The UFC keeps the show rolling this weekend as they return home to the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs. Blaydes. The heavyweights on the marquee are both vying for a title shot in the near future, as talks seem to have stalled between the UFC and current champion Jon Jones in regards to a potential July matchup with former divisional king Stipe Miocic.
Sergey Pavlovich announced himself to the masses in a big way his last time out, needing just 54 seconds to dispatch crowd favorite Tai Tuivasa in their showdown back in Dec. 2022. Another victory over a top opponent, this one an elite wrestler, will answer any questions people may have about whether or not he is ready for a title shot. Standing in his way is Curtis Blaydes. Only two men have ever defeated Blaydes – Francis Ngannou, who is no longer with the promotion, and Derrick Lewis, who has looked like he is on his way out. With neither of those two fighters standing opposite him in the cage, Blaydes has the chance to earn his fourth consecutive victory and stake his claim as the rightful next title challenger.
Middleweights square off in the co-main event as Brad Tavares takes on Bruno Silva. The Hawaiian Tavares has faltered against the division’s elite, but has shown constant improvement each time he steps into the Octagon, most recently in his loss against surging South African contender Dricus Du Plessis. Silva comes into the clash having lost two consecutive fights – one via knockout to former champion Alex Pereira and one via submission to grappling ace Gerald Meerschaert. A win over a proven veteran like Tavares would greatly bolster his reputation at 185 lbs.
UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs. Blaydes airs live in its entirety on ESPN+ starting at 4 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action in this week’s edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Sergey Pavlovich hasn’t dropped a fight since his UFC debut; does he continue his hot streak and best Curtis Blaydes in this weekend’s headliner?
Sumian: I know that many claim Alexander Volkov as Ivan Drago, but Sergei Pavlovich is the true Drago for MMA fans. The Russian native has delivered five astonishing finishes in a row and quickly claimed the mantle of heavyweight contender. On the other side, Curtis Blaydes has done nothing but pay his dues as a UFC heavyweight and is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. This will truly be a number-one-contender fight once these two towering heavyweights clash in a main event that is sure to deliver.
It is amazing to think that Blaydes is 12-3-1 in the UFC and has yet to find himself fighting for the title. He has fought the best of the best and continues to impress with every performance, utilizing his prolific wrestling and improved striking. Blaydes has only fallen short when facing elite power punchers like Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis. Still, he continues to prove he is an elite heavyweight and will surely wait for a title shot, if he is able to defeat Pavlovich this coming Saturday.
Pavlovich was my pick to become UFC heavyweight champion before the end of the year. That prediction is still alive, and his recent performances have made that prediction even more plausible. He has five first-round finishes, and the most recent two came at the expense of Derrick Lewis and Tai Tuivasa. The only thing that is concerning about Palvovich is his ground game. He was utterly dominated by Alistair Overeem back in 2018, and we have yet to see him face the same kind of adversity since then. If he can withstand Bladyes’ wrestling, Pavlovich is a serious threat to the heavyweight throne.
If Blaydes is able to get this fight to the ground, this fight is over. He is simply too good on the ground to be defeated when utilizing top control, elbows and ground striking. Unfortunately, this will not be the case. This will be another classic Pavlovich performance, and he will finish Blaydes in the second round by TKO. The Russian is destined to fight for the heavyweight title, whether or not he becomes champion. Expect a prolific performance from Pavlovich, and a clear number-one-contender seat secured after Saturday night.
Petela: This fight doesn’t stay standing very long. There is nothing that I have seen out of Sergei Pavlovich that leads me to believe that he can avoid being taken down by Curtis Blaydes, nor that he will have much success getting upright once he is down.
This is a huge moment for Blaydes. He is still quite young for a heavyweight, at just 32 years old, and he is already one of, if not the, best wrestlers in the division. Most heavyweights don’t go about getting the fight to the mat in a conventional fashion. Rather than a single-leg or double-leg takedown, they work from the clinch and kind of drag their opponent down to the mat. That’s the kind of takedown defense Pavlovich has been preparing for throughout his career. With a wrestler like Blaydes, he is going to be in trouble, as he finds his feet being pulled out from under him, as Blaydes plows through with a blast double.
Pavlovich isn’t going to have the timing to land a fight ending uppercut like Derrick Lewis did. Instead, as Pavlovich throws a heavy right hand, Blaydes will duck under to change levels and capitalize on his opponent being ever so slightly out of position. From there, it’s all academic. Blaydes pounds the living daylights out of him from half guard, until the referee steps in to wave off the fight and save him from any further damage. Next stop, title shot for Curtis “Razor” Blaydes.
Both Brad Tavares and Bruno Silva enter their co-main event clash on the heels of a loss; which middleweight gets back in the win column?
