The first non-pay-per-view event of 2020 featured a few results that solidified, surprised and stunned. With a few days to digest and process the action, here’s what we learned from the action in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Curtis Blaydes Does In Fact Have Hands
If you read that Junior Dos Santos shut down every single one of Curtis Blaydes’ takedown attempts, it’d be realistic to assume the former heavyweight champ eventually scored another knockout victory on his way back to a title shot. Instead, it was “Razor” Blaydes connecting with a sharp right hand that staggered JDS and all but put him out on his feet.
Everyone knows what Blaydes’ first, second and third choices are when it comes to a fight: wrestle, wrestle and wrestle. Blaydes has gone as far as to say he aspires to be the Khabib Nurmagomedov of the heavyweight division, wrestling his opponents to the ground when and where he wants. That said, Blaydes showed off an evolved standup attack, utilizing the threat of his wrestling acumen as a way to open up opportunities to connect with heavy strikes.
After the fight, Blaydes admitted he didn’t think he threw the fight-ending right hand all that hard, and if the 28-year-old continues his development track, he could soon be the most threatening, well-rounded contender in the division. Blaydes has eight wins and two Francis Ngannous on his UFC record, and that means even though he is entitled to believe he deserves a title shot, he’ll be forced to wait for the potential trilogy fight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic as well as Ngannou’s eventual shot (unless Jair Rozenstruik comes out victorious in Columbus).
Michael Chiesa Is A Real Problem
People might’ve done a double-take when a fight was announced between the unranked Michael Chiesa and then-No. 5 contender Rafael Dos Anjos. It seemed like an odd fight for RDA to take, but it presented a big-time test and a bigger opportunity for Chiesa to assert himself in the welterweight division, and that’s exactly what Spokane’s Chiesa did.
Chiesa got his grappling-heavy attack going early and searched for a choke, and he weathered a short storm when Dos Anjos reversed position and got back to his feet. The second round saw Chiesa’s lead leg take a few heavy kicks, but once again, he got the fight to the mat and threatened a few submissions while fighting off a leg-lock attempt in the final round.
Looking at Chiesa now, it’s a wonder how he ever fought at lightweight. He’s another big, swarming welterweight who now has a fair claim to want a fight with anyone in the top half of the division. Doubters might look at his three welterweight wins (Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez and Dos Anjos) and say his wins came against a past-his-prime Condit and a pair of former lightweights. But that’s a disservice to how good Chiesa looks and continues to look at 170 pounds, and he showed he can impose his grappling game on a solid striker in Dos Anjos. Whether he gets his wish and fights Colby Covington next or anyone else in the top 15, Chiesa is a threat to watch in the increasingly crowded division.
Herbert Burns: More Than Gilbert’s Brother
Herbert Burns added the names of himself and his brother Gilbert to the list of UFC siblings with a bang against former M-1 Global featherweight champion Nate Landwehr in the opening bout of the night in Raleigh.
n almost no time, Burns, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, got Landwehr to the mat and threatened with an arm triangle. While his opponent fought the choke, Burns showed plenty of composure in his first foray into the Octagon, keeping the pressure heavy while Landwehr got back to his feet. When the Tennessee native tried to pressure Burns, the Brazilian countered with a flush right knee that ended the fight and stunned the crowd in PNC Arena.
It was a flawless debut for Burns. He showed good wrestling, a slick submission game and scored his first career knockout. The featherweight division is stuffed to the gills with talented fighters for Burns to face next, and he’s not far from proving how big of a menace he is at 145 pounds.