LAS VEGAS — Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis sit in an awkward position in the UFC’s heavyweight division. Blaydes is ranked No. 2 and Lewis is No. 4, so they’re closing in on a title shot.
Champion Stipe Miocic will defend his belt against No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou in the main event of UFC 261 next month in Las Vegas, so the Blaydes-Lewis winner will be in prime position for the next shot.
That, though, is where it gets tricky. UFC president Dana White has already said that the Miocic-Ngannou winner would have to fight ex-light heavyweight champion Jon Jones next. Jones vacated the light heavyweight belt last year and is now campaigning as a heavyweight.
His divisional debut will come against the Miocic-Ngannou winner, somewhere around the July timeframe.
That will push the title shot for the Blaydes-Lewis winner back probably until the fall if not until 2022, depending upon how things play out.
But that increases the significance of a victory for Blaydes and Lewis in their match on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN+) at Apex in the main event of UFC Vegas 19.
Blaydes is a healthy -350 favorite at BetMGM to defeat Lewis, who is at +280.
This fight is Blaydes’ to win, and it will come down to his strategy. He said prior to his victory over Alexander Volkov that he planned to fight conservatively and use a wrestling-heavy style against the Russian, much to White’s consternation.
He did it and won a wide unanimous decision victory that wasn’t exciting but was effective.
That’s the same path he likely should use to get past the powerful Lewis, who stopped submission ace Aleksei Oleinik in August early in the second round.
Blaydes is 14-2 and his only two defeats were TKO losses to Ngannou. A former national wrestling champion, he’s got the size, strength and athleticism to control Lewis if the fight gets to the ground.
That’ll come as no shock to Lewis, whose power is such that he can end fights with one swing of his right hand.
The question is whether he’ll be able to defend himself effectively on the ground against an elite wrestler with the high-end ground-and-pound skills that Blaydes possesses.
Blaydes’ wrestling figures to be the difference in the fight. It’s the one skill that Lewis really doesn’t have at a high-level. The more pressing question is whether Blaydes will be able to finish Lewis on the ground or whether Lewis will make it to the finish.
I like Blaydes but I am rarely in favor of laying 350. So I’ll play Blaydes by decision here, even though BetMGM doesn’t have a number on that up yet. But Blaydes by decision figures to be the most likely outcome of this bout, so that’s the way I will play it.
Other bets for UFC Vegas 19
Josh Emmers at -225 to win over Chas Skelly.
Shana Dobson at +125 to win over Casey O’Neill.
Tom Aspinall at +275 to keep his six-fight winning streak alive with a win over Andrei Arlovski.
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