Even with one of the best winning streaks in the heavyweight division, Curtis Blaydes is managing his expectations.
It’s hard to blame the 27-year-old contender, who gets a shot to avenge his lone professional loss when he meets Francis Ngannou in the main event of UFC Beijing on Saturday. A win would mean Blaydes is unbeaten in his last seven appearances, which would be a strong case for any fighter to get a title opportunity. However, given the drama brewing in his division, Blaydes isn’t holding his breath.
Current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is coming off of a dominant win over Derrick Lewis and its unclear what’s next for him. He currently holds the light heavyweight title as well (though that title is expected to be vacated and given to the winner of an upcoming rematch between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232), so a return to 205-pounds is not off the table, and then there’s the elephant in the room that is Brock Lesnar.
Immediately after Cormier defeated Stipe Miocic to win the heavyweight belt at UFC 226, he had an in-cage altercation with Lesnar, presumably to set up a future encounter between them. Lesnar, currently working for the WWE, has yet to commit to a UFC return and a potential bout with Cormier appears to be stuck in the negotiation stage.
That leaves a top contender like Blaydes in no man’s land for now and all he can do is focus on beating Ngannou and let his work speak for itself after that.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” Blaydes told Luke Thomas on The MMA Hour when asked where a win at UFC Beijing puts him in the contenders’ line. “There’s so many different variables. We previously stated Brock Lesnar’s in the mix, I’ve heard Jon Jones he might bump up to heavyweight so he’s in the mix, we’ve still got Stipe hanging around, he’s in the mix. So it’s a lot of variables.
“I haven’t really tried to project past this fight because I did that previously with the Alistair Overeem fight. I projected, ‘Oh, I beat Alistair, then I should be going after the belt.’ Especially after I watched Derrick Lewis vs. Ngannou, I didn’t think either one of them, after the second round, I didn’t believe either one of them deserved the title shot. Whoever won, I didn’t believe they deserved the title shot, so I was already in my head thinking I’m next. And then I get disappointed because I’m not next, so I just don’t want to do that to myself again. I’m just not going to project like that.”
Should Cormier’s dance card be officially filled soon, Blaydes does have another name in mind. He’s spoken before about wanting to fight Miocic, initially planning to welcome the former champ to Colorado (where Blaydes currently trains) at UFC Denver on Nov. 10, but Blaydes says that Miocic wasn’t interested.
That could change next year if both Blaydes and Miocic are forced to wait for the heavyweight title picture to clear up.
“I guess the plan would be to ask for Stipe,” Blaydes said. “If we get it, great, because if I beat him then there’s no denying me. But that’s only if he accepts the fight. If he doesn’t, I really don’t know. I’d have to talk to my manager, talk to my coaches, get their input and go from there. It’s just a weird situation to be in, like limbo.”
Blaydes has nothing but respect for Miocic, a fellow collegiate wrestler. He admitted Miocic had a strong case for a Cormier rematch and lamented the fact that “everyday fans don’t appreciate his game.” He also respects Miocic for not being an attention seeker.
The two previously trained together ahead of Miocic’s January 2014 bout with Gabriel Gonzaga, and that experience has made Blaydes confident that he could not only out-wrestle but also compete in the standup with the hard-hitting Miocic.
“My movement, my footwork, my headwork, my conditioning, I think that’s my greatest attribute is my conditioning,” Blaydes said when asked if he’d be comfortable striking with Miocic. “I’m here in Denver, I train at 5,500 feet every day. I believe I’m the best conditioned heavyweight in the division, so I believe eventually my right hand will find a home and I’ll be able to win the fight. That’s only if I couldn’t get the takedowns. I totally believe I can still get the takedown.
“I don’t know if you know, but I previously — back when I was an amateur, like five years ago — I was a part of Stipe’s camp for Gabriel Gonzaga and we sparred, we wrestled, and back then I could take him down. He would beat me on the feet, but the dump was always there. I was just trying to give him a good look on the feet, so I tried not to shoot too much, but whenever I did — not whenever, but a lot of the times when I did take a shot, I ended up getting it. I just didn’t know what to do with it, because he was better on the ground. But the skills I have now combined with the wrestling, I fully believe I would be able to get a takedown eventually and because I’m heavier than he is, he’d have to hold my weight, I know that would gas him out.”
If not Miocic and not Cormier, Blaydes won’t have too many options after taking out the likes of Overeem, Mark Hunt, and possibly Ngannou this weekend. Presented with the wild card option of a heavyweight Jon Jones, Blaydes was enthusiastic about the prospect of taking on the former light heavyweight champion.
“Jon Jones is the G.O.A.T. He’s the greatest,” Blaydes said. “I think anyone who gets the opportunity to face a guy of his skill level, I guy like him, or an Anderson Silva, those type guys, they’re legends. So if (Jones) decides to bump up to heavyweight and we have to fight for the belt, I welcome it. If there’s nothing else I can do, I can’t go down a weight class, so we’d have to fight.”