When heavyweight Curtis Blaydes makes the walk to the Octagon Saturday night to face Alistair Overeem, it will be his first fight in his hometown of Chicago since October 2014.
Since that win over William Baptiste that lifted his record to 2-0, he has become a UFC fighter, a top five contender, and a young man closing in on a title shot. That’s a lot to happen in less than four years, so I wondered if it’s going to be an emotional moment for him at United Center, or a case of let’s just do this?
“Probably the latter,” Blaydes laughs. “Close the door and let’s get it going.”
That no nonsense approach is evident as soon as that door closes and it’s time to fight. There are no romantic descriptions of the fighter’s life, just a willingness to work hard and then get in the Octagon and win. That’s the same whether Blaydes is in Chicago or in some of the other more exotic locales he’s visited, like Croatia and Australia.
“A fight’s a fight,” he said. “It doesn’t matter where it is. I’m probably not gonna be hanging out that much (in Chicago), I’ll keep the routine the same and hang out in my hotel room the majority of the week.”
He will say this, though.
“I hate to lose anywhere, but I’d hate to lose at home.”
In his two fights in the Windy City, Blaydes scored a pair of first-round knockouts, and it was an impressive start to life in pro MMA, but “Razor” wasn’t sure if this was going to be his ultimate path following a college wrestling career. So needless to say, visions of the UFC weren’t dancing in his head yet.
“I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know where I would be,” Blaydes said. “The UFC isn’t a guarantee for anyone, so I wasn’t thinking I would be fighting for the biggest promotion in the world, that’s for sure. At the time, I was just trying to win fights and I was on the fence, still, because the money wasn’t there. I was getting to that point where you have to a make a decision, like if I were going to get a real job or keep having to struggle and borrow money and be a bouncer, trying to make this work.”
Two more wins followed, putting him at 4-0, and then he got a call from the RFA promotion. It was then that Blaydes realized not just that he was good at this, but that he had the potential to make it to the big show.
“After I got the RFA fight was when I first began to legitimately think about the possibility of me fighting in the UFC,” he said. “I knew RFA was the league where if you did all right, you would have a pretty good chance of being in the UFC.”
He only fought once for RFA, stopping Luis Cortez in the third round in February 2016. Less than two months later, he was in the UFC, staring across the Octagon at Francis Ngannou.
Both were raw talents, but Blaydes’ skill set was even rawer than that of “The Predator.”
“I went into that Ngannou fight with a weak jab and that was about it,” Blaydes said. “I didn’t even have a striking coach. I would get in and spar with random guys and get beat up on my feet and look to get my takedowns. I never built up any of the basics.”
Blaydes still gave Ngannou a tough go before the doctor stopped their bout in the second round. Blaydes hasn’t lost since, going 4-0 with 1 NC. His most recent victory was a three-round decision over Mark Hunt in February, and having tasted Hunt’s thunder and survived, the Chicagoan is confident that he can withstand the blows from Overeem as well.
“I’ve always had that type of mindset,” he said. “Even going back to my UFC debut fight against Ngannou, I ate quite a few of his right hands, and yeah, they hurt, as you would probably imagine. But I think with my wrestling background, I’d rather get dropped than change my style because I got punched. I’m gonna get hit, I go into every fight expecting to get hit, so that’s always in mind. Taking one from Hunt doesn’t hurt my confidence, for sure, but I’ve always been pretty confident in my jaw.”
And with Vinnie Lopez working with Blaydes on striking in his camp in Denver, the contender’s full game is coming together. That doesn’t mean he plans on standing and trading with “The Demolition Man.”
“That’s disrespectful,” he said. “That’s like a guy going in there and saying, ‘I’m gonna outwrestle Blaydes.’ No you’re not. You’re gonna lose. (Laughs) I’m a wrestler, so I am gonna use what I’m best at, just like they’re going to do what they’re best at. A lot of fans have gotten used to the old UFC when guys just knew how to stand and bang, and it was a game of who could take the most punches. That’s a game I’m not gonna play. It’s not my style and I’m gonna keep to my game plan. As long as I’m getting paid and on my way to the belt, that’s all that really matters to me.”
All business, that Mr. Blaydes. So when are we going to see the fun “Razor” come out?
“Once I get that belt, then I’ll be a lot more fun. I guarantee it.”
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