As the heavyweight title picture has spiced itself up with the insertion of Jon Jones into the equation, the UFC Vegas 15 main event looks to throw a spanner in the works.
With Stipe Miocic likely to fight Francis Ngannou in his next title defence and Jones looking to bulk up before entering the match-making process, both Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis are hopeful that a win over one another this weekend can jump them up the queue to next in line.
Blaydes is currently on a four-fight win streak with wins over Alexander Volkov, Junior Dos Santos, Shamil Abdurakhimov and Justin Willis since he was knocked out in the first round by Ngannou back in November 2018.
Lewis himself is on a three-fight win streak having beaten Aleksei Oleinik, Blagoy Ivanov and Ilir Latifi since back-to-back defeats to Junior Dos Santos and Daniel Cormier in his heavyweight title shot in November 2018 also.
It’s a true match up of opposing styles too. Blaydes is a wrestle-heavy fighter who holds the record for the most takedowns in heavyweight history. Once opponents hit the ground with Blaydes on top of them, they rarely get back and often get blasted with some of the most violent ground and pound in the sport.
On the feet though, Lewis is one of the most powerful punchers the heavyweight division has seen. He carries that power throughout an entire fight, as his knockout win over Volkov with 11 seconds left of the final round proves.
While Blaydes has never been afforded the chance to fight for the title, Lewis knows what that feels like. He also knows, that against a wrestler as dominant as Blaydes he will have his work cut out.
We’ve seen on several occasions that Lewis can’t fight off his back and often looks to explode to his feet using raw power rather than technique. Against the best wrestlers, that’s unlikely to be effective though. Daniel Cormier was able to dominate Lewis for a a round-and-a-half before submitting him and Blaydes is as good as wrestler and arguably more aggressive with his style.
Lewis will take encouragement from the fact that Blaydes’ two defeats in the UFC were to power puncher Ngannou, who Lewis defeated in one of the worst fights ever. But it was the big power of Ngannou that sopped Blaydes in just 45 seconds of their second bout, while a cut opened up by his striking is what stopped their first fight.
Both fighters know that while the fight is on the feet, it’s Lewis’ to lose but should Blaydes get the fight down it’s as good as over for the ‘Black Beast’.
Regardless of how the fight goes, a win for either fighter throws them up to the head of the queue to fight either the winner of the Miocic/Ngannou bout or be the fighter to welcome Jon Jones to the division.
That’s not only where the money is but it’s also where the challenge and the legacy lies too.