is his consistent improvement. Blaydes is not a natural kickboxing prodigy, nor does he have the type of innate aggressiveness that can otherwise make one an instant knockout threat.
That’s okay, though. Blaydes doesn’t have to be either of those things, not when he’s got plenty of other gifts in the striking department. For example, Blaydes certainly does hit very hard, and though he’s been knocked out by likely the two heaviest hitters in the division’s history, the man still has a cinderblock of a chin.
Most importantly, Blaydes is a student of the game. Since his first punches thrown in the Octagon, Blaydes has tried to do things the right way. He hasn’t tried to overwhelm opponents with his 255-pound, 6’4” frame. No, Blaydes has tried to jab, feint, move his feet, and set up combinations.
Early on, it’s harder than not to fight technically, particularly when one’s opponents are firing desperate, wild power punches. It’s difficult to look crisp in the face of chaos — much easier to turn to the takedown when things get hairy.
Fortunately, Blaydes’ hustle pays off more and more each year. The first big sign of success came against Junior dos Santos, whom Blaydes melted without really taking down, but that win was somewhat written off due to the Brazilian’s wear-and-tear. There’s no such argument against Daukaus, a fresh young face with the ability to rack up quick finishes.
Part of the reason why Blaydes was able to look so sharp against Daukaus was that the jiu-jitsu black belt also tries to fight technically. He works at range, sets up his shots, and chases angles. It’s a style Blaydes understands, and so it’s one he felt comfortable in engaging Daukaus.
Daukaus rose to prominence as a rangy power puncher, and Blaydes just put him down hard in that realm. It’s proof of Blaydes’ improvement, as well as direct evidence that Blaydes’ longer road to development is going to pay off in a big way. At some point, everything is really going to click, and Blaydes’ abilities are likely to skyrocket.
That’s a problem, seeing as he’s already ranked inside the Top Five while in development.
For complete UFC Columbus: “Blaydes vs. Daukaus” results and play-by-play, click HERE.