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UFC matchmaking: Who’s next for Derrick Lewis? Alistair Overeem or Alexander Volkov?

Ariel Helwani: It’s time to focus the eye on Derrick Lewis

One of the massive storylines heading into Saturday night time’s primary occasion was what ought to Curtis Blaydes do if he beats Derrick Lewis?

Ordinarily, a victory like that — which might have been his fifth in a row — over a top quality opponent like Lewis, would result in a title shot. However, with Jon Jones shifting as much as heavyweight it was clear Blaydes would both have to attend some time or stay lively as a result of the title shot would not be coming his approach any time quickly.

Well, a lot for all of that.

Truth be advised, Lewis was neglected approach an excessive amount of going into this combat. Perhaps it was as a result of he already fought for a UFC title and Blaydes hasn’t. Perhaps it was as a result of Blaydes has appeared fairly dominant in opposition to each opponent he has confronted within the UFC not named Francis Ngannou. Or maybe it was as a result of we are inclined to favor the wrestler over the striker in the case of heavyweight fights.

Regardless, most of us, together with the oddsmakers in Las Vegas, did Lewis a disservice within the buildup to this combat. According to ESPN Stats & Information analysis, Lewis (+350) pulled off the largest upset in a UFC primary occasion since Michael Bisping (+400) beat Luke Rockhold at UFC 199. That would not appear proper, nevertheless it speaks to how a lot “The Black Beast” was being neglected going into Saturday night time.

This one needed to really feel good as a result of Lewis would not like Blaydes and was irritated their combat received canceled a day earlier than they had been set to tangle in November when Blaydes examined constructive for COVID-19. In addition, Lewis had a hellacious time attending to Las Vegas as a result of all of the devastating climate points in his hometown of Houston this previous week.

Lewis ended up unleashing as vicious an uppercut you may ever see, and he handed out a number of additional photographs to an unconscious Blaydes afterwards (one or two too many, if you happen to ask me). Then, simply to ensure his message was despatched loud and clear, he hit a number of WWE-style crotch chops whereas Blaydes was nonetheless out on the bottom. If that is not including insult to harm, I do not know what’s.

It wasn’t that way back (March 2019) that Lewis dropped his second in a row and appeared a bit misplaced about the place to go from there. Since then, he received into form, addressed nagging accidents and is preventing in addition to ever.

It has been an surprising profession for Lewis — who served timed in prison, then became a truck driver before fighting part time and eventually becoming a UFC contender. Saturday marked his twenty first UFC combat, which is superb contemplating, as play-by-play man Brendan Fitzgerald famous on the printed, his unique aim was to simply make it to a few fights contained in the Octagon.

Though, regardless of this run he is on, and very like Blaydes earlier than the combat, Lewis is nicely conscious it will not result in a title shot next. There is simply no approach the UFC goes to go up reserving Jones vs. the winner of Stipe Miocic vs. Ngannou, and rightfully so. That’s an enormous combat and one which needs to be made as quickly as attainable.

So, who could possibly be next on Lewis’ hit record? There are solely two choices:

1. A rematch in opposition to Alexander Volkov. Remember, after they fought at UFC 229, Volkov was seconds away from profitable a choice earlier than getting knocked out by Lewis. This was the notorious “my balls was hot” combat. Good enjoyable.

2. The winner of next weekend’s Jairzinho Rozenstruik vs. Ciryl Gane combat.

I do not assume you possibly can go improper with both possibility. Both are intriguing — Volkov as a result of he appeared so good earlier this month in opposition to Alistair Overeem, and next weekend’s winner as a result of it will be a recent problem for Lewis.

After the win, Lewis stated he wished Overeem next. This is a combat Lewis has wished for some time. I’m positive Overeem could be down, too, however I do not like that combat for Overeem next contemplating the beating he simply took in opposition to Volkov. Lewis hits actually laborious, in spite of everything.

As for Blaydes, that is devastating as a result of he was on the cusp of a giant combat with only one combat left on his UFC deal. Had he gained this one and his next one, he’d have been gazing securing a giant contract earlier than preventing for the belt. Now, he is gazing one closing combat left on a contract after getting knocked out and, as he advised me earlier this week, a nonexistent, considerably frosty relationship with UFC president Dana White. He’s in a troublesome spot.

Maybe a combat in opposition to next weekend’s primary occasion loser is smart, however that needs to be shortly. Blaydes must relaxation after a knockout like that.

Speaking of contracts, Lewis is now getting into the ultimate combat on his deal, too, with a ton of momentum on his aspect. Earlier this week, he talked about needing a giant win going into that closing combat so he might money in. That information merchandise barely made a ripple within the MMA information cycle as a result of we had been all targeted on Blaydes’ state of affairs.

Silly us.

Jeff Wagenheim: Kunitskaya sends a message

Amanda Nunes will defend her UFC featherweight championship in two weeks. She additionally owns the bantamweight belt, and she or he has not put that title on the road since 2019. In the time since, a line of 135-pound contenders has shaped. On Saturday night time, Yana Kunitskaya stepped ahead within the queue.

It was only a child step, because the No. 9 ladies’s bantamweight within the ESPN rankings barely eked out a win in opposition to seventh-ranked Ketlen Vieira. But whereas Kunitskaya posted among the many night’s least dominant victories, she confirmed off an added dimension in her sport that can give different 135-pounders one thing to consider.

Kunitskaya, whose background is in taekwondo and muay thai, has all the time been at her greatest in a standup combat. But Vieira, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, would have none of that. She took the combat to the canvas early and stored it there for practically all the first spherical. But attempt as she would possibly, Vieira was unable to arrange a submission.

Then the combat went proper again to the mat in the beginning of Round 2, however this time Kunitskaya ended up on prime. The 31-year-old Russian stayed there for a lot of the spherical, and delivered much more harm than Vieira had. By the time the combat was in its closing spherical, Vieira appeared to acknowledge that she wanted to get on prime, which she did — till Kunitskaya reversed place within the closing 30 seconds, sufficient time to do the bloody harm that gained her the combat.

Kunitskaya piled up a 47-7 benefit in important strikes, 215-35 in general strikes, which is spectacular. More spectacular: She landed most of these photographs whereas preventing on the canvas. By doing that to one of many division’s greatest grapplers — if not the greatest — Kunitskaya despatched a message to all these ranked above her.

Marc Raimondi: Aspinall is essentially the most prepared heavyweight prospect on the roster

Tom Aspinall had two first-round finishes in opposition to modest competitors in his first two UFC fights. The UFC would not actually do showcase bouts, however Aspinall made Jake Collier and Alan Baudot appear like what the game of boxing calls “opponents” — guys the contenders are presupposed to beat. Andrei Arlovski, although, isn’t any showcase combat. He won’t be elite anymore, however the former UFC champion is a sturdy gatekeeper, ready to cease prospects from vaulting themselves into the higher echelon of the heavyweight division.

Aspinall confirmed Saturday that he is no middling prospect. He’s professional — essentially the most polished heavyweight up-and-comer on the UFC roster, in reality. No disrespect to Chris Daukaus, who stopped Aleksei Oleinik with punches on Saturday. Daukaus is 31 years outdated; Aspinall is simply 27, a relative child within the heavyweight division, the place the highest contenders skew older. Aspinall’s fast fingers discovered Arlovski’s chin within the first spherical. Then, after a boxing flurry, Aspinall took Arlovski down and choked him out. Arlovski had been submitted solely as soon as earlier than in his profession, by Josh Barnett, who is among the greatest heavyweight submission artists of all time.

The UFC actually appears to have one thing right here in Aspinall, and it could possibly be a boon for the promotion within the United Kingdom. Imagine Aspinall in a giant combat on a card headlined by his teammate Darren Till of their hometown of Liverpool? That could be huge. And after this win over Arlovski, it is seemingly solely large fights forward for the Scouser.

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