There are complaints that the heavyweight division lacks in new blood, yet fans ignore it when it shows up.
It seems that unless a fighter has a storied pedigree or one-punch knockout power, they never get the spotlight they deserve. Yet Curtis Blaydes has snuck into the top #5 and more than deserves his spot.
I managed to get a hold of him, and he was kind enough to let me pick his brain.
The freak wrestler
While MMA fans (rightfully) drool over the wrestling of Cain Velasquez and Stipe Miocic, Blaydes is a beast in his own right. We started out chatting about his win over Hunt and his thoughts on how the fight went. Immediately, Blaydes’ honesty produced a gem.
“I was a little surprised how much easier it was to take him down after the initial couple attempts. It got progressively easier, so I was a little surprised.”
Hunt isn’t the king of anti-wrestlers, but he’s more difficult to ground than people give him credit for. After a horrid UFC debut against Sean McCorkle, the only fighters to reliably take him down were Miocic and Brock Lesnar. So Blaydes joins the company of the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, and a military experiment run amok. Furthermore, the first major takedown happened right after Blaydes absorbed tremendous damage. We thought he’d been knocked unconscious, and changed our mind when the fight hit the ground. It turns out, we were right the first time.
“I’m not gonna lie, I watched the highlight a million times and I don’t remember that. That was muscle memory.”
I’m sorry, Curtis Blaydes trains so hard that he can land counter-takedowns while unconscious? That’s Japanese anime level of crazy. A lot of fighters make the claim that they can’t be knocked out. Well, knocking Curtis Blaydes out may not be enough.
The humble beast
Believe it or not, Blaydes is the youngest heavyweight in the top #10. But when asked about his next fight, he deviated from the usual script.
“I’m not gonna do that, I haven’t earned the right. Just because I beat Mark Hunt doesn’t mean I have the right to call out other legends . . . I don’t have the right to call out Cain Velasquez, a former UFC heavyweight champion. Or Alistair, or Werdum, or even Ngannou. He’s already had a title shot, that puts them higher than me right now. I don’t have a right to call out anyone right now.”
It was so surprising that it actually eliminated the follow-up question of whether he’d want to rematch Ngannou. It’s rare to see so much humility in an up-and-comer. He’s not pulling any punches when assessing his own talent though.
“. . . I feel comfortable going against any one of those guys, my game plan doesn’t change. I’m gonna box and I’m gonna wrestle. I’m the better wrestler in every matchup.”
Considering that Cain hasn’t fought in two years, it might just be true.
The team player
Deciding to have some fun after all the serious talk, I wanted to know who Blaydes wishes he could fight like. I was fully prepared to hear him reference a heavyweight striker like Mirko Cro Cop or maybe even Junior Dos Santos, and instead got a healthy surprise.
“Corey Sandhagen . . . he made his UFC debut a couple of weeks before my fight on the Jacare vs. Brunson card. He just went out there and dismantled his guy. A jab into the liver punch, the way he does it and sets it up its a simple combo but he makes it look effortless and beautiful. That’s the one I want.”
That’s some solid advertising; after the interview ended, I immediately searched for the Sandhagen fight. It’s exactly as he described: a jab into a surgical liver shot. And I’ll be damned if I’m not looking forward to his next fight.
Talented and powerful but humble and easy to talk to, Blaydes is a shot of adrenaline to a division that seemingly had a one-way ticket to a retirement home. Keep your eyes peeled, this “razor blayde” is sharp.