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Sports Illustrated Notebook: Curtis Blaydes looks to defy odds vs. Tom Aspinall at UFC Fight Night 208

'Just because you're the favorite doesn't mean you are going to win,' Blaydes says. 'None of that matters once you step into the octagon.'
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An incredible fight week now reaches its climax, with a lineup of compelling bouts set to close out an extremely active stretch of days.

Announcements over the past few days have included the news that Khamzat Chimaev will fight the great Nate Diaz at UFC 279 in September. It was also announced that Charles Oliveira and Islam Makhachev will fight in October to determine the new lightweight champion at UFC 280. Also, Aljamain Sterling's next title bout is official, defending his bantamweight title against TJ Dillashaw on the same 280 card – where Petr Yan and Sean O'Malley will also fight, and Belal Muhammad against Sean Brady, as well as Beneil Dariush-Mateusz Gamrot.

If that wasn't enough, PFL announced PFL Europe is beginning next year. And now, for the best part – beginning with Saturday's UFC Fight Night 208, where Curtis Blaydes (16-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) enters as an underdog to Tom Aspinall (12-2 MMA, 5-0 UFC).

This is the same Blaydes who has won six of his last seven fights and sits fifth in the heavyweight rankings, yet he isn't the odds favorite. That distinction belongs to Aspinall, who wants a victory against Blaydes to elevate himself into the top five.

"Just because you're the favorite doesn't mean you are going to win," says Blaydes, who was once knocked out when he was a heavy favorite against Derrick Lewis. "None of that matters once you step into the octagon."

Blaydes' only losses have come against Francis Ngannou (twice) and Lewis. He plans to use a combination of his experience, intelligence, and athleticism to defeat Aspinall, using his elite wrestling as the defining factor as he pursues another victory.

"I already know how five tough rounds are supposed to feel," Blaydes says. "He's going to find that out. And my wrestling is always an advantage.

"I'm the best wrestler in the division. That's always in my back pocket. I use my approach from wrestling in my life, too, whether it's property management or parenting. It makes me so disciplined and gives me that never-give-up attitude. Wrestling has brought me so much success, and it's going to be the difference here, too."

Blaydes began his wrestling career in high school, reaching new levels of success at De La Salle Institute, a private school located in the south side of Chicago. He finished his senior year with a perfect 44-0 record, ending his high school career with a state title.

"That's when I gained the confidence to know I was the best," Blaydes says. "I was good enough to win states as a junior, but I didn't have that mindset. When I stepped on the mat as a senior, I expected to destroy everybody. I still feel that way."

Blaydes enters the bout against Aspinall expecting to come away victorious. If that happens, it will propel him one step closer to a title opportunity.

"After this, it'll be against the winner of Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa," Blaydes says. "Then it will be a title shot."

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We've still yet to determine if Paddy Pimblett is elite in the cage, but there is no questioning whether the man can sell a fight.

A native of Huyton, which is only a four-hour drive from London, Pimblett (18-3 MMA, 2-0 UFC) returns close to home for Saturday's UFC card. He squares off against Jordan Leavitt (10-1 MMA, 3-1 UFC), planning to please his countrymates with a knockout.

The buildup to this bout has become more volatile after Leavitt promised to twerk on Pimblett after defeating him. To no one's surprise, Pimblett took issue with Leavitt's proposed post-fight celebration.

"He won't get a chance to twerk on me when he's lying unconscious," Pimblett says. "I'm not worried about that. What's the point in being nervous when you know you're going to win? There is no pressure here for me.

"After Saturday, I'll have a nice break. My plan is to fight again before the end of the year in Las Vegas. Cherry Coke is me favorite, so I'll have plenty of time to drink those – and eat my favorites, pizza and pasta."

Leavitt is unproven, yet he isn't one to be taken lightly. He hasn't been finished in 11 fights, suffering his only loss by decision. But Pimblett enters with overflowing confidence, believing this will be the next step to climb in his ongoing ascent of the lightweight division.

"I've never felt this good going into a fight," Pimblett says. "He says he's going to beat me in the third round, but this isn't getting out of the first round. I have better jiu-jitsu, better wrestling. I'm the better fighter.

"It's going to be a special night. I'm going to light up the whole arena."

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Tofiq Musayev is currently unranked in Bellator. That is about to change.

Musayev (19-4 MMA, 0-0 BMMA) meets top-ranked lightweight Sidney Outlaw (16-4 MMA, 4-1 BMMA later tonight at Bellator 283. If he can avoid the ground, there is ample reason to believe Musayev will defeat Outlaw.

This fight marks the Bellator debut for Musayev. He was initially scheduled to fight Adam Piccolotti, but those plans changed after Piccolotti pulled off the card. Outlaw was in line for a title shot at 283, but that also changed when an injury prevented lightweight champ Patricky "Pitbull" Freire from the title defense. So now Outlaw is faced with a new challenge in Musayev, who already owns a win against Freire, arguably just as tough a fight without the luxury of having the title at stake.

If Musayev defeats Outlaw, there is every reason to believe he can jump the line and challenge Freire for the belt.

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.