Staff Predictions: Curtis Blaydes vs. Sergei Pavlovich | UFC Vegas 71 1

UFC Vegas 71 is set to feature a thrilling heavyweight showdown between Curtis “Razor” Blaydes and Sergei Pavlovich this Saturday night.

The main event bout has the potential for an explosive finish, as Blaydes, a top-ranked heavyweight known for his elite wrestling skills and devastating ground and pound, will face off against the ferocious striking power of Pavlovich, who has been making waves with a series of first-round knockout victories.

In this article, our staff members provide their predictions and analysis for this high-stakes fight. Will Blaydes leverage his wrestling prowess to neutralize Pavlovich’s striking, or will Pavlovich’s heavy hands prove to be Blaydes’ kryptonite once again? Read on to find out what our experts think.

Betting Odds

Curtis Blaydes is the favorite ahead of the UFC Vegas 71 main event.

At these odds, a bet of $175 on Blaydes would yield a profit of $100 if he wins, while a bet of $100 on Pavlovich would yield a profit of $136 if he emerges victorious.

The odds reflect the general consensus that Blaydes has a higher probability of winning due to his wrestling skills and well-rounded abilities. However, with Pavlovich’s dangerous striking power, an upset is always a possibility, making the underdog bet an attractive option for those who believe in his knockout potential.

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Staff Predictions

Braeden Arbour

This fight will act as a very big test for both men, Pavlovich has yet to see a second round let alone a fifth in his UFC career and Blaydes is likely the best wrestler at 265 lbs. On the other hand, the one kryptonite for Blades has been the heaviest hitters who can stand their ground and counter him with power, Pavlovich has only avoided the second round due to his monstrous KO ability.

For Blaydes, he has to sell himself as a striker to Pavlovich to open up the level change. His striking has improved in droves over his last few performances, at one point being a fighter who struggled with taking strikes and keeping composure, Blaydes has looked his best over the last year, showing very good head movement and an ability to fight behind his jab and set up his right hand. His reach of 80 inches has largely made this easier, being able to stick and pull back with his right hand high to avoid the counters opposite shorter fighters like Chris Daukuas and Jairzinho Rozenstruik but Pavlovich will actually hold the advantage in reach at 84 inches.

Pavlovich is the more experienced striker, with a tad more power and accuracy. What Pavlovich does so well is he will pressure forward without overdoing his output, he can be patient when he needs to and pick his moments to explode and unleash. He will throw a sharp jab to check hook combinations and also likes to overwhelm his opponents with a barrage of overhand rights and hooks to get them ducking. When their posture breaks, he throws an uppercut down that center channel. As good as Blaydes has gotten in his striking, he is still an instinctual wrestler, and if they collide and Pavlovich gets off the harder shots, we could see Blaydes react with a level change, at which point the timing of that uppercut becomes very important and potentially fight ending.

To get the fight to the floor, Blaydes should get Pavlovich respecting his strikes, and when he comes forward, meet the hips and drive Pavlovich back. The Russian has shown impressive takedown defense thus far, albeit against far less respected wrestlers and in very little octagon time. He also tends to keep his hips in a very good position even when he is throwing shots so the drive-through on Blaydes double leg has to be point. Pavlovich has finished or been finished in the first round in every one of his UFC fights but was coming off of a five-round unanimous decision prior to that in Fight Night Global. He can go 25 minutes but it’s a step up against the level of competition that is Curtis Blaydes, therefore Blaydes should look to drag him deep into the fight, especially via wrestling exchanges. Blaydes has the most devastating elbows from the op half-guard, but it all comes back to finding that takedown safely.

At the end of the day, this is a very difficult fight that could swing either way. Blaydes has been working on his striking relentlessly and it shows but once hurt, a lot of times we see long-time wrestlers revert back to old habits. I think that even if they have competitive exchanges, Pavlovich is much more likely to hurt Blaydes, and then his ability to read positions and be so accurate with his punches can catch Blaydes trying to move in on the legs. Therefore I think it’s a good value to go with the underdog Pavlovich.

Pick: Sergei Pavlovich to win (+136)

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Michael Pounders

Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, Curtis “Razor” Blaydes has been a top 5 ranked heavyweight for years but has yet to hold the gold. Blaydes is a powerful and highly skilled wrestler, has devastating ground and pound (hence his nickname describing his elbows), and has shown recent improvements with his hands. Infamously, Blaydes has beaten every archetype of heavyweight except one: fighters with top-tier power.

Throughout his successful career, Blaydes has been able to out-wrestle and often finish athletic kickboxers, fighters who tip the scales at 260 pounds, other credentialed wrestlers, and well-rounded fighters who also have stayed atop the mountain for years. However, the 3 times Blaydes has faced elite-level power, he has lost and lost by finish. To his credit, it has truly taken the elite of the elite power to beat him – Francis Ngannou twice and Derrick Lewis once. Everyone else, Blaydes has beaten.

His typical path to victory, unsurprising given he fights out of Team Elevation, is to strike behind an intelligent jab and leg kick early in round 1. He uses those range strikes to keep opponents off of him while also giving them things to think about near their head and legs, thereby exposing what Blaydes is truly hunting: the hips. Once an opponent starts to counter strike or backpedal from his volume, they often leave their hips exposed. In an instant, Blaydes exploits the opening and explodes into a single or double-leg takedown.

