Curtis Blaydes vs. Junior Dos Santos
How will the main event of UFC Raleigh, a pivotal heavyweight clash between Curtis Blaydes vs. Junior dos Santos, play out?
The main event of UFC Raleigh features an interesting match-up top-five ranked heavyweights at different points in their respective careers. In one corner, Curtis Blaydes is still just 28-years old, has only ever lost to Francis Ngannou (twice), and seems on the cusp of his first UFC title shot. In the other corner, former champion Junior dos Santos looks to remain at the top of the division and hopefully earn another title shot, now in the tail end of his career. Blaydes comes into this fight riding a two-fight win streak, while dos Santos is coming off a knockout loss to Ngannou.
A fixture in the UFC’s heavyweight division since 2016, Blaydes has long shown the skills necessary to compete with and beat elite fighters. While his amateur wrestling credentials don’t jump off the page (a junior college national champion), Blaydes has translated his wrestling base into an extremely effective takedown and top-control game. An explosive athlete, Blaydes might have the fastest pure shot in the division and he tends to finish his takedowns with authority.
Once in top position, Blaydes is a devastating ground striker. Whether in the guard or a dominant position, Blaydes patiently controls his opponent’s wrists before opening up with heavy punches and elbows. Blaydes’ finishes of Alistair Overeem and Shamil Abdurakhimov demonstrate that he is always a finishing threat when on top.
Dos Santos won the heavyweight title in 2012 when he knocked out Cain Velasquez in the main event of the UFC’s first-ever show on Fox. Since then, dos Santos has struggled to win consistently, compiling a 7-5 record, albeit against mostly championship-level opposition. Prior to his loss to Ngannou, dos Santos had put together three consecutive wins, indicating he may be ready for another run at the title.
It’s no secret what dos Santos does well. Simply put, he is one of the best heavyweight boxers the sport has ever seen. A phenomenal athlete with the hand speed of a middleweight, dos Santos has been able to shock many opponents with his raw speed and power. Moreover, he is a technically refined boxer by MMA standards. Dos Santos is a superb body puncher, particularly with his jab, which he will use to set up bigger right overhand or right uppercut punches to the head. In 20 UFC bouts, dos Santos has earned an impressive 10 wins by knockout.
Dos Santos has steadily improved his defensive wrestling over the years, but the book on beating him has been written several times over, and it’s an instruction manual that Blaydes should and could follow to victory. Essentially, Blaydes must pressure dos Santos, who will allow himself to be all-too-easily backed to the cage. From there, Blaydes can mix in punches at short range before gaining the clinch against the fence and peppering dos Santos with strikes, then securing a takedown. Dos Santos may get back to his feet and escape back to open space, but this is a rinse-and-repeat strategy that will become more effective the longer the fight goes on. Blaydes can simply follow the gameplans that Velasquez and Stipe Miocic used to great effect.
That said, dos Santos is always a threat on the feet. Blaydes is a mobile, active striker that has grown leaps and bounds during his UFC tenure and has flashed some real power, but he is still defensively susceptible. If Blaydes remains in front of dos Santos a beat too long, don’t be surprised if the Brazilian is able to score a vintage knockout.
Still, reason dictates that Blaydes should be able to implement a wrestling-heavy attack that gradually wears down dos Santos. Look for Blaydes to land takedowns throughout the fight, but only be able to hold top position in the later rounds. From there, Blaydes is a proven finisher.
Prediction: Blaydes via TKO, Round 3.
UFC Raleigh takes place on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, live from the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. Follow along with FanSided for all your live results and highlights.