There were no takedown attempts. No thoughts of slow-playing it to try to wear down his opponent. It was toe-to-toe, power-to-power, man-to-man, for Curtis Blaydes on Saturday against a rising KO artist, Chris Daukaus, at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio.
The threat of the takedown from Blaydes was enough, as the former NJCAA heavyweight national champion didn’t attempt a single one. But he caught Daukaus between the eyes with a right hand that beat Daukaus’ to the target.
Daukaus quickly dropped and Blaydes finished it at 17 seconds of the second round. He immediately called for an interim title fight against ex-interim champion Ciryl Gane, and then later called out former champion Stipe Miocic, who was seated ringside.
“I think I deserve an interim title shot,” said Blaydes, who has now won six of his last seven and 10 of his last 12. “We can do it any time in June, July, August. I’m down.”
He later looked at Miocic and said, “I respect the hell out of you.”
He also respected Daukaus, but knew he needed to do something to grab some attention. He was starting to get a reputation as a lay-and-pray fighter, who would take his opponent down and hold him there. After a particularly unappealing win over Alexander Volkov on June 20, 2020, he apologized to UFC brass for his performance.
Saturday, he was intent on having a “wow” moment and he got it when his right was quicker than Daukaus’ and got to the point faster. It came after an uneventful first five minutes, but those five minutes were significant. Blaydes didn’t attempt a single takedown and stood in the pocket well within Daukaus’ power.
Daukaus entered the fight having scored KOs in his last nine wins, but Blaydes was able to put him away.
“I wanted to put out a statement,” Blaydes said. “I knew everyone in here, including Chris Daukaus, his corner and everyone at home, was expecting the shot. That slows you down. If you’re waiting for me to shoot when you’re looking to strike I’m looking to do both. If you’re looking to wrestle or you’re looking to move, I saw the opportunity and it worked.”
Blaydes is now 16-3 with a no-contest and his only losses came to Francis Ngannou twice and Derrick Lewis. He entered Saturday’s bout ranked fourth, but a lot of the attention in the division has been on risers like Gane, knockout artist Tai Tuivasa and Tom Aspinall.
It’s easy to get overlooked in a scenario like that, so Blaydes wanted to do something dramatic to remind everyone that he’s still around and still able to win at the highest level.
Ngannou had knee surgery earlier this month and is expected to miss the rest of the year. Aspinall last week called out Tuivasa, so if the UFC makes that fight, it could open the spot for Blaydes.
The X-factor is former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who is moving to heavyweight. If Jones does fight for the interim title in the summer, as expected, a bout with Miocic makes the most sense.
But if Jones doesn’t go, that could open the door for Blaydes, who did everything he could to make his case Saturday.