Two of the best heavyweights in the world will clash with title implications on the line.
Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis meet Saturday in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas. The bout was initially scheduled for back on Nov. 28, but Blaydes tested positive for COVID-19 and the contest was pulled one day prior to the event.
ESPN has Blaydes ranked No. 3 and Lewis ranked No. 5 at heavyweight. While Francis Ngannou is getting the next title shot at champion Stipe Miocic next month at UFC 260, and all-time great Jon Jones seems waiting in the wings for the winner, the Blaydes vs. Lewis victor puts himself in pole position in case something happens with any of those athletes.
Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) has won four straight and is coming off a unanimous-decision win over Alexander Volkov last June. The Illinois native, who trains out of Colorado’s Elevation Fight Team, has lost to only one man in the UFC: Ngannou, and he has done that twice. Blaydes, 30, is a former NJCAA national champion in wrestling and makes no apologies for his takedown and ground-control style in MMA.
Lewis (24-7, 1 NC) has won three straight, including a knockout win over Aleksei Oleinik in August. The Houston resident owns the most knockouts in UFC heavyweight history (11). Lewis, a 36-year-old fan favorite, has won six of eight and 12 of 15 overall.
In the co-main event, Ketlen Vieira meets Yana Kunitskaya in a catchweight bout. Vieira missed weight Friday by two pounds. ESPN has Vieira ranked No. 7 in the world at women’s bantamweight and Kunitskaya at No. 9. Vieira (11-1) bounced back from her first career loss by beating Sijara Eubanks in September. Kunitskaya (13-5, 1 NC) has won three of four.
Also on the card, Oleinik meets Chris Daukaus in an intriguing heavyweight bout, veteran lightweight Charles Rosa faces Darrick Minner and former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski fights up-and-comer Tom Aspinall.
Jeff Wagenheim and Marc Raimondi recap the action as it happens. You can also watch the fights on ESPN+.
Fight in progress
Chas Skelly was in the cage waiting for his opponent, but Jamall Emmers could not compete due to back spasms.
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 20, 2021
Skelly made his entrance to the Octagon and was waiting for Emmers to enter for their featherweight bout. But Emmers never did so.
Per the UFC broadcast, Emmers had back spasms backstage at the UFC Apex and was unable to compete. Octagon announcer Joe Martinez made the announcement that the bout was canceled.
Wow that’s crazy back spasms are no joke uncontrollable
— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) February 20, 2021
“I feel like I should get my win bonus,” Skelly said. “I weighed in, I made weight, I stepped in the cage. That’s how I feel. I hope Jamall is OK. No animosity. It sucks.”
Skelly said he isn’t sure if he wants to come back and fight quickly because of his big weight cut.
“It’s not easy for me to make weight,” Skelly said. “I don’t want to turn right around and do the weight cut all over again next week. I don’t want to put my body in that yo-yo.”
Zahabi had not been in a fight since 2019. What difference would three more idle minutes make?
The 33-year-old from Montreal, who trains in the Tristar Gym of his older brother Firas Zahabi, threw barely a strike over the first half of the opening round. But then he unleashed an overhand right that collapsed Rodriguez for the one-punch knockout at 3:05 of Round 1.
When you’re down with your back against the wall, there’s no better feeling then getting a big win like that. #UFCVegas19
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 20, 2021
In Zahabi’s first fight since May 2019 and second appearance since 2017, he ended a two-fight losing streak.
Rodriguez, who is 24 and fighting out of Sioux City, Iowa, was making his UFC debut. He came out as the aggressor and landed some clean shots early, including a couple of lead uppercuts. But when Zahabi finally connected, it was lights out for Rodriguez, who saw a three-fight winning streak come to an end.
This bout originally was scheduled to happen in December, but Zahabi tested positive for COVID-19. The rescheduled fight took place at 140.5-pound catchweight after Rodriguez missed the bantamweight limit on Friday.
Spivac left Vanderaa in a puddle of his own blood.
On top for most of the second round, Spivac pounded away from the position. The punches were not the hardest — both men were clearly tired. But referee Chris Tognoni called off the bout at 4:32 of the second, ruling Spivac the winner by TKO.
The first round went similarly. Spivac dominated on the ground and Vanderaa had few answers. Spivac seems like a legitimate prospect in the heavyweight division.
Spivac, 26, has won two straight and three of five fights in the UFC. The Ukraine native, who fights out of Moldova, has nine finishes in 12 career wins. Vanderra, a 28-year-old Washington native, was making his UFC debut following a first-round TKO against Harry Hunsucker on Dana White’s Contender Series last November.
Still to come:
Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes (14-2 1 NC, 9-2 1 NC UFC, -380) vs. Derrick Lewis (24-7 1 NC, 15-5 UFC, +300)
Women’s bantamweight: Ketlen Vieira (11-1, 5-1 UFC, -280) vs. Yana Kunitskaya (13-5, 3-2 UFC, +230)
Men’s featherweight: Charles Rosa (13-4, 4-4 UFC, -190) vs. Darrick Minner (25-11, 1-1 UFC, +160)
Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik (59-14-1, 8-5 UFC, +160) vs. Chris Daukaus (10-3, 2-0 UFC, -190)
Middleweight: Phil Hawes (9-2, 1-0 UFC, -125) vs. Nassourdine Imavov (9-2, 1-0 UFC, +105)
Heavyweight: Andrei Arlovski (30-19 1 NC, 18-13 1 NC UFC, +210) vs. Tom Aspinall (9-2, 2-0 UFC, -260)
Men’s featherweight: Jared Gordon (16-4, 4-3 UFC, +120) vs. Danny Chavez (11-3, 1-0 UFC, -140)
Men’s bantamweight: Eddie Wineland (24-14-1, 6-8 UFC, +105) vs. John Castañeda (17-5, 0-1 UFC, -125)
Men’s featherweight: Julian Erosa (24-9, 3-4 UFC, -110) vs. Nate Landwehr (14-3, 1-1 UFC, -110)