Petela: Bruno Silva. His two losses came against two of the absolute specialists in the middleweight division. He was submitted by Gerald Meerschaert and knocked out by Alex Pereira. There is nothing shameful about either of those losses. Before those two losses, he had won seven in a row, all by knockout. Expect him to get back to those ways this weekend and knock out Brad Tavares.
This fight will be back and forth, until it isn’t. Brad Tavares has shown that he is a very well-rounded fighter at this point in his career. His takedown defense is absolutely incredible, as shown in his most recent outing against Dricus du Plessis. However, this weekend’s fight against Bruno Silva will be a fight where Tavares will probably want to try and get this fight to the canvas.
Standing at range against Silva is a dangerous proposition, so Tavares will likely try to close the distance and batter Silva in the clinch or on the mat. He will have some success, but 15 minutes is a long time to avoid the thunder that Bruno Silva has in his hands. It will probably come from a clinch-break situation, but Silva will land a huge right hand in Round 3 that ends the fight in an instant with the outcome very much in the balance. For a late notice bump-up to the co-main event slot, this fight will deliver a ton of high-level technique and entertainment.
Sumian: My colleague broke it down perfectly. Bruno Silva is simply the better fighter in this day and age. I do not believe he will finish the always-tough Tavares, but it will be a clear unanimous decision victory for the Brazilian. If you are able to defeat Tavares, you are ready for the top 10 of the middleweight division.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Christos Giagos is on his way out. He will suffer a third consecutive loss to Ricky Glenn and be on his way out. Two losses by way of finish is not a good streak to have, and it will only continue after Saturday.
Petela: Batgerel Danaa. After storming onto the scene in the UFC with a first-round knockout in his debut, Batgerel has not fared well. He has lost his last two fights in a row, and is on the verge of the dreaded three-fight losing streak. While it’s less of a hard and fast rule nowadays, dropping three in a row still isn’t a good look. If Batgerel falls to 1-3 inside the Octagon, expect him to get his walking papers and try to retool his game and sharpen his skills on the regional or international scene.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: If you haven’t watched a Ricky Glenn fight, you’re in luck. His clash against Christos Giagos will steal the show on the prelims. Glenn has 16 finishes in his career, 13 by knockout. Giagos has 11 finishes, seven knockouts and four submissions. Plan on these two beating the living snot out of each other for as long as this fight goes, though it will very likely end before the close of the second round.
Sumian: Karol Rosa and Norma Dumont are going to put on a fight worth watching. Both are very game fighters that will meet at women’s featherweight. This will deliver in more ways than one.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Bobby Green. I like Jared Gordon, but Bobby Green is going to win this fight by knockout. Gordon has suffered four losses by way of knockout, and this will be no different. Green gets the fifty-thousand dollars and will continue his trajectory as the new Nate Diaz of the lightweight division.
Petela: Matthew Semelsberger. Call it a hunch, but “Semi the Jedi” is due for a big performance. He shook off his loss to Alex Morono with a victory over Jake Matthews, which might be the best win of his career. He has a tough matchup against Jeremiah Wells, who hasn’t lost since 2019 but I expect Semelsberger to show off the power he has in his hands and score a knockout worthy of a post-fight bonus.
Pair this card with…
Petela: Popcorn. It doesn’t take long to make, so you won’t miss much of the action. It is the perfect snack to munch on as you watch these fights end in knockout after knockout. There aren’t a ton of high-profile fighters on this card, but it is going to be a particularly violent night, even for a mixed martial arts event. Grab a couple friends, a box of Orville Redenbacher’s, and sit back and enjoy the show.
Sumian: Russian vodka. This is going to be a highlight evening for Pavlovich, so indulge in some classic Russian vodka. Overall, this card is going to deliver and stay tuned for violence from start to finish.
|Fight||Sumian’s Pick||Petela’s Pick|
|Main Card (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)|
|HW: Sergey Pavlovich vs. Curtis Blaydes||Pavlovich||Blaydes|
|MW: Brad Tavares vs. Bruno Silva||Silva||Silva|
|LW: Bobby Green vs. Jared Gordon||Green||Green|
|Women’s StrawW: Iasmin Lucindo vs. Brogan Walker||Lucindo||Walker|
|WW: Jeremiah Wells vs. Matthew Semelsberger||Semelsberger||Semelsberger|
|Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 4 p.m. ET)|
|LW: Ricky Glenn vs. Christos Giagos||Glenn||Glenn|
|BW: Rani Yahya vs. Montel Jackson||Jackson||Yahya|
|Women’s FW: Karol Rosa vs. Norma Dumont||Dumont||Dumont|
|HW: Mohammed Usman vs. Junior Tafa||Usman||Usman|
|FW: Francis Marshall vs. William Gomis||Gomis||Gomis|
|Women’s FlyW: Priscila Cachoeira vs. Karine Silva||Silva||Cachoeira|
|BW: Batgerel Danaa vs. Brady Hiestand||Batgerel||Batgerel|