Whatever plans Curtis Blaydes had heading into 2019 were put on hold, at least temporarily.
Francis Ngannou reasserted himself as a contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s volatile heavyweight division, as he wiped out Blaydes with punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 141 main event on Saturday at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing. Ngannou drew the curtain 45 seconds into Round 1 and put a stop to his troubling two-fight losing streak in a dramatic return to form.
Blaydes made a pass at two takedown attempts, only to see both denied. Ngannou connected with an overhand right to the temple that dropped the Elevation Fight Team to all fours and left him vulnerable to subsequent attacks. His equilibrium shaken by the impact, Blaydes tried to right himself in the face of an oncoming freight train. It was no use. Ngannou let both hands fly and drilled his counterpart with repeated punches to the head until referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. Blaydes protested the stoppage, but his fate appeared to be all but sealed.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night “Blaydes vs. Ngannou 2,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Francis Ngannou vs. Alexander Volkov: Ngannou put losses to Derrick Lewis and Stipe Miocic behind him by moving to 2-0 in his head-to-head series with Blaydes -- a man he had defeated previously in 2016. The 32-year-old Cameroon-born Frenchman’s future in the sport had been called into question following a dispiriting July 7 performance against Lewis in which he landed only 11 strikes in 15 minutes, according to FightMetric; he connected with 13 in 45 seconds against Blaydes. What comes next for Ngannou remains to be seen, but at the very least, he put his name back on the list of serious contenders. Volkov last fought at UFC 229, where the former Bellator MMA champion was on the receiving end of a Hail-Mary knockout from the aforementioned Lewis in October.
Alistair Overeem vs. Derrick Lewis: Overeem held Father Time at bay once more in the co-headliner, as he disposed of Sergei Pavlovich with ferocious ground-and-pound in the first round. Pavlovich, who entered his organizational debut with a perfect 12-0 record, succumbed to blows 4:21 into Round 1. Overeem may never again challenge for UFC gold, but his unique combination of guile and potent offensive skills make him a difficult obstacle for just about anyone. The former Dream and Strikeforce champion now boasts 39 finishes among his 44 career victories. Lewis failed in his bid to unseat current heavyweight boss Daniel Cormier on Nov. 3, submitting to a second-round rear-naked choke from the American Kickboxing Academy captain in the UFC 230 main event at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Yadong Song vs. Andre Soukhamthath: Stock in Song continues to surge, as the Team Alpha Male prospect took a clear-cut unanimous decision from Vince Morales in a three-round bantamweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-27 for Song. A Tony Fryklund understudy, Morales kept his nose in the fight but failed to give his counterpart serious pause in the 15-minute encounter. Song put all of his abilities on display, uncorking strong jabs, well-timed leg kicks and a handful of spinning back kicks to the body before incorporating a pair of third-round takedowns. The 20-year-old has posted six straight wins. Soukhamthath last appeared at UFC Fight Night 138, where he took a unanimous decision from Jonathan Martinez on Oct. 27. The former CES MMA champion has compiled a 2-3 record since arriving in the UFC in March 2017.
Weili Zhang vs. Cynthia Calvillo: Zhang mauled former World Series of Fighting champion Jessica Aguilar on the undercard, as she submitted the longtime American Top Team standout with a first-round armbar. Finished for the first time since her professional debut on Feb. 18, 2006, Aguilar tapped 3:41 into Round 1. Zhang cut “Jag” with an elbow strike from the clinch, delivered a takedown and let her ground skills do the rest, transitioning from a triangle choke to an armbar for the submission. She has rattled off 18 straight victories, 16 of them finishes. Calvillo last competed at UFC Fight Night 140 on Nov. 17, as the Team Alpha Male rep submitted Poliana Botelho with a second-round rear-naked choke.
Jingliang Li vs. Curtis Millender-Siyar Bahadurzada winner: Li won for the sixth time in seven appearances, as he cut down David Zawada with a side kick to the solar plexus and follow-up punches in the third round of their welterweight feature. A short-notice substitute for the injured Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, Zawada succumbed to blows 4:07 into Round 3. Not much attention was paid to Li when he joined the UFC roster in 2014, but the China Top Team representative has compiled an excellent 8-3 record in his 11 Octagon starts -- a run that includes victories over Daichi Abe, Dhiego Lima and Zak Ottow. Millender and Bahadurzada will lock horns at UFC 232 on Dec. 29 in Las Vegas.