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A week after Conor McGregor’s spectacular return, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday touched down in Raleigh, North Carolina with UFC Fight Night 166—an event that saw Curtis Blaydes meet former champion Junior dos Santos in the high-stakes heavyweight headliner at PNC Arena.
The narrative going into the fight centered it being a classic striker-versus-grappler showdown, but it played out differently than most observers expected. Dos Santos succeeded in denying every takedown attempt from the Elevation Fight Team standout. However, his focus on Blaydes’ wrestling left him vulnerable in standup exchanges. Dos Santos ate a crushing overhand right in the second round, staggered to the fence and was met with a fight-ending volley of knees and punches.
“I just used my wrestling to set up my hands,” Blaydes said during a post-fight media scrum. “After the first round, I went 0-for-8 with the shots, so we knew he was really committed to not letting me take him to the ground. We used those openings with the pump fakes and the high-lows, and we capitalized with the overhand.”
Blaydes has only tasted defeat twice in his 12-fight stint with the UFC. At 28 and on a three-fight winning streak, he continues to ascend in the heavyweight division. After felling dos Santos, Blaydes took the opportunity to call for a shot at the crown.
“I don’t make the rules,” he said. “I would like for it to be a title shot, but you never know. I hope. That is all I can do is hope.”
Dos Santos was not the only former Brazilian champion to come up short. Rafael dos Anjos battled Michael Chiesa in the co-main event and wound up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision. Dos Anjos was outworked and outgrappled by “The Ultimate Fighter 15” winner across 15 minutes. Since Chiesa moved to 170 pounds, the longtime lightweight has rattled off three consecutive victories. Afterward, he set his sights on divisional lightning rod Colby Covington.
“I just beat the number five guy ranked in the world,” Chiesa said. “I also said the most important time to ask for a fight is after you win; you have to capitalize. I’m not out to engage in a verbal pissing match with the guy. I respect his skills. He is super talented and tough. I am just trying to get to a world title. I think that is the fight that makes the most sense when you look at the Top 5. I said before the fight that if I beat Rafael dos Anjos, I am not fighting anybody that is ranked less than five. I’m taking his spot and just looking at the landscape of the division. That is the fight that makes sense. I want to best tested. I want to fight the best. So, Colby it is.”
Covington at UFC 245 in December had his seven-fight winning streak snapped in a failed bid to capture the welterweight title from Kamaru Usman. Despite the loss, the controversial figure could easily draw interest in a clash with Chiesa with his brash trash talk. Chiesa does not appear to be interested in a war of words.
“I would just ignore it,” Chiesa said. “I was telling [reporter] Karyn Bryant this before the fight like two weeks ago. I’m 0-2 in fights that I tried to get into the trash talk stuff. Just because I am not going to engage in it, doesn’t mean he won’t engage in it. I know he will be chirping and barking at me, and that is fine. I’m just not going to engage in it and buy into it. I am just here to win fights.”