The UFC's heavyweight division is in a state of uncertainty going into 2020, but one thing is for certain: Curtis Blaydes is a legitimate title threat.
Blaydes (13-2) earned a highlight-reel finish against a former champion Saturday, knocking out Junior dos Santos with standing strikes at 1 minute, 6 seconds of the second round. The heavyweight fight headlined UFC Fight Night inside PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina.
The official result was ruled a TKO, as dos Santos never went out from the strikes but was forced to cover up while standing along the fence. The finish came courtesy of a straight right hand by Blaydes, who is typically known more for his dominant wrestling than standup knockout power.
"We were using the wrestling but knew he defended it well," said Blaydes, who went 0-for-6 on takedown attempts. "He wanted the uppercut. I knew I was a little faster and that the uppercut was what he wanted. He's looking for that shot and he drops his hands, it makes the strikes a lot easier to land."
Blaydes, 28, who improved to 8-2 in the UFC, called for a title shot after the win. The immediate future of the heavyweight division is hazy at the moment, as defending champion Stipe Miocic is recovering from eye surgery and has not indicated a firm time frame on his return.
"I want that title shot," Blaydes said. "I'm next. I've shown I've got the wrestling and I've got the hands. I don't know what else I've got to do. I want the title shot."
dos Santos (21-7) has been knocked out in back-to-back fights. He suffered a 71-second knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in his last fight in June.
The Brazilian veteran did well stuffing Blaydes' takedowns, but he failed to capitalize on it with much offense. According to UFC Stats data, dos Santos only landed nine total strikes, compared to 31 for Blaydes. Blaydes' pace was also significantly higher, as he attempted 70 strikes compared to just 34 for dos Santos.
Originally from Chicago, now fighting out of Denver, Blaydes is certainly in title contention. However, he's probably behind former champion Daniel Cormier, who has said he wants to fight Miocic one final time before retiring, and Ngannou, who has two wins against Blaydes.