Monday, February 19, 2018

After beating Mark Hunt a week ago Curtis Blaydes can lay legitimate claim to being among the UFC’s top-five current heavyweights. As such, Blaydes can reasonably expect to be on a very short list of men who could soon be called to fight for heavyweight gold.

Still, the Team Elevation star refuses to toot his own horn. Truth be told, Blaydes tells me, he doesn’t feel that he’s ready to win the UFC heavyweight championship quite yet.

“Skill-wise, no,” he says while back in his native Chicago area to celebrate his 27th birthday.

Blaydes’ humility is practical, he insists. Besides, the former Junior College wrestling National Champion doesn’t exactly think it will take him very long to be ready to win the world title.

“I’m not there, yet, but I will be in a couple months,” he specifies.

Considering that Blaydes is confident that with just several months more of skill-development he could successfully vie for UFC gold, it is fascinating that he doesn’t go the promotional route that fighters often do and simply say, “yes, give me the title shot,” knowing that it would be months until it would be a possibility.

But Blaydes seems too earnest for any of that. He’s also not afraid to tell the world exactly what he needs to improve on, I suspect in large part because he has every confidence that he will indeed make those improvements.

After all, the big man has managed to drastically improve in between each and every career fight, thus far. “I’m not going to be the young, brash guy who just talks and doesn’t make sense,” he continues.

“I know Stipe Miocic has the belt and that he’s successfully defended it three times. That alone might make him possibly the greatest heavyweight ever. So, for me to say I’d show up in a month and beat him would be disrespectful.

“I need a few months. I know I’m close. I like to be cautious in what I say. I hate the whole McGregor mentality where you just talk trash and say, ‘yeah I can beat that guy easily.’”

With all that having been said, Blaydes does have just one professional goal in mind right now – the UFC heavyweight championship. Immediately after dominating legend Mark Hunt at UFC 221 Blaydes openly called for better pay in his next UFC contract and spoke about free-agency.

Speaking one-on-one, however, Blaydes is crystal clear that what he is focused on is becoming UFC champion. “Of course,” he says.

“I wouldn’t be doing this if that wasn’t my goal.”

Considering that Blaydes is less than four years into his professional MMA career, the 27-year-old seems well-positioned to eventually have a crack at becoming world champion. He already has competition experience against former title-challengers like Hunt and Francis Ngannou and Blaydes cut his teeth in MMA as an amateur helping Stipe Miocic in training camp as a sparring partner so he has a good sense of what’s what at the elite level of competition.

Just as he had to initially withstand damaging standing strikes from Hunt before taking control of their fight with takedowns and ground control, Blaydes sees effectively transitioning from striking to wrestling as the key to his being championship material.

“I can take down any heavyweight. That’s not the issue,” he says.

“The issue is being able to effectively transition from stand-up to wrestling. I know I can down any heavyweight. But we’re heavyweights so it only takes one or two punches for the lights to go out. All the guys ranked above me are good strikers. They definitely have hands.

“They all present different problems. They are all worthy opponents. I’m happy to take any of them on.”

About the author:
Elias Cepeda is a host of Sports Illustrated’s Extra Rounds Podcast, a staff writer at FloCombat, and has a weekly column for The UG Blog.

elias cepeda