- Who will stay in the hunt for a UFC heavyweight title shot, the No. 3-ranked Curtis Blaydes or No. 4 Junior dos Santos?
- Can dos Santos shake off his knockout loss to Francis Ngannou?
- Can Blaydes add to his record number of takedowns in the heavyweight division?
On Saturday, January 25, the UFC returns to North Carolina for the first time in two years when it heads to PNC Arena in Raleigh for UFC Fight Night 166. A heavyweight bout between title hopeful Curtis Blaydes and former UFC champion Junior dos Santos headlines the card.
The entire card streams on ESPN+. The main card starts at 8:00 PM ET, following the prelims which begin at 5:00 PM ET.
BLAYDES VS DOS SANTOS ODDS
|Junior dos Santos||+195|
Blaydes made his UFC debut in 2016. After losing his first fight by TKO to Francis Ngannou, he went 5-0-0-1 in his next six (including a no-contest against Adam Milstead due to a positive drug test for marijuana). That unbeaten streak ended in 2018 with another TKO loss to Ngannou. But, again, he has bounced back with two victories in 2019.
With his only two setbacks coming at the hands of Ngannous, the No. 2-ranked heavyweight and former title challenger, the 28-year-old Blaydes looks like a fighter who could hang around the top of the heavyweight division for the next 10 years.
Dos Santos won the UFC heavyweight crown in 2011 and has fought for that belt twice since losing it to Cain Velasquez in 2012. He looked like he was on his way to another shot at UFC gold when he ran off a three-fight winning streak in 2018-19.
However, dos Santos’ hopes of another title shot were dashed in his most recent outing (June 2019) when he was knocked out in 71 seconds by (who else?) Francis Ngannou.
This is the type of fight where each man knows exactly what to expect from his opponent. Blaydes might only have 10 career trips to the Octagon to his name, but he already holds the all-time record for takedowns in the UFC heavyweight division with 45. Blaydes is also second all-time in the division in takedown accuracy. He has completed 60 percent of his takedown attempts.
Blaydes averages a whopping 7.05 takedowns per 15 minutes of UFC action. He does not use his takedowns to pursue submissions, instead Blaydes’ goal is to keep his opponent on the ground and keep busy enough to prevent the referee from standing the fight up. If the ref does stand them up, Blaydes will do his best to get the fight back to the mat.
While Blaydes is working to get the fight to the mat, dos Santos will do everything he can to keep the fight standing. The former UFC champ is one of the best boxers in the history of the UFC heavyweight division. Dos Santos leads the heavyweight division in knockdowns with 14 and significant strikes landed with 1,068.
But he will have his work cut out for him in the striking department because Blaydes has been rather elusive; he has the lowest strikes-absorbed per minute in the heavyweight division at 1.9.
TALE OF THE TAPE
|Curtis Blaydes||Category||Junior dos Santos|
|3.69||Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute||4.76|
|1.90||Significant Strikes Absorbed Per Minute||3.09|
|7.05||Takedown Average Per 15 Minutes||0.33|
|0.0||Submission Average Per 15 Minutes||0.1|
WHAT’S AT STAKE
The heavyweight division is at a standstill right now. The next title fight is expected to put current champion Stipe Miocic against former titleholder Daniel Cormier, but there has been talk that Miocic is having a difficult time recovering from an eye injury he suffered in his most recent fight with Cormier. The delayed recovery time has prevented that fight from getting an official booking. The expectation is that the winner of that contest will get matched up against the No. 2 ranked Francis Ngannou if Ngannou can get by Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who is scheduled to fight in March. If Ngannou wins that fight, it’s likely that the winner of Saturday’s matchup between Blaydes and dos Santos will need to take another fight before he is considered for a title fight.
While Blaydes is a fantastic takedown artist, dos Santos has some of the best takedown defense in the history of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Dos Santos has stopped over 80 percent of the takedown attempts he’s faced. The last man to take dos Santos to the mat was Miocic, and that was in 2014. Dos Santos has gone seven contests without surrendering a takedown. If Blaydes can’t get the fight to the mat, it’ll be interesting to see if he has another plan to secure victory.
While dos Santos has solid defense, he is not immune to takedowns. In 2012, Cain Velasquez took him down 11 times on 33 attempts in a five-round contest. Another concern for dos Santos is aggression. He took the loss to Ngannou hard. If dos Santos enters this matchup looking to score a quick knockout in the hopes of redemption, he could put himself out of position, which could lead to easy takedowns for Blaydes.
The UFC heavyweight division is experiencing some turnover these days. The weight class was dominated by the same names over the past few years, but as of late, fighters such as Ngannou and Blaydes have been joined by the likes of Rozenstruik, Walt Harris, Shamil Abdurakhimov, Augusto Sakai, Sergei Pavlovich and Cyril Gane in establishing a new pecking order in the division. I believe that Blaydes will keep his hold on a spot near the top of the weight class with a win in North Carolina.
Pick: Blaydes (-250)