The UFC returns home to Las Vegas this weekend for UFC Vegas 71, where a pivotal bout for the promotion’s heavyweight division takes top billing at the UFC Apex.
Longtime heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes is looking to position himself for his first shot at UFC championship gold, but on Saturday night he’ll have to halt the charge of surging Russian wrecking machine Sergei Pavlovich, who arrives in red-hot form.
Pavlovich lost his Octagon debut to Dutch MMA legend Alistair Overeem back in November 2018, but has been perfect since. Five fights, five wins, and five finishes, all via knockout or TKO, and all within the first round, have seen him catapulted up the heavyweight rankings.
Now the 30-year-old from Rostov Oblast finds himself third in the UFC’s heavyweight rankings, one spot above Blaydes, and the pair will face off with the carrot of a potential title eliminator – or perhaps even a title fight – awaiting the winner.
Blaydes’ only career defeats have come against the two heaviest hitters in recent UFC history. Twice he was felled by the power of Francis Ngannou, while his most recent defeat came at the heavy hands of the UFC’s heavyweight knockout king Derrick Lewis. But those KO losses aside, Blaydes has been a dominant force in the UFC heavyweight division, and has a win list containing a who’s who of the recent heavyweight division to prove it.
Ahead of the bout, Blaydes said he had his opponent well scouted, and said that he will offer a far more dynamic, elusive target than the fighters who have fallen to Pavlovich’s punches so far in the UFC.
“His past opponents have been pretty much stationary, and I’m the opposite,” he said.
“I don’t like to be stationary, I like to always be be moving, presenting multiple targets. And I think yeah, his past opponents did the exact opposite, and played into the brawling game he wants.”
Blaydes has been on the cusp of a title shot for years, without ever managing to get the call to fight for the belt. And, despite being the nearly man of the heavyweight division, Blaydes said he’s staying patient as he awaits his shot at championship gold.
“I know what I’m working towards. I win, I’ll wait. I’ll wait for a title shot. I don’t care who it is. If it’s John, if it’s Stipe, if they bring in Brock Lesnar. I’ll wait.”
Pavlovich, on the other hand, looks like a man in a hurry. He fights like someone who has an early dinner reservation, and he said he’s going to put on an entertaining fight for the fans watching as he looks to cement his status as a top heavyweight contender.
“I think it’s gonna be a great show. I think it’s gonna be a great fight,” he said, through a translator.
There’s gonna be two fighters and they’re not going to be willing to back down. Nobody’s trying to give the other person that chance everybody’s fighting for the same goal. So I think it’s gonna be a fun fight. It’s gonna be an interesting fight. And everybody who tunes in is in for the show.”
UFC Vegas 71: Official fight card
- Sergei Pavlovich vs. Curtis Blaydes
- Brad Tavares vs. Bruno Silva
- Bobby Green vs. Jared Gordon
- Iasmin Lucindo vs. Brogan Walker
- Jeremiah Wells vs. Matthew Semelsberger
- Ricky Glenn vs. Christos Giagos
- Rani Yahya vs. Montel Jackson
- Karol Rosa vs. Norma Dumont
- Mohammed Usman vs. Junior Tafa
- Francis Marshall vs. William Gomis
- Priscila Cachoeira vs. Karine Silva
- Brady Hiestand vs. Danaa Batgerel