LAS VEGAS — Curtis Blaydes was hanging on for dear life and he was sucking air badly as his bout with Alexander Volkov wound down. Blaydes’ wrestling dominated the Fight Night bout, but he wasn’t able to get that kind of spectacular victory that would have boosted his argument that he deserves a title shot soon.
Blaydes won by scores of 49-45, 48-47 and 48-46, but it wasn’t exciting and it wasn’t the kind of performance that would have forced UFC president Dana White’s hand.
Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will defend his belt against former champion Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 252 on Aug. 15 at UFC Apex. Cormier has said he’s going to retire win or lose, and if he wins, the UFC brass will have to choose between Blaydes, Francis Ngannou and light heavyweight champ Jon Jones to compete for the vacant belt.
Given that, Blaydes needed a wow moment that he failed to get. He promised before the fight to rag doll Volkov, and he for the most part did that. He took Volkov down repeatedly, but he landed precious little ground and pound and rarely advanced his position.
It looked particularly bad coming on the heels of the co-main event, a firefight between Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos that was without question one of the best bouts of 2020. Emmett proved beyond doubt that he’s an upper-tier welterweight even after he injured his knee seconds into the match.
It limited his ability, he said, to put the kind of heat on his punches he wanted to get Burgos out, though Burgos ate a number of hellacious shots while demonstrating one of the best chins in the sport.
Emmett won by scores of 29-28 twice and 30-27 in an entertaining fight that would have had a crowd on its feet early and often had there been one.
Blaydes walked into the cage after that and his performance looked dull and uninspiring by contrast. He’s been dominant throughout his UFC run, and his only two losses were to Ngannou, but it didn’t seem like he did enough to impress the people who matter.
At one point during his bout, White got up from his cageside seat and left. Notably, he was fixated on the cage during the Emmett-Burgos fight.
Blaydes will be a problem for anyone in the division given his wrestling ability and his size, but the fighters at the top are a different level of athlete. He needs to look good in comparison to Miocic, Cormier and Ngannou, not just the others in the division.
That’s where he came up short despite his unanimous decision win on Saturday.
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