Curtis Blaydes intends to earn respect and climb the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight rankings when he takes on Mark Hunt in the UFC 221 co-main event on Saturday in Perth, Australia.
The encounter with the 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner will serve as a measuring stick for Blaydes, who finds himself paired with a seasoned veteran who has gone toe-to-toe with some of the best heavyweights in the sport, from Mirko Filipovic, Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos to Frank Mir, Alistair Overeem, Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar.
As Blaydes prepares to battle Hunt, here are five things you might not know about him:
1. He was once unbeatable.
Blaydes was an accomplished high school wrestler at the De La Salle Institute in Chicago, winning a state championship as a senior. Blaydes went undefeated along the way, posting a 44-0 record, and also played football for the Illinois high school.
2. MMA drew him away from wrestling.
After an outstanding prep career, Blaydes accepted a scholarship to wrestle at Northern Illinois University, where he went 19-2 as a redshirt freshman before transferring to Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Blaydes went on to win a National Junior College Athletic Association championship as a sophomore. Despite his success, he opted to leave school to transition to mixed martial arts -- a decision that has thus far paid off.
3. He made his UFC debut against a real-life monster.
Blaydes signed with the UFC two years ago and made his promotional debut at UFC Fight Night 86 on April 10, 2016 in Zagreb, Croatia. His opponent was an unknown prospect named Francis Ngannou. While Blaydes held his own against the powerful Cameroonian, Ngannou forced a doctor’s stoppage at the end of the second round. It remains Blaydes’ only loss to date.
4. Takedowns are a weapon for him.
It should come as little surprise given his background, but Blaydes is one of the heavyweight division’s best takedown artists. The Elevation Fight Team representative lands an average of 6.38 takedowns per 15 minutes, according to FightMetric, and completes 48 percent of his attempts. Those who face Blaydes in the cage are likely to find themselves on the ground at some point -- an advantage he undoubtedly wants to exploit against Hunt, a decorated striker with a knack for the walk-off knockout.
5. A mistake outside the cage proved costly.
Blaydes would have entered his showdown with Hunt on a four-fight winning streak had he not tested positive for marijuana following his appearance at UFC Fight Night 104 on Feb. 4, 2017 in Houston. As a result, his technical knockout victory over Adam Milstead was overturned to a no-contest. Blaydes was reprimanded by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation. The United States Anti-Doping Agency did not punish Blaydes, but his win was struck from the record.