Curtis Blaydes sits with his fist tucked under his chin in deep thought for a moment. He won’t sugarcoat it. In fact, he won’t even try to.
He accepts the pivotal nature of his UFC Fight Night main event against Tom Aspinall, live from the O2 Arena in London on Saturday, with open arms. A current two-fight win streak combined with the hard lessons from his losses have prepared him for this moment.
“I think it’d definitely add onto my resume,” Blaydes tells DAZN News over a Zoom call about what a win over Aspinall would mean. “Tom Aspinall is a legit heavyweight. His speed and athleticism, that’s what sets him apart from the standard heavyweight. A win over him … that’s something to brag about.”
But even if Blaydes has his hand raised over Aspinall with a highlight victory, he knows there’ll be a next step before a title look. Blaydes enters this weekend as the No. 4 heavyweight on the UFC’s rankings behind No. 3 Tai Tuivasa and No. 1 Ciryl Gane. Former two-time champion Stipe Miocic sits second.
“Even after, I’m pretty sure I’ll have to fight the winner of Tuivasa and Gane,” Blaydes says. “I don’t think it’s immediately going to be a title shot after this, no.”
Just like with Aspinall, Blaydes has both Tuivasa and Gane scouted well.
“They’re total opposites in terms of style,” Blaydes offers. “One is like a hammer. The other is more like a needle. Ciryl Gane is very technical. He moves around a lot more. He’s very athletic. I haven’t seen that one-punch power, but he doesn’t have to have that. He has combinations. He can mix it up with knees, elbows, all that. He’s a mixed martial artist.
“Tuivasa is more of a brawler, but he’s also athletic,” he tacks on. “I’ve seen athleticism, I’ve seen explosion. He can explode into stuff. Tuivasa is a lot more careless when it comes to the defensive hand position. But he can afford to do that.”
His last time out in March, Blaydes produced a second-round TKO (punches) of Chris Daukaus. That followed a unanimous decision over Jairzinho Rozenstruik last September. A similar, convincing victory over Aspinall would push him closer to title contention.
In Blaydes’ estimation, rebounding from his losses helped him become a better MMA fighter.
Each loss came at a different point in Blaydes’ career and life.
His first UFC loss to Francis Ngannou in April 2016 was also Blaydes’s UFC debut. He took it on three weeks' notice and had a corner consisting of his manager and friends that did mixed martial arts.
- Key takeaway: “After that fight, I realized I needed a real gym, a real coach. That’s why I moved from Chicago to Denver, and that’s why I joined Team Elevation.”
After getting his footing with five wins, including victories over Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem, Blaydes once again suffered a stoppage loss to Ngannou. This time it came in November 2018 by TKO (punches) in only 45 seconds.
- Key takeaway: “Sometimes it’s just not your night, and that’s what it was. I don’t think I did anything terribly wrong. He just hits like a 16-wheeler, and he hit the button.”
But perhaps being slept by Derrick Lewis in February 2021 taught Blaydes (16-3) the most valuable lesson of all.
“I learned not to be impatient because that’s why I took that super telegraphed takedown,” Blaydes concedes. “I was just impatient. I rushed it. It wasn’t organic.”
It wasn’t the first time the hulking six-foot-four heavyweight made a decision in haste. In fact, ten years ago, he recalls a moment being approached by a WWE talent scout following a win in the junior college nationals for wrestling.
“He gave me a card, and he’s like, ‘Hey, in two weeks, we’re going to have a tryout,’” Blaydes remembers. “At the time, I was like, ‘I don’t do fake wrestling.’ I was a real wrestler.”
So, Blaydes handed the card off to one of his friends.
“I gave it to one of my buddies who is now a WWE star,” Blaydes continues, referring to Angelo Dawkins. “He went to the tryout. It worked out for him.”
Although he’s fully entrenched in MMA, Blaydes can admit that he was a bit impatient in that choice, too.
“At the time, I thought I was too good for WWE,” he says. “Now, in hindsight, I think I may have made a rash decision. If they’d ever hit me back up, I’d answer.”
Perhaps down the line.
But for now, the 31-year-old is using these tough lessons on preparation and impatience as hardened gems that could position him to vie for his first world heavyweight title opportunity in the near future.