Curtis Blaydes has a top-level takedown and wrestling game. (Photo: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)
Curtis Blaydes headlines his first Ultimate Fighting Championship event this weekend when he takes on Francis Ngannou for the second time at UFC Fight Night 141 in Beijing. Blaydes’ sole loss in the UFC was to Ngannou in his debut, and now he gets the chance for revenge while making his case for a title shot.
Blaydes is a former collegiate wrestler and has since become one of the best grapplers in the heavyweight division. He knows where his advantages lie and he wastes no time backing his opponent to the cage and shooting for a takedown. Blaydes generally uses the cage to help him with takedowns, but he is also adept at ducking under strikes and shooting for a counter double leg. Since he favors using the cage for takedowns, Blaydes finds himself in the clinch often, where he can use his judo trips and throws to get opponents down.
Once the fight hits the ground, Blaydes elects to take his time and look to pass guard rather than rain down blows. Once in a favorable position, he will keep a constant pace of ground-and-pound as to never avoid fatigue. Something interesting about his ground striking is the target of his strikes. Most fighters just go for the opponent’s head, but Blaydes will mix up his shots to the body and even the legs in certain positions.
Coming from a wrestling background, Blaydes is not an elite striker but he has improved leaps and bounds since joining the UFC in 2016. If he can’t get the fight to the ground he will look to jab up his opponents to back them to the cage or to bait them to strike first where he can duck under and look for a takedown.
Similar to his takedowns, the majority of Blaydes’ striking success on the feet comes from working on the counter. His counters are fairly basic and he generally looks for a simple retreating counter straight right or an intercepting uppercut. Since he is not comfortable with pressure on the feet, his jab and these counters are the best way to keep opponents at a safe distance and dissuade them from coming forward aggressively.
Blaydes doesn't work on the lead often, but when he does its usually a single, no-setup right hand. The biggest drawback in his striking is his ability to get coerced into wild exchanges in the pocket. Against Alexey Oleynik, Blaydes routinely got caught with sloppy and wild hooks that he should have easily seen coming.
Although he has proven to have a ridiculous chin and recoverability, Blaydes gets hit a lot and it’s only a matter of time before it catches up to him. We know he can dominate most heavyweights on the ground, but his lack of striking defense and tendency to get in a firefight have seen him dropped or caught clean in every single fight. He was able to take Mark Hunt and Francis Ngannou’s best shots and keep coming forward. This is certainly not an efficient way to fight at the highest levels of the sport and will catch up with him unless it is corrected.