Two of the heaviest punchers in the UFC go toe-to-toe this weekend. The winner gets one step closer to becoming the “baddest man on the planet.”
No. 2 heavyweight Curtis Blaydes takes on No. 4 heavyweight Derrick Lewis on Saturday from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The five-round bout is the main event of UFC Vegas 19 and the focus of this week’s UFC betting report.
It’s an exciting one, as a title shot or No. 1 contender fight likely awaits the winner.
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Blaydes (-450) enters Saturday a heavy favorite after winning five of his last six fights, including three knockout wins and two unanimous decisions. Blaydes’ lone loss in that span came against current No. 1 heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, who will challenge Stipe Miocic for the title at UFC 260 in March.
Lewis (+350) enters the octagon on a three-fight win streak of his own, last beating Aleksi Olenik by TKO in August 2020. The win-streak is especially notable because Lewis beat two highly regarded grapplers (Olenik and Ilir Latifi), earning him a compelling fight against one of the best heavyweight wrestlers in the UFC, Blaydes.
Blaydes isn’t just an elite grappler, though. He’s one of the most potent, well-rounded fighters in the division. Ten of Blaydes’ 14 wins have come via knockout, quickly putting thoughts of an automatic Lewis knockout to bed.
While Blaydes hasn’t written the blueprint to beat a fighter like Ngannou, who has defeated Blaydes twice, his fight career is still very much in its early stages. He continues to improve. A win over Lewis puts him one step closer to an opportunity to avenge his losses and will earn him much-deserved respect from the fight community.
Lewis, who has accumulated 19 knockout wins himself, is unfazed by the hype surrounding his opponent. He’s made his living as one of the most dangerous brawlers in MMA. When his punches land flush, fighters hit the canvas. He’s expecting much of the same this weekend.
Can the heavy underdog pull off an upset? Let’s analyze the fight.
(Odds via the FanDuel Sportsbook; subject to change.)
Heavyweight bout: No. 2 Curtis Blaydes (14-2-0, 1NC) vs. No. 4 Derrick Lewis (24-7-0, 1NC)
At face value, it’s hard to find an outlier one way or another. Both fighters make quick work of their opponents, each holding an average fight time inside 11 minutes. If you’re looking for a height and reach advantage, there hardly is one. Blaydes has just one inch on Lewis in both categories.
Instead, you can dig deep into each fighter’s style to find outliers. Blaydes is a great grappler, averaging 6.63 takedowns per 15 minutes, strikes well (51% significant strikes), and has proven to withstand a five-round bout.
Lewis is one-dimensional, fighting almost exclusively on his feet. Let’s call him what he is – a brawler who found success knocking people out in MMA events. That’s not something to scoff at, but when fighting smart, elite grapplers (see Daniel Cormier), Lewis is out of his element.
Lewis averages an abysmal 0.48 takedowns per 15 minutes, hidden by a pretty good takedown defense (53%). That takedown defense is essential to keeping the fight on their feet, which is likely the only way Lewis wins this weekend.
Blaydes has a clear advantage on the ground, will certainly use it, and if he mounts Lewis, the end could come quickly. For a beautiful visualization of how that looks, watch the highlights of his fight against Alistair Overeem below.
Still, Lewis has unbelievable knockout power. If he can land one flush, he’ll pay handsomely for sports bettors who are brave enough to take the heavy underdog. That said, it’s his only path to victory, while Blaydes has quite a few more. I’m backing Blaydes on Saturday.
Because I’ll never lay -450 for anything, I’ll instead sprinkle a few low-risk, high-reward bets (0.25 units) on this fight.