Blaydes’ background is in college wrestling, where he was an NJCAA champion on the mat. Blaydes brings that same style and tenacity into the octagon. Once he gets an opponent down, the round typically ends with him on top, either because the clock hit 0:00 or Blaydes found the finish. Blaydes has incredible top pressure and smoothly advances position, typically looking for side control or mount. Once in position, “Razor” truly earns his nickname and rains heavy elbows down on his opponent. Once he starts, the only way he stops is via finish or the round ending.

Pavlovich seemingly came out of nowhere and stepped into stardom following five straight first-round knockout wins. He dropped his debut, also via RD1 knockout, and the criticism was that while the power is evident, Pavlovich is too unrefined on the feet to truly inflict damage. That criticism is still partially prevalent, Pavlovich is still unrefined on the feet but he has no issue inflicting damage despite it.

All of Pavlovich’s UFC fights have ended in the 1st round, and only 2 have gone longer than 90 seconds. He looks to devastatingly finish the fight from the opening minute. His wild style, almost windmill-like striking at times, combined with his otherworldly power has earned him a nickname among social media pundits: The Russian Francis. Upon first seeing this, I was skeptical to believe anyone could ever match the unique power and athleticism of the former UFC champion; but, with back-to-back 60-second knockouts of highly ranked opponents, that nickname is looking less like a joke and more like a prophecy.

Pavlovich’s striking is wild, his gas tank is unproven in the UFC, and he has yet to show, or need, a game plan beyond brawling. As all of those questions remained unanswered, they create doubt in the minds of gamblers and provide hope for opponents to find a path to victory. But, the one answer Pavlovich can continue to turn to is if he hits someone, they rarely get back up.

This fight should be a dominant win one way or the other. Blaydes could take Pavlovich down and should be able to finish him on the mat. Conversely, Pavlovich falls into the category of elite power puncher that has been Blaydes’ only Achilles Heel and The Russian Francis could earn his 6th straight knockout win.

In either case, I expect one of these fighters to implement their game plan early and end the fight soon after. Therefore, my best bet is u1.5 rounds at a -160. As far as a straight bet, though, I like the underdog in Pavlovich to keep Blaydes from a shot at the belt once again. And, if you’re backing Pavlovich, his best path is an early finish which also gets you a juicier line compared to his money line.

Best Bets: u1.5 (-160) and Pavlovich in round 1 (+335)

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Joe Pounders

With Francis Ngannou no longer on the UFC roster, Sergei Pavlovich is inserted as the most feared power threat currently fighting in the heavyweight division. Contenders for this position, Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa, were dismantled by Pavlovich in his two most recent fights, finishing both inside the first minute of the fight, thus making him the top dog when it comes to heavyweight power threat.

Knowing the quick finishing from Pavlovich is not only a possibility, but a recent reality, it comes to little surprise to know that Pavlovich fights with explosion, and when someone of his size comes forward with a blitz, very few can weather that storm. Moreover, Pavlovich has shown that the blitz does not need to happen within the first 60 seconds of the fight, as he has had some bouts where he fought patiently, and then out of almost nowhere, blitzed for a KO victory.

The style of using immense power, elite heavyweight size and strength, and a blitz-like attack have been a proven line of success, most recently by Francis Ngannou. But, with this style, there have been notable flaws once fighting an opponent who has the wherewithal to weather the first blitz, and if done, finding a second method of victory is needed – Ngannou lost to Stipe and Lewis in back-to-back fights which showed him needing additive skills to his game, and after those loses he went on a 6-fight streak of dominance. So, while the first-round finishing of Pavlovich is indeed a strong possibility, it will be interesting to see if he has learned from Francis, and has thus formed alternate skills to win outside of round one.

On paper, Blaydes’ style is the perfect style to combat the immense power threat of Pavlovich. This is because Blaydes has legitimate heavyweight size, threatening enough power to bring caution to a blitz-opponent, and most importantly, elite wrestling to shoot a takedown once the power is blitzed towards him. But, the lone style that has caused Blaydes issue is immense power, as his lone three losses were KO finishes, one by Derrick Lewis and two by Francis Ngannou. So, somewhat similarly to Pavlovich learning from the history of Ngannou, it will be interesting to see if Blaydes has learned from his previous defeats, if so, he can certainly win and contend for a title. This positive ability is formulated to the above skills, particularly highlighting his elite wrestling, as he has shown the ability to not only take down large heavyweights but also, keep them on the mat while landing slicing “Razor Blaydes” elbows. So, if he can weather the power storm, he can certainly secure a dominating victory, likely resulting from his elite wrestling.

This fight is incredibly interesting given the historical lessons each can learn from. From a predictive lens, many handicappers will likely note it will be a Pavolovich finish or a Blaydes win, and many, as myself will too, go one step further by saying it will either be a Pavolovich first-round KO (+350 price) or Blaydes win (-160 price). While the price is right on Pavolovich in Rd1, I believe the probability of the outcome is in Blaydes’ favor given he has been in the ring to learn from the historical pitfalls compared to Pavolovich needing to learn from the Francis blueprint compared to his own hurdles. Given this experience in loss accompanied by Blaydes being the more well-rounded fighter with underappreciated power in his own right, I am electing to go with him here in this fight against the most fearful opponent one could potentially bet against. Because I am going against the threat, I will go one step further and choose Blaydes ITD given his fight-ending ability on the feet, and more importantly, the ability to find a finish on the mat when Pavolovich will likely be drug into deep waters for the first time if taken to the mat.

Pick: Blaydes to win inside the distance (-110)

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