The sport of mixed martial arts has evolved through the years to the point where nowadays most professional fighters, especially those at or near the top of the heap, are proficient at mixing together an array of combative styles. But when the sport was young and drawing its athletes from distinct martial arts disciplines, the most intriguing matchups were clashes of specialists.
Saturday's UFC Fight Night main event at the promotion's Apex facility in Las Vegas promises something of a throwback to a bygone era.
Derrick Lewis has 11 knockouts in the UFC, a record for heavyweights.
Curtis Blaydes has 59 takedowns, by far the most in division history.
Of course, neither Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC), who is No. 3 in the ESPN heavyweight rankings, nor the fifth-ranked Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) got to where he is by being entirely one-dimensional. Blaydes has shown improvement with his hands and in his striking defense, and while Lewis is not a big takedown threat, he has shown proficiency in muscling his way back to his feet when necessary. Each man is well-rounded enough to keep the fight in his comfort zone.
But make no mistake: When these two meet at the center of the Octagon, Blaydes is going to be looking to take Lewis to the canvas and finish him there, while Lewis is going to be trying to send Blaydes crumbling to the floor.
But then what?
Despite both fighters being ranked in the top five among heavyweights, neither is on the verge of a shot at the championship. UFC president Dana White has affirmed that No. 2-ranked Francis Ngannou will get the next go at champion Stipe Miocic. That puts Blaydes and Lewis in something of a holding pattern -- at best. The winner on Saturday will hold his spot in line (at least until a beefier Jon Jones shows up to join the party). The loser? His status will take a tumble -- just like many of those who have been in the cage with either of these big men.
By the numbers
29: Career knockouts for Blaydes and Lewis combined. Lewis has 19 of them among his 24 victories, and Blaydes has 10 KOs among his 14 wins. That is how these two men finish fights. They have just one submission between them -- Lewis got it, via armbar, 10 years ago in his fourth pro fight.
7: Takedowns by Lewis in his 20 UFC bouts. That's half as many as Blaydes had in just his last fight.
59:44: Top position time in 12 UFC fights for Blaydes, in minutes and seconds. That is the most in heavyweight history, as is his total control time (which includes standing clinches) of 1:13:28.
1.73: Strikes absorbed per minute in the UFC by Blaydes, the second fewest among active heavyweights, behind Marcos Rogerio de Lima's 0.73.
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
Five vs. five
Curtis Blaydes' most recent results
Win: Alexander Volkov (UD, June 20, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Junior dos Santos (TKO2, Jan. 25, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Shamil Abdurakhimov (TKO2, Sept. 7, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Justin Willis (UD, March 23, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Francis Ngannou (TKO2, Nov. 24, 2018)
Derrick Lewis' most recent results
Win: Aleksei Oleinik (TKO2, Aug. 8, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Ilir Latifi (UD, Feb. 8, 2020; watch on ESPN+)
Win: Blagoy Ivanov (SD, Nov. 2, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Junior dos Santos (TKO2, March 9, 2019; watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Daniel Cormier (Sub2, Nov. 3, 2018)
And the winner is ...
Let's look at this fight through the lens of Alexander Volkov, who has fought -- and lost to -- both men. Blaydes took him down 14 times in June and, despite gassing out late, rolled to a lopsided decision win. Lewis, down on the scorecards in October 2018, knocked out Volkov with just over a minute left. That tells us what both of Saturday's main event fighters are capable of: Blaydes can drown you with relentless pressure, and Lewis can take you out with his last gasp. It's possible both things will happen in this fight, but I'm thinking Blaydes' speed on his feet and top pressure on the mat will keep him in control and out of harm's way. Blaydes by third-round ground-and-pound TKO.
How to watch the fights
Watch the fights on ESPN+. If you don't have ESPN+, get it here.
There's also FightCenter, which offers live updates for every UFC card.
Saturday's fight card
ESPN2/ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET
Curtis Blaydes vs. Derrick Lewis | Heavyweight
Anthony Smith vs. Devin Clark | Light heavyweight
Josh Parisian vs. Parker Porter | Heavyweight
Amir Albazi vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov | Men's flyweight
Miguel Baeza vs. Takashi Sato | Welterweight
Spike Carlyle vs. Bill Algeo | Men's featherweight
ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET
Ashley Evans-Smith vs. Norma Dumont Viana | Women's bantamweight
Martin Day vs. Anderson dos Santos | Men's bantamweight
Gina Mazany vs. Rachael Ostovich | Women's flyweight
Jonathan Pearce vs. Kai Kamaka III | Men's featherweight
Su Mudaerji vs. Malcolm Gordon | Men's flyweight
Luke Sanders vs. Nate Maness | Men's bantamweight
Three more things to know (from ESPN Stats & Information)
1. Any fight can end in an instant, but don't expect that from the co-main event. Anthony Smith's average fight time in the UFC is 13 minutes, 39 seconds, the second longest among active light heavyweights, behind Jon Jones' 15:28. Smith's opponent, Devin Clark, ranks fifth, at 12:08. This co-main, by the way, represents Smith's first booking outside of the main event slot since June 2018. He had headlined the past six events he took part in, the longest streak in UFC history by a fighter who has not won a championship.
2. Josh Parisian makes his long-awaited heavyweight debut on the main card against Parker Porter, three years after appearing on Dana White's Contender Series. Parisian won his fight on Week 3 of Season 1, but rather than getting a UFC deal, he was offered a spot on Season 28 of "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show. Parisian lost his first fight on TUF, but back he came this year for Season 4 of DWCS, where he won and finally earned his contract.
3. The lone undefeated fighter on the card is 9-0 welterweight Miguel Baeza, who faces Takashi Sato on the main card. With a knockout win, Baeza would become the first 170-pounder to win his first three UFC fights by knockout.