Two huge heavyweights main event the UFC Fight Night card on February 20, when Curtis Blayes and Derrick Lewis both look to stake their claim for a title fight in 2021 with a huge win. So who will have their hand raised at the end of this rescheduled bout?
Only champion Stipe Miocic and number one contender Francis Ngannou rank ahead of Blaydes in the heavyweight packing order right now, and no matter what happens on Saturday night that will still be the case because Ngannou is riding a devastating run of form that has seen him knock out each of his last four opponents in 71 seconds or less, and that run includes a quickfire stoppage of Blaydes.
‘Razor’ was closing in on a shot at the crown in 2018 after dispatching heavyweight legend Alistair Overeem in three rounds, but he ran into the wrecking ball that is Ngannou before the end of that year and the results were not pretty as he lasted just 45 seconds. Blaydes’ response to that setback has been strong though. He steadied the ship with a decision win over Justin Willis before scoring a couple of second-round stoppages of Shamil Abdurakhimov and former champion Junior Dos Santos, and he then cemented his status as the number two contender by besting Alexander Volkov over five rounds back in June. Now he appears to be one more win away from a crack at the gold.
Standing in Blaydes’ way is a man who has fought for the UFC heavyweight title previously. Lewis was riding a three-fight win streak and a wave of popularity due to his ‘hot balls’ post-fight interview when he signed on to face Daniel Cormier in November 2018. By his own admission ‘Black Beast’ knew he was out of his depth at the time and so it was no real surprise when Cormier took him down and submitted him in the second.
Lewis failed to bounce back in his next outing as he was halted inside two rounds by the fists of ex-champion Junior Dos Santos, but just like Blaydes he stood strong in the face of adversity. The former title contenders topped the rot with a couple of decision wins over Blagoy Ivanov and Ilir Latifi before getting back to fight-stopping ways with a second-round TKO win over Aleksei Oleinik in August, and this three-fight win streak has put Lewis in the top five as the end of the year draws closer. A win over Blaydes would see his stock grow even further, but can he managed that?
This is the heavyweight division so there is always the sense that it only takes one big punch to result in an upset, and in Lewis this fight involves a man with the violent stopping power. ‘Black Beast’ has also improved when it comes to two of his Achilles heels – takedown defense and cardio – so there is no better time for him to be taking on Blaydes than now. He really does have a chance here.
That being said, I am backing Blaydes for the victory here. He has the stand-up skills that can trouble Lewis, but what is more important is his edge in the grappling department because ‘Black Beast’ has struggled against good strong wrestlers in the past. Blaydes needs to close the distance, maul Lewis and try to get him to the mat as much as possible, and even if those takedown attempts fail he will drain his opponent’s gas tank minute by minute. Like I said before, Lewis appears to have better cardio, but being mauled constantly will take its toll and eventually he will find himself on his back succumbing to Blaydes’ brutal ground n’ pound.