UFC Vegas 71: Curtis Blaydes KO sees Sergei Pavlovich punch his ticket into HW title sweepstakes

Sergei Pavlovich of Russia reacts after his TKO victory over Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on...

Since losing to former champion Alistair Overeem in November 2018, #2 ranked heavyweight Sergei Pavlovich has won six straight – all in the first round – after blasting perennial contender Curtis Blaydes into submission during their main event at the weekend. He feels his next fight will be for championship gold and following another fantastic finish, it’s hard to deny the rising Russian that wish.

Title tilt? Pavlovich can’t be denied a shot much longer

Sergei Pavlovich of Russia reacts after his TKO victory over Curtis Blaydes in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on...
Pavlovich talks to fighter-turned-commentator Paul Felder after his biggest career win
  • “I’ll rest, eat, sleep, rest some more and wait. They’re both hard warriors so I would have to prepare for whoever it is, be ready for whoever they give me,” Pavlovich says he’ll wait for Jon Jones (c) vs. Stipe Miocic expected later this year and face the winner for heavyweight title
  • Former two-division champion turned commentator Daniel Cormier says on his ESPN show that Pavlovich should weigh in as the back-up fighter and “get paid for the journey”, as he did for Jones-Gane last month
  • Pavlovich extended his own record for longest first-round KO streak in modern UFC history (6) and second-longest in history behind Hall of Famer and former light-heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell (7)

R1, 3:08 – Sergei Pavlovich [3] bt. Curtis Blaydes [4] via TKO (punches)

It wasn’t long ago that Sergei Pavlovich was a 12-0 pro who had his unbeaten streak suddenly snapped in Beijing – a right hand, trip takedown and hammer fists did the damage – against #6 ranked contender and former champion Alistair Overeem.

He was doing well, up until he wasn’t on his UFC debut, emphasising how quickly heavyweight fights can change with one punch or fatal defensive mistake.

That painful first defeat came four-and-a-half years ago, in the co-main event of a 12-fight card headlined by Curtis Blaydes vs. Francis Ngannou 2.

Blaydes looked to avenge a R2 TKO defeat (doctor stoppage) from their initial meeting in Croatia (April 2016), but was blasted into submission after just 45 seconds.

Ngannou went on to win the UFC title three years later, but has recently departed the promotion as he seeks freedom to box independently outside the UFC.

So you can excuse the brief history lesson and context considering these two were finally matched up together, having rebuilt and gone separate paths in the years since those defeats. There was an acceptance this wouldn’t go the distance, either.

Pavlovich since Overeem defeat
December 22: R1 KO (0:54) vs. Tai Tuivasa
July 22: R1 TKO (0:55) vs. Derrick Lewis
March 2022: R1 TKO (4:03) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
October 19: R1 TKO (2:11) vs. Maurice Greene
April 2019: R1 KO (1:06) vs. Marcelo Golm

As far as the activity gap is concerned, Pavlovich had scheduled fights against now former-interim champion Ciryl Gane, Tom Aspinall and Tanner Boser all cancelled for different reasons. Impressive performances against the first two would’ve gone some way to legitimising his claim as the next in-line for a title shot.

He underwent knee surgery to repair an old injury in July 2020, while travel and visa issues prevented him from competing in Las Vegas the following year.

His three most recent first-round wins were all elsewhere (London, Texas and Orlando) before returning to the Apex this time around.

As for Blaydes, it’s been up-and-down with the 32-year-old over the past few years and has led to many believing he’ll forever be one big win away from a title shot.

Being a powerful wrestle-heavy fighter leaves some critics wanting more, especially as he’s shown an ability to be aggressive and use his physical gifts previously.

In the same vein, he’s also flattered to deceive and been all too willing to rely on his extensive wrestling background with a risk-averse approach to outpoint opposition. That was never going to help him skip any championship contenders.

Aspinall’s freak injury derailed what was an intriguing fight on paper last summer, and you’re only as good as your last performance. This matchup quickly disintegrated as soon as Pavlovich defended his only takedown attempt.

Pavlovich was patient from the off but applied overwhelming pressure against Blaydes, scoring a knockdown and repeatedly probing the jab in his face – alongside several overhand rights – another thunderous finish to cap his first main event.

Blaydes since Ngannou rematch loss
July 22: R1 TKO (knee injury) vs. Tom Aspinall
March 2022: R2 TKO (0:17) vs. Chris Daukaus
September 21: UD3 vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik
February 2021: R2 KO loss vs. Derrick Lewis
June 20: UD5 vs. Alexander Volkov
January 2020: R2 TKO (1:06) vs. Junior dos Santos
September 19: R2 TKO (2:22) vs. Shamil Abdurakhimov
March 2019: UD3 vs. Justin Willis

For what it’s worth, this was the final fight on his existing UFC contract and he’ll have some thinking to do. Derrick Lewis exposed his defensive frailties rather spectacularly two years ago, and Pavlovich alluded to that weakness post-fight.

“I was preparing for all five rounds, but once I realised that I’m getting him, there was no reason for me to keep the fight going longer. I think he understood the only way to take me down was to go deep for the double-leg, and the way he’s done that before, he’s actually been sent to a knockout that way.

He understood there was a lot of danger in that, that’s why the fight was the way