On a card that seemed to be in jeopardy multiple times, one of the only constants was the highly anticipated heavyweight bout between PRIDE and K-1 legend Mark Hunt and up-and-coming UFC heavyweight prospect Curtis Blaydes.
The two met in Perth, Australia in the co-main event of UFC 221. While the heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic already has his next challenger lined up in Daniel Cormier, Hunt and Blaydes knew a win could help propel them to the front of the line for a crack at the gold.
Hunt, a New Zealander, received a hero’s welcome at the weigh-ins and media events, making his clash in the co-headliner even more exciting.
However, Blaydes managed to use his wrestling pedigree to spoil Hunt’s big homecoming, scoring a unanimous decision victory.
While Hunt was largely believed to have the striking advantage going into the bout, it was Blaydes that came out strong in the opening round. Hunt used good head movement to avoid most of the punches in the initial flurry, though the taller and longer man’s range gave him some problems.
Blaydes scored a quick takedown, which many analysts believed would be the prevailing theme throughout the bout. Hunt posted quickly, however, getting back to his feet and uncorking a heavy right hand that put Blaydes on notice.
Though on rubber legs, he managed to avoid Hunt’s next head-hunting shot, this one quite telegraphed, and used the opportunity to put him back to the ground. Blaydes continued using his wrestling to ground Hunt, making the first round a close one to call. Though Hunt arguably did more damage, Blaydes had better control and dominated the grappling aspect.
Blaydes went back to his wrestling in the second round, finding his first takedown attempt denied. However, he was able to get the fight back to the ground by mixing in his jab and never letting Hunt get comfortable. Blaydes worked from Hunt’s half-guard, landing an elbow that bloodied him and nearly sinking up an arm-triangle choke.
The third round was more of the same, with Blaydes grounding his opponent and relying on a mix of submission attempts and ground-and-pound for his offense. Hunt continued to try and post but ended up mounted at one point. Blaydes used slams and trip takedowns, blending strength and technique to nullify the former K-1 fighter’s striking. Blaydes ended the round with a mount position and scored a unanimous decision win.
Blaydes is now 9-1-1, with his only loss coming to recent title-challenger Francis Ngannou via doctor stoppage. If he isn’t close to a title shot now, one more big win could do the trick.
As for Hunt, he has openly stated his current UFC run hasn’t been the best. He’s got an ongoing lawsuit against the promotion and was recently required to undergo tests for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) after admitting to early symptoms on social media.
The 43-year-old Hunt may be taking his efforts elsewhere soon, and currently has a record of 13-12-1.