At UFC Beijing this coming weekend, red hot UFC heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes will face off against former UFC heavyweight championship contender Francis Ngannou.
Going into the Saturday’s fight, it seems as if both Blaydes and Ngannou’s UFC careers are heading in different directions.
Blaydes is currently riding a five fight winning streak (with the exception of one victory that was recently overturned to a no-contest due to Blaydes testing positive for marijuana) ever since suffering his first defeat in the UFC back in April of 2016, while Francis Ngannou is in the midst of a two fight losing streak.
When you look at it from that perspective alone, it would lead you to believe this is a pretty weird match up, when in actuality it makes perfect since seeing as how Ngannou gave Blaydes his lone loss inside the octagon.
When these two exciting heavyweights meet once again in this Saturday night’s main event, it could have heavy implications for Curtis Blaydes.
For one, he could take a big step closer to getting a shot at the UFC heavyweight championship should he reign supreme over the heavy hitter from Cameroon, or two, he could have all this momentum he’s built for himself lately get completely shattered via a Ngannou victory.
During an appearance on the The MMA Hour, Blaydes stated that while he is not sure where Francis Ngannou stands in the rankings after two straight losses, he does know it’s a possibility his mind may not be where it needs to be.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had a two-fight losing streak, but if I project, I’m thinking he’s probably feeling a bit of pressure right now,” Blaydes said. “He knows if he loses another one it doesn’t look good. That would be three back-to-back-to-back losses in one year. He’s a fan favorite, but you can still get released after that, so I know he’s got a little bit of pressure on him and that might make him press. When guys start pressing, they make mistakes and it usually gets worse.”
Despite Ngannou’s faults, it’s the improvements Blaydes has made to his own MMA skill set, that has him more fired up than ever to square off with Francis Ngannou again.
And if you ask Blaydes, he considers himself to be a much more well rounded fighter than he was two years ago.
His repetitive and thorough views of his first bout with Ngannou have instilled in him the confidence that if he knew then what he knows now, his record of 10-1-1 would still be flawless.
“I haven’t watched it in a few months now, but I’ve watched it at least a dozen times,” Blaydes said. “I’ve picked it apart, all the things I did wrong, all the mistakes I made, all the ways I could have won. I had plenty of opportunities to win that fight. When I took him down the first time, I allowed him to get an underhook and just get back up. Had I had the knowledge I have today, I would have easily been able to counter that underhook and hold him down and ground and pound him. He didn’t have great conditioning then, he doesn’t have great conditioning now. I know if I hold him down for two to three minutes, he’ll be gassed, he’ll be done for.
“That right there just lets me know I could have beat him back then with all the holes I have in my game and today I’m ten times better than the version of myself that debuted that day. So I know I can win. I have so many different ways to win now. I don’t have to wrestle, but most likely I will wrestle because I know that’s his weakest area of MMA.”
At the same time, Blaydes did not want to discredit Ngannou, especially when you consider their first contest at UFC Croatia ended with a TKO win for Ngannou.
But instead, Blaydes acknowledged the fact that though Ngannou may not have the type of punching power of a Mark Hunt, whom he defeated back in Feburary, he still knows Ngannou has hammers in his fists.
When asked if the losses from Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis had taken a physical or psychological toll on Ngannou, Blaydes could only speculate and assume that will not be case.
“If it led to that, then I would probably retire,” Blaydes said of whether he thought Ngannou’s corner could have done a better job of protecting him in the Miocic fight. “If I can’t pull the trigger in a fight, that’s just not smart to go into a fight like that. You have to go into a fight believing in all your tools and he doesn’t have a lot of tools, but the one tool he does have is a nasty overhand. So if you don’t believe in that, then you shouldn’t be in the Octagon. You can get hurt.
“If he goes in there and he fights me the way he fought Derrick Lewis, it’ll be really bad for him. I’m hoping he’s in a better place in his head right now, that he believes in his skill set, because I want him to be at his best. I don’t want any excuses from the fans or pundits or anyone. I want him to come out guns blazing.”