Curtis Blaydes: Seizing the Opportunity
Roger Babson once said that ‘The successful man is the one who had the chance and took it’ – This couldn’t be more applicable than it is within the UFC; Looking back throughout the last few years alone, Bisping stepped in at two weeks’ notice to claim the title from Luke Rockhold’s clutches, Nate Diaz stepped in to steal the notoriety of Conor McGregor and Brandon Moreno made his name in the UFC by upsetting Louis Smolka. Curtis Blaydes travels to Australia next month to face the returning Mark Hunt at UFC221 and although this would by no means be as big of an upset as the aforementioned bouts (in fact Blaydes is marginally the bookmakers favourite heading into the match-up), it would still be the biggest scalp on the young resume of the American, and go a long way to establishing his name as a real contender in the division.
‘To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised. I wasn’t expecting Mark Hunt, or anyone in the top 5, I was aiming towards Derrick Lewis or Alexander Volkov’ Blaydes told us as he took the time to speak with SpitballingPod late last week. ‘Razor’ Blaydes continued slicing his way through the Heavyweight division as he recorded a TKO victory (Doctor Stoppage) against Oleksiy Oliynyk back on November 4th 2017.
Curtis currently stands at 9th in the official UFC Heavyweight rankings and a win against 5th ranked Hunt would be a real statement as the only fighters placed above the Samoan are what you’d currently describe as the elite of the division – Ngannou, Overeem, Werdum and Velasquez. Hunt is one of the biggest names on the Heavyweight scene and one of the most well-known figures within MMA itself as he has been entertaining fans since his PRIDE debut on 20th June 2004. The prospect of fighting such a well esteemed name is an interesting one for Blaydes, as he will be stepping in with a man that he has been watching throughout his climb to the UFC; ‘I knew this would happen eventually, but I wasn’t expecting it at the beginning of 2018. It’s a little weird, but I’ll get over it before I get to Australia’ he said.
Despite this being the biggest fight of his career so far, the Chicago born prospect thinks that he matches up well against his opponent as they both prepare for February 11th, he explained ‘I’m gonna have the reach advantage, I’m the better grappler, he’s the better striker but combined with my wrestling, I think I match up pretty well with him’.
It would seem that the most obvious route to victory for the mild mannered martial-artist would be to implement his vastly superior wrestling credentials. Wrestling was the sport that led Blaydes into MMA and so it would seem strange to go against the grain now. ‘I wrestled in High School and I got a scholarship to wrestle in College. I wrestled for 3 years and I won a Junior College National Championship. After that, I was going to continue wrestling but my scholarship got messed up and then I needed an activity to keep me occupied’ he recalled.
This will be only the second time that ‘Razor’ has fought outside of America, the last time being his unsuccessful UFC debut against Heavyweight title challenger Francis Ngannou. Travelling however is no issue for Curtis and in contrary he actually seems to be looking forward to the prospect of it. ‘It’s no issue. I’m happy to go wherever the UFC wants me to go – I’ll go to Brazil, Russia, wherever. I do actually enjoy getting to travel, it’s one of the perks of the job’ he revealed.
When Blaydes first entered the UFC he explained that the aim was to work on his striking and try to lift it to a level that is on par with his wrestling; With 5 KO wins from 8 fights, it’s fair to say that he may be well on his way to achieving that target. Reacting to that achievement, he put it down to a change of training camp, explaining ‘It’ll take another couple of years, but the progress I’ve made in the last year and a half since I moved down to Denver to join ‘Team Elevation’ has been very promising’.
A win over Hunt at UFC221 would elevate the profile of Curtis to a level that he’d likely not have achieved with his other suggested opponents and so a win here is crucial when it comes to really planting his feet in the division and showing that he’s here to stay in the top 10. At only 26 years old, there would be plenty of time to come back but as mentioned before, taking chances can be the difference between success and mediocrity within the organisation. ‘I wasn’t expecting my rise to be this quick, it’s a pleasant surprise and it shows that all my hard work is paying off’ he said, before showing his intent for the Hunt fight and beyond exclaiming ‘I wanna get the belt and hold on to it for as long as I can’.