Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight contenders Curtis Blaydes and Sergei Pavlovich will go to war TONIGHT (Sat., April 22, 2023) at UFC Vegas 71 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
This main event could really decide the future of the Heavyweight division. After all, Francis Ngannou is gone, Stipe Miocic will be 41 years of age by the time he fights again, and Jon Jones is talking about retirement on Twitter. Blaydes and Pavlovich, meanwhile, are both in their early 30s and riding significant win streaks. The victor here isn’t just set up for a title shot, he will stand out as one of the true favorites to be champion in the next few years.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Record: 17-3 (1)
Key Wins: Tom Aspinall (UFC London), Jairzinho Rozenstruik (UFC 266), Alexander Volkov (UFC on ESPN 11), Alistair Overeem (UFC 225), Junior dos Santos (UFC Fight Night 166), Mark Hunt (UFC 221)
Key Losses: Francis Ngannou (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86), Derrick Lewis (UFC Vegas 19)
Keys to Victory: Blaydes is the Heavyweight division’s best wrestler by a country mile. His kickboxing has steadily improved over the years, and now he looks to be a real threat with his hands as well.
Making good choices is the primary key for Blaydes here. Obviously, the end goal here is to wrestle, but as the Derrick Lewis loss demonstrated, it only takes one bad decision to throw away a winnable fight. Pavlovich has the power to make him pay, so Blaydes absolutely has to be on point.
Establishing the jab feels like the best path for Blaydes. He’s got a nice, snappy jab and long arms, and having a distance tool will help keep Pavlovich from swarming him with the right hand. More accurately, it will make it more obvious when Pavlovich wants to swarm, as ducking under the right would be a great time to shoot ... provided it’s not an uppercut.
Taking a page from Alistair Overeem, Blaydes’ former foe and team mate, would be wise too. Overeem found success with control and takedowns by clinching up, and that’s a viable way to wear Pavlovich down and take some of the sting off his swings.
Key Wins: Tai Tuivasa (UFC Orlando), Derrick Lewis (UFC 277), Shamil Abdurakhimov (UFC London), Maurice Greene (UFC Fight Night 162)
Key Losses: Alistair Overeem (UFC Fight Night 141)
Keys to Victory: Pavlovich has the most destructive right hand in the UFC right now. He does good work in mixing up the timing and angle to land that shot, but it really is the core of his game that carries him to so many knockout wins.
Pavlovich’s goal here is to time Blaydes, “Razor” has a really solid chin, but even so, it only takes one Pavlovich right hand to mess up that equilibrium and leave him very vulnerable. Historically, Blaydes takes his biggest shots when trying to close the distance, so a bit of additional patience from Pavlovich could go a long way.
Early on, Pavlovich should be showing the uppercut, giving Blaydes a reason to be wary of shooting. As he advances, sticking jabs and rights to the mid-section is a good idea. If he can put Blaydes in a vulnerable position — with his back along the fence, for example — then it’s more worth the risk of really committing to his favorite overhand.
Otherwise, keep threatening Blaydes and landing small shots, trusting that an opportunity to land huge will emerge.
This is a massive fight for the Heavyweight division.
The winner deserves a title shot, and there should be absolutely no arguing it. Hopefully, it comes against the victor of Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic sooner than later, but again, the potential for retirement for either man is high. Worst case, the belt ends up vacated, at which point the winner tonight is still highly deserving of a shot at it.
Defeat looks different for each man. Pavlovich hasn’t lost since his debut, so his momentum wouldn’t be too badly affected. Conversely, Blaydes has been at this contender game for a while, and a title shot has yet to emerge. To come up short here would be hugely frustrating, especially since UFC isn’t in a hurry to push him back to the title mix.
At UFC Vegas 71, Curtis Blaydes and Sergei Pavlovich will battle in the main event. Which Heavyweight remains standing when the dust settles?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 71 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance (also on ESPN+) at 7 p.m. ET.
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