Skip to main content
Curtis Blaydes prepares to fight Junior Dos Santos in their heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at PNC Arena on January 25, 2020 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Curtis Blaydes Embraces The Grind To The Top

Soft-Spoken Outside The Octagon, Curtis Blaydes Is Focused On Making His Statements In The Octagon At UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Pavlovich

In a landscape where calling out someone stationed closer to the top of the division is often the best tool for advancing one’s career, Curtis Blaydes has spent the last couple years as the Voldemort of the heavyweight division.

“I wouldn’t mind if that’s how the rest of the division views me,” Blaydes said with a smile on Wednesday afternoon, just a couple days out from his return to action against Sergei Pavlovich. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually been called out. Maybe (Tom) Aspinall called me out; I can’t remember."

MORE UFC FIGHT NIGHT: Fight By Fight Preview | Fighters On The Rise | Swift And Explosive Pavlovich

Like the antagonist of the Harry Potter series, Blaydes’ name has rarely been mentioned by others in the division because everyone is acutely aware of the dangers he presents.

Curtis Blaydes Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes
Curtis Blaydes Fight Week Interview | UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes

After entering the UFC with outstanding wrestling and rudimentary boxing skills, the Chicagoland native has worked diligently to develop his striking, reaching a point now where he’s not only comfortable keeping things standing, but also more than capable of winning fights without having to lean on his wrestling pedigree.

“It feels good to have the confidence in my footwork, my head movement, and my overall striking acumen,” explained Blaydes, who trains with the Elevation Fight Team in Denver. “It feels good to have confidence.

“I don’t know how guys go out there with one skill set with confidence. Like if you’re a jiu jitsu guy that doesn’t have any hands, you have to get the takedown, you have to get into a position to submit guys, and if you don’t, you’re screwed, and I don’t like that.

“That’s what makes me want to grind and get better: I don’t ever want to be one-dimensional.”

FREE FIGHTS: Pavlovich vs Tuivasa | Blaydes vs Daukaus 

The heavyweight contender pauses and smiles, acknowledging that a lot of people still view him as such, stuck in their perception of him as “just a wrestler.”

But that simply isn’t the case, as Blaydes has logged countless hours in the gym, working on his craft, developing his hands, and his improvements are abundantly clear when you go back and watch his fights.

Curtis Blaydes poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

Curtis Blaydes poses for a portrait after his victory during the UFC Fight Night event at O2 Arena on July 23, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC)

“I really do believe in getting one percent better every day,” offered Blaydes, who won a Junior College National Championship as a redshirt sophomore at Harper College. “Every day doesn’t have to be hard; there are days and weeks where we just drill.

“I didn’t really spar a whole lot from August to maybe mid-December — there was no need for me to be sparring, taking damage. I was doing tech sparring, and I think that is where you grow the most is doing tech rounds.

“I enjoy the process of getting better,” he added. “I like hitting pads. I like challenging my hand speed, challenging my memory, my footwork, seeing how complicated we can make it look because I know it’s not going to be that complicated in the cage.”

UFC 289 IN VANCOUVER: Buy Tickets | VIP Experiences 

While he prides himself on having honed his skills and bringing a full arsenal of weapons into the Octagon each time out, Blaydes is quick to acknowledge that life in the heavyweight ranks doesn’t always come down to who is more skillful.

More often than naught, fights come down to a race to see who can land a momentum-shifting blow first, as has been the case in each of Pavlovich’s last five trips into the Octagon. In his two most recent appearances, the surging Russian has needed less than a minute to dispatch Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa, two men that Blaydes sees as stylistic contemporaries of the man he faces this weekend.

“I view him as a Derrick Lewis, a Tuivasa — he’s a brawler,” he said. “He thrives in chaos and seeks chaos, and those guys that seek chaos do so because when it relies on skill and precision, they don’t believe in their skill. They believe, ‘I have to make this ugly in order for me to land.’

“I haven’t seen that he knows how to enter,” continued Blaydes, offering a glimpse into how he may approach Saturday’s main event. “He doesn’t enter with a setup, footwork, a jab — he just enters, and it works for him, but it’s not the hardest thing in the world to read.”

Some may take umbrage with Blaydes’ thoughts on the dearth of skill displayed at heavyweight, or cite his own loss to Lewis as an obvious counter to his position, but the thoughtful big man is quick to acknowledge that Lewis got the better of him, while adding a little reminder about how things were going before he made a costly mistake.

“I know I lost that one, and everyone watches the end of it, but I don’t think people remember the first round,” he said of the bout with Lewis. “Technically, I was destroying Derrick Lewis, and I’m very proud of that.

“I’m able to see the silver lining like, ‘Yeah I lost, I got knocked out, but I grew in confidence in my striking.’ I believe in my range now. I believe I can pick and pull because I never really had to do it, and that was a focus of mine in that fight and I was able to do it. It was when I switched the game plan to force the wrestling when I screwed up.”

Every UFC Takedown By Curtis Blaydes
Every UFC Takedown By Curtis Blaydes

And heading into this weekend’s showdown with Pavlovich, he fully intends to use all the skills available to him to secure another victory.

“Make him dance,” Blaydes said with a smile when asked about his approach to Saturday’s headline pairing. “I like to dance, I believe in my footwork — I don’t put all this time and energy into it to not use it.”

Should he emerge victorious, the Top 5 standout could very well establish himself as the clubhouse leader in the chase for the next championship opportunity in the heavyweight division.

Order UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo Today! 

With the possibility out there, many would expect Blaydes to be talking about facing the winner of the presumed title matchup between Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic, lobbying to be the backup fighter for that contest, and using his time on the mic and in front of the camera to publicly make his case for contention heading into the weekend.

But that has never been his style and it never will be, and if that means it takes a little longer for him to land a championship opportunity, so be it.

“A lot of people will say I need to be loud or I need to talk more smack, but I didn’t need that to get into the UFC, I didn’t need it to get ranked in the Top 15, the Top 10, or the Top 5, and I don’t think I need it right now,” Blaydes said confidently. “I do agree that if I was like Colby (Covington) or (Conor) McGregor, I probably would have got a title shot after I beat Alistair (Overeem), but it is what it is.

“If it ain’t broke, I ain’t gonna fix it.”

UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on April 22, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass