Curtis Blaydes was winning until he wasn’t. To be fair, that describes a lot of opponents who have been knocked out by Derrick Lewis. But, perhaps no one has been more thoroughly demolished by the ‘Black Beast’ than Blaydes was on Saturday night.
According to the betting lines, Lewis over Blaydes was the biggest UFC main event upset since Michael Bisping knocked out Luke Rockhold in 2016. Yet, while the #2 ranked heavyweight losing to his #4 ranked opponent shouldn’t be a hammer blow for title shot aspirations, that could very well be the case for the 30-year-old from Chicago.
It’s become abundantly clear over his UFC tenure that Blaydes is not considered a must-see attraction by the UFC or Dana White. Blaydes himself has been unapologetic about his wrestle-heavy approach, which seems like hardly a statement either White or the UFC wants to hear.
“If I win the exact same way, I would be fine, because guess what, it’s another win, it’s a win bonus,” Blaydes said to ESPN (via Sherdog). “I don’t know if a lot of people care, but I have a family. I’m trying to feed my family. I don’t care if you want me to risk my win bonus, which is $100,000, to stand and bang with a guy who has terrible wrestling. I’m just not going to do it. Unless you defend every takedown attempt, I’m not going to stop trying to wrestle you. You have to deter me, and I don’t think Derrick is going to deter me.”
Ironically, it was Blaydes’ striking that gave him the early advantage and it was his wrestling – more specifically, a very telegraphed double leg attempt – that proved to be his undoing.
Along with his willingness to grind his way to victory, Blaydes has also been outspoken about the UFC’s fighter pay and the lopsided revenue split between athletes and organization.
“I don’t want to hear all those excuses, the money is there,” Blaydes said last June. “I don’t want to hear the excuses. Even if you just bumped us up to like 29% of revenue, that would be a giant raise for guys. I don’t want to hear that. If you don’t want to pay us, just say you don’t want to give us the money. Just say that and don’t make excuses like, ‘I don’t know where it’s going to come from.’ It’s like, bro, don’t do that. Don’t disrespect our intelligence like that. We are worth more. If you don’t want to pay us, just say that and we can make our own informed decisions.
“It’s like you trying to pee on us and calling it rain like we’re dumb. I know we get hit in the head a lot but we are not dumb.”
On top of his rhetorical stances, from a pure sporting and matchmaking perspective, Blaydes is in a difficult spot. He’s fought and beaten Alexander Volkov, Alistair Overeem, Aleksei Oleinik, Junior dos Santos, and Shamil Abdurakhimov. That’s exactly one-third of the UFC’s current top-15 contenders. One would assume he’d be heavily favored against Augusto Sakai, Walt Harris, Blagoy Ivanov, Sergey Pavlovich, and Marcin Tybura, and none of those five is likely to be a serious title contender anyway.
Also working against Blaydes is his 0-2 record against Francis Ngannou, the only other man to beat him in MMA—and potentially the next champion if he beats Stipe Miocic next month. Had Blaydes not lost, a trilogy between the two would’ve been a hard sell anyway, considering how quickly Blaydes was dispatched in the rematch. All that and he’s already (and understandably) been leapfrogged by Jon Jones, who will finally make his heavyweight debut and get an immediate title shot (something Blaydes admitted he didn’t have much of a problem with). Strikers Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane are fighting this weekend, and the winner figures to be very much a viable option to challenge for the belt.
All of this is to say that, despite his high ranking and undeniable standing as one of the best in his division, it feels as though the UFC absolutely wouldn’t hesitate to let Blaydes go elsewhere. In fact, his next fight will be the last on his current contract—something that likely makes this particular loss all the more costly.
The combination of his public comments about pay and the fight business, his fighting style, and current standing in the title picture makes him a prime candidate for a high profile release (or not re-signing) after his deal is up. And that’s a shame. Because I think he has the ability to compete for the UFC title, but one lethal uppercut has put him in an unenviable position that may be all too similar to the likes of Jon Fitch or Jake Shields from yesteryear.