With the UFC heavyweight division stuck in neutral as it awaits the inevitable Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar showdown in early 2019, its top contenders have been forced to find other avenues to further their title pursuits while the belt sits in limbo atop Cormier’s mantel.
Two of the division’s top-five fighters are already seemingly booked, as a matchup between Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov is reportedly being targeted for UFC 229. That doesn’t leave many options for the man many assumed to already be the No. 1 contender before Cormier’s title upset, 27-year-old Curtis Blaydes. But a big opportunity could rest on the horizon. Blaydes told MMA Fighting on Thursday that the UFC has offered former champion Stipe Miocic a fight against him on Nov. 10 at UFC Denver. Miocic has yet to sign the offer, according to Blaydes, but “Razor” hopes he does.
In Blaydes’ eyes, with Cormier’s title tied up until next year, the matchup between he and Miocic would serve as the perfect fight to cement a true No. 1 contender.
“I don’t feel like it’s my right to tell another athlete, let alone another man, how he should feel about a situation, but if it were me, he has a legitimate claim for the rematch [against Cormier], but I also have a legitimate claim for a title shot now. It is what it is,” Blaydes said. “Neither one of us is going to get that title shot this year. We’ve still got five months left in the year. I don’t want to wait that long. I want to get another one in before the holidays start.
“The UFC, they’re behind it, because like I said, it makes sense. It’s a good matchup, it would be a good fight. He’s good, I’m good, we’re both good wrestlers. My hands have gotten a lot better. I want to showcase the skills I’ve been developing, and I just think, because I live here in the Denver area, I live 15 minutes away from downtown Denver, so I feel like it’ll help me grow a fanbase here. This is where I live now. I don’t know how Stipe sees the callout … but I’m hoping he’s really considering it. Really, for him, it’s either he fights me or he waits until April. I mean, that’s a long wait.
“I want to make my argument for a title shot stronger,” Blaydes added. “And that’s what Stipe does.”
Lesnar’s supposed re-entry into the division threw a monkey wrench into the plans of many UFC heavyweight contenders. A 41-year-old professional wrestling star, Lesnar has not recorded an official win in MMA since his 2010 defense of the UFC heavyweight title over Shane Carwin. Lesnar lost back-to-back fights after that to Cain Velasquez and Alistair Overeem, then abandoned mixed martial arts for five years before returning in 2016 to face Mark Hunt at UFC 200. Lesnar initially defeated Hunt via unanimous decision, however that win was quickly overturned into a no contest after it was revealed that Lesnar failed two drug tests for the estrogen blocker clomiphene in the lead-up to UFC 200.
Lesnar received a one-year suspension for his failed drug tests, then promptly retired from MMA and returned to professional wrestling. Doing so froze his suspension. Lesnar then officially un-retired and re-entered the USADA testing pool on July 3, which allowed his suspension to resume with an end date of Jan. 8, 2019. That means the heavyweight division is effectively being immobilized until early 2019 simply to wait out the USADA suspension of a man who hasn’t record an official win in nearly eight years.
“I hate it. It just slows down our positions, slows down progress, because the ultimate goal is to get to the title, and it’s like, it’s already [decided],” Blaydes said. “I thought the purpose of us fighting is to prove who gets the title shot, and then Brock Lesnar, who hasn’t fought in two years and hasn’t had a legitimate win in eight years, because even when he beat Mark Hunt, that win was negated because he tested positive, so a guy like him who jumps in off the strength of his popularity — and don’t get me wrong, I know he’s very popular, just like CM Punk is very popular. That doesn’t mean he’s good. That’s not what that means.
“Like, Will Smith is very popular. You think Will Smith can go in there at 185 and get a title shot? No. Brock Lesnar, he’s going to go fight for the title, go make boku money, and he’s going to go get knocked out. He’s not good. It’s weird how MMA fans are, like, just fascinated by his muscles. Like, they just like to see a big guy with his physique in the Octagon. They don’t believe he can win, they just like to see him in Octagon. I don’t get it. Maybe they just like his tattoos, I don’t know.”
Blaydes conceded that at this point he is simply going to have to “wait for Brock Lesnar to get knocked out” by Cormier before seeing a glimpse of a title shot, so instead of sitting around and complaining, he is focused on securing the Miocic fight and rounding out the weaknesses in his game. To that end, he’s had an unexpected training partner help him of late.
Roughly a month after his brutal third-round knockout of Overeem at UFC 225, Blaydes said Overeem reached out to him about coming and training with him at the Elevation Fight gym in Denver.
“He’s probably the best training partner I’ve ever had, like, skill-wise,” Blaydes said.
“I think he sees I’m young, I’ve got potential to grow a lot, and I think he just wants to be a part of that, and I appreciate that.
“The first practice it was weird, but then we talked and got all the initial awkwardness out of it, and then it was just good. We got a lot of good rounds in on the ground and in sparring, a lot of good work. He helped me, I helped him. So I think, as of right now, I think it works. … [We’ve been working on] just movement, how he sets up angles with his footwork. That’s why he does all that switching. I’ve been doing a lot of switching also, going from orthodox to southpaw and trying to work on my offense from both stances.”
Blaydes remains easily the youngest heavyweight contender within striking distance to the UFC title, so he knows he has time to work on his game. Success has come fast for him. The four-fight win streak over Overeem, Hunt, Alexey Oleynik, and Daniel Omielanczuk that rocketed him from unranked to a bonafide elite fighter in the division all came in less than a calendar year. And after experiencing the recent birth of his first daughter, and being fueled by the extra motivation that has come from being the proud father of a healthy newborn, Blaydes is ready to make history repeat itself as he eyes his next big run.
“The perfect next 12 months is me getting the Stipe fight in November,” Blaydes said. “Me winning. DC, he fights Brock, let’s say January. We give DC a few months, he’ll enjoy the win, then me and DC square off. I beat DC. Then, one of my roommates brought this up because of the whole Brock Lesnar thing, he says maybe Jon Jones pops back up and then maybe me and Jon Jones square off. Everyone is talking about the money fight — Jon Jones is the money fight. He’s legit, a true warrior, a true badass. He beat a murderer’s row at light heavyweight, a lot of greats in their prime. He beat DC twice handily. Allegations or not, I respect him and know that would be a hell of a fight.”