Curtis Blaydes did not apologize for his strategy getting caught up in a big heavyweight fight Derrick Lewis. Blaydes would use his dominant wrestling early and often. He told anyone who would listen.
Maybe it was bait. But Blaydes should have stuck to his original schedule when Lewis smashed him with a knockout in the upper class at the main UFC Fight Night event on Saturday in Las Vegas at 1:26 am in the second round.
Blaydes gained confidence on his feet in the first round and only attempted a takedown, which Lewis stuffed. And Lewis, one of the most dangerous knockout artists in MMA history, made him pay.
It was the biggest surprise in a UFC main event since then Michael Bisping beat Luke Rockhold at UFC 199 in 2016 according to ESPN Stats & Information Research. Lewis was a +350 underdog, according to Caesars William Hill, ESPN’s odds provider. Bisping was +400 against Rockhold five years ago.
With the break, Lewis binds Vitor Belfort with the most knockouts in UFC history (12). Lewis is now tied for the second most wins in UFC heavyweight history (16) Frank Mir. Andrei Arlovski is the all-time UFC heavyweight winner at 19.
The end of Saturday came when Blaydes snuck in trying to close the distance for a clinch or takedown. Lewis saw it coming and released it with a massive uppercut. Blaydes’ body trembled on impact and he was passed out when he fell on the canvas. Lewis followed with punches to the ground until Referee Herb Dean came in to pull him off.
“That was the only punch I’ve waited for the whole fight,” said Lewis. “I knew he was going to come in. … that’s all I’ve been waiting for. I wasn’t afraid to throw a one-two, a push or anything.”
Blaydes was very effective on his feet in the first round, landing tough combinations and chewing on Lewis’ leading legs with kicks. He landed Lewis 28-7 on major strikes. Lewis landed a hard right hand early that Blaydes wiggled briefly, but otherwise Blaydes was in control.
This is how the second round began, but Lewis is always a threat to make an opponent fall asleep. And Blaydes was caught with an uppercut bomb.
Blaydes didn’t land a single takedown in battle. He had landed 59 career takedowns in the UFC, the most in UFC heavyweight history.
“At the end of the first round I thought he screwed up, he screwed up,” said Lewis that Blaydes didn’t land a takedown. “That’s what I said in my head … I thought I would keep playing the game. I told myself that.”
The fight was originally scheduled for November 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19 and the competition was held the day before the event before the official deliberations. ESPN had Blaydes 3rd and Lewis 5th in the world heavyweight division.
Francis Ngannou gets the next title shot at Champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 on March 27th and pound for pound great Jon Jones seems to be waiting in the wings for the winner. Lewis is now in pole position in case something happens to any of these athletes, but he said it would be stupid to say he wants a title shot next with Ngannou and Jones ahead of him.
“It will be cool to fight him because he’s a so-called legend,” he said. “It would be cool to fight someone like this … We tried to fight him for years and he has already refused the fight four times.”
The UFC Fight Night took place in the UFC Apex, the location of the action opposite the company campus in Las Vegas.
Lewis (25-7, 1 NC) has won four straight wins. He had won a knockout victory Aleksei Oleinik in August. The Houston resident was knocked out the most in UFC heavyweight history before Saturday. Lewis, a 36-year-old fan favorite, has won a total of seven out of nine and 13 out of 16.
Blaydes (14-3, 1 NC) had won four times in a row and had beaten last Alexander Volkov win by unanimous decision last June. The Illinois native, who trains from Colorado’s Elevation Fight Team, had only lost to one man in the UFC before Saturday: Ngannou, twice.
Blaydes, 30, is a former NJCAA champion in wrestling and normally advertises his takedown and ground control-based style in MMA.