The UFC concludes a stretch of eight consecutive weeks of action with a second straight Fight Night card that takes place outside of Las Vegas, Nev. This week, the Octagon travels to Columbus, Ohio for UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Daukaus. This weekend is also the second week in a row where a heavyweight matchup adorns the marquee.
Top-ten heavyweights will collide as fourth-ranked Curtis Blaydes meets the ninth-ranked Chris Daukaus. Blaydes enters the fight on the heels of a unanimous-decision victory over Jairzinho Rozenstruik whereas Daukaus fell for the first time since joining the UFC in his last outing, suffering a knockout loss to Derrick Lewis. Both men look to deliver a standout performance to insert themselves into the title picture, joining recent winners Tai Tuivasa and Tom Aspinall.
The co-main event features one of the brightest female prospects in the organization as Alexa Grasso meets Joanne Wood as the latter makes her 15th UFC appearance. Grasso recently moved up to the flyweight division after struggling to make the 116-pound weight limit at strawweight. She has seen early success at flyweight, winning her first two contests, and this bout with Wood could be a major stepping stone towards the top of the division. Wood has not fared as well recently, losing two fights back-to-back after a stretch where she alternated wins and losses over a two-year period.
Also on the main card is a can’t-miss affair between two veteran welterweights as Matt Brown meets Bryan Barberena. These two standouts enter the fight after picking up wins the last time they were in action, with Brown knocking out Dhiego Lima, and Barberena notching a unanimous decision win over Darian Weeks. Matt Brown, at age 41, is nearly a decade older than Barberena, who is 32, and is certainly drawing to the close of a storied MMA career that has lasted over a decade and a half. The Ohio native will look to deliver a memorable performance in front of a raucous hometown crowd.
UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs. Daukaus will take place inside the Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The Midwest event will start in the late afternoon with preliminary coverage beginning at 4 p.m. ET. The six-fight main card will follow immediately thereafter at 7 p.m. ET. The event can be seen in its entirety on both ESPN and ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Curtis Blaydes has some of the best MMA wrestling in the heavyweight division; does he successfully implement a takedown heavy gameplan to defeat Chris Daukaus?
Sumian: It is unfortunate that these two top-ranked heavyweights are tasked with carrying on the momentum after the historic London card that took place last weekend. Nevertheless, Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus will do their best to deliver an action-packed heavyweight clash in an effort to determine who continues moving forward in the improving heavyweight division.
Daukaus was riding high after compiling a 4-0 UFC record, which includes wins over Aleksei Oleinik and Shamil Abdurakhimov. He took a step back after establishing himself as a future contender by losing to Derrick Lewis via first-round knockout. Daukaus is a powerful heavyweight, holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and has compiled 11 professional wins by knockout. The eighth-ranked UFC heavyweight will look to get back to his winning ways by taking on a powerful wrestler in Blaydes.
Whenever Blaydes is able to implement his wrestling game plan to optimal efficiency, it is incredibly difficult to defeat him. His top control is second-to-none, and his ability to do damage while maintaining a dominant position makes him a difficult matchup for any heavyweight. Blaydes’ only setbacks as a UFC heavyweight are courtesy of knockout artists Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou. His recent improvements as a striker have given him confidence to exchange on the feet with formidable strikers. However, his best path to victory is undoubtedly on the ground where he can utilize his wrestling and ground-and-pound. Blaydes is one of the few top-ranked heavyweights who has not fought for a UFC heavyweight title. A win over Daukaus can put Blaydes in a future title eliminator bout sooner rather than later.
At this point in their careers, Blaydes is the better overall mixed martial artist. He has fought better competition and has a difficult wrestling style to prepare for. As long as he sticks to the game plan, he will defeat Daukaus by late-round TKO. Blaydes will continuously fire off combinations on the feet using his surprising speed before shooting in over and over. Daukaus will do his best to fight off the consistent offensive wrestling of Blaydes, but ultimately fail. Fans should expect a lopsided, yet uneventful, bout until the inevitable finish between rounds three and five.
Petela: This is Chris Daukaus’ second opportunity to shine in the main event. The first time around he did not fare well, losing via knockout to Derrick Lewis in the first round of their Dec. 2021 bout. Things will be different this time around. His opponent also did not fare well against Derrick Lewis, getting absolutely flatlined with an uppercut as he changed levels and then eating a couple unnecessary shots on the ground as Herb Dean was slow to react to the knockout. Blaydes does not have the same otherworldly power that Derrick Lewis carries though. It is especially true in the heavyweight division that anyone can land a fight-changing punch at a moment’s notice.
The recipe for Blaydes is simple – get the fight to the mat and keep Daukaus’ back on the canvas. Unfortunately that won’t be as easy to do as it sounds. Blaydes will struggle to take down the former Philadelphia Police officer, but even if he does, keeping him down will be a problem. What often goes unnoticed with Daukaus is that he is a black belt in jiu-jitsu and will be able to get back to his feet quickly. What might surprise fans is when Daukaus looks to implement his own offensive wrestling. It will surprise Blaydes as well, and the Junior College National Champion will find himself in an unfamiliar position, fighting from the bottom on the ground. Expect Daukaus to wear down Blaydes, and, with both men being exhausted late in the fight, it will be Daukaus who carries the power late and picks up a fifth-round TKO stoppage and the biggest win of his career.
Alexa Grasso is 2-0 since moving to the flyweight division; can she make it three in a row against Joanne Wood?
Petela: She can and she will. Alexa Grasso’s growth as a fighter has been noticeable each and every time she steps into the Octagon. Her performance in defeat against Carla Esparza introduced the world to a new Alexa Grasso, a fighter who addressed deficiencies in her grappling to complement her precision boxing skills. As Grasso makes her ascension into flyweight contendership, Joanne Wood is a great opponent to showcase her robust skillset.
Wood will be more than able to hold her own in the standup, and the Scottish kickboxer will have a slight advantage. The one area that Wood has shown to be consistently vulnerable is submission grappling. Four times in her career Wood has lost via submission, including her last outing against Taila Santos. When this fight gets into the second round, Grasso will successfully shoot for a takedown and work quickly to pass Wood’s guard, and, then, while Wood tries to get back to her feet, Grasso will take her back and sink in a rear-naked choke. Grasso will get the tap and score the first submission win of her career. This fight will be a huge statement that Grasso has arrived as a legitimate contender in the women’s flyweight division.
Sumian: There is nothing more I can contribute to my colleague’s spot-on analysis. Alexa Grasso is one of the few women’s flyweights who has not competed for a title yet and is consistently improving with every performance. Grasso will be able to nullify Wood’s offensive striking using her own boxing and effective ground game. An impressive win over a veteran like Wood should launch Grasso into the top five of the division.
Aliaskhab Khizriev and Denis Tiuliulin – do we need to know these names?
Sumian: The two debutants will face off in a middleweight clash on the preliminary card. The only difference is Aliaskhab Khiziriev was already scheduled to make his UFC debut while Denis Tiuliulin is a warm body replacing Abusupiyan Magomedov. Khsiriev is the name to know between the two and is on a 13-0 undefeated run. The Russian native will make short work of Tiuliulin and move onto bigger and better things.
Petela: That is correct. This was slated to be a great showdown between Khizriev and Magomedov, but, for the second time in a row, Magomedov has been forced out of his first UFC contest. This will be a dominant win for Khizriev in his debut, but it won’t be until he faces stiffer competition that fans will know whether or not he is a name to keep an eye on in the future.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Sara McMann. The former bantamweight title challenger has gone 5-5 since failing to win the championship against Ronda Rousey. In her last four fights, she is just 1-3 and has lost by submission in all three of those losses. She takes on Karol Rosa this weekend, a fighter who hasn’t lost since joining the UFC. Rosa is not known as a particularly dangerous submission threat, so McMann will likely snap the submission-loss streak, but it will be a lopsided decision victory for Rosa and mark the end of a long run inside the UFC for former Olympic wrestling silver medalist McMann.
Sumian: Aleksei Oleinik should not be fighting at the professional level any longer. The Russian native has realized an incredibly successful combat sports career, but is undoubtedly no longer able to compete at the highest level at 44 years old. He is on a three-fight losing streak and will suffer a fourth loss at the hands of Ilir Latifi. Happy retirement to the Ezekiel-choke king!
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian:. The most important bout on this entire card is also the most exciting bout on this card. Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France could have easily headlined a fight night, due to the implications of a title shot for the winner. These are two of the most explosive and entertaining flyweights outside of the champion Deiveson Figueiredo and former champion Brandon Moreno. The pair will engage in a wildly entertaining back-and-forth fight as Askarov looks to implement a well-rounded game plan against the power-punching Kara-France.
Petela: Chris Gutierrez vs. Batgerel Danaa. This bantamweight clash is going to be fun. Danaa dropped a unanimous decision in his UFC debut, but, since then, he has been on a tear, racking up three straight wins. Gutierrez also lost his UFC debut performance and has gone unbeaten since then, notching a record of 5-0-1. Neither one of these fighters have ever been finished and don’t expect that to change this weekend, but this prelim will get the fans in attendance and watching at home fired up early in the fight card.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Kai Kara-France. The New Zealander has picked up a post-fight bonus in three straight fights and this weekend he will earn his fourth in a row. He has won back-to-back fights by knockout, including a devastating victory over former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt in his last bout at UFC 269. His fight this weekend against Askar Askarov has the potential to be the most exciting fight of the night. Askarov is undefeated and the only blemish on his record is a draw against former UFC flyweight champion Brandon Moreno. Expect Kara-France to pick up a late stoppage with a devastating right hand that secures the Kiwi the next crack at gold and leaves Askarov tasting defeat for the first time in his career.
Sumian: Matt Brown. The knockout specialist is one of the most recognizable names on this card and will turn in a second-straight TKO finish at the expense of Bryan Barberena. Barberena is as tough as they come, but he will be in survival mode for as long as this bout lasts.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: The movie Coach Carter. Like the basketball team in the beginning of the movie, this card will start off rocky and uneventful. By the time it hits the peak of the preliminary card, things will start to get better and better with each fight. The action will peak on the main card as notable standouts such as Matt Brown, Alexa Grasso, and Askar Askarov deliver fantastic performances.
Petela: On the heels of what is being called the greatest Fight Night card in UFC history, this card has big shoes to fill. It won’t be an abject failure, but it won’t be full of thrilling knockouts either. It will be just okay. So pair it with the movie Monsters University. It’s one of the most “okayest” sequels that came on the heels of a wildly successful and enjoyable original. That’s the feel that this fight card will have, nothing spectacular but it won’t leave you wishing you didn’t watch it either.
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
HW: Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus
Women’s FlyW: Joanne Wood vs. Alexa Grasso
WW: Matt Brown vs. Bryan Barberena
FlyW: Askar Askarov vs. Kai Kara-France
HW: Ilir Latifi vs. Aleksei Oleinik
LW: Marc Diakese vs. Viacheslav Borshchev
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)
WW: Neil Magny vs. Max Griffin
Women’s BW: Sara McMann vs. Karol Rosa
BW: Chris Gutierrez vs. Batgerel Danaa
MW: Aliaskhab Krizriev vs. Denis Tiuliulin
Women’s FlyW: Jennifer Maia vs. Manon Fiorot
FlyW: Matheus Nicolau vs. David Dvorak
FW: Luis Saldana vs. Bruno Souza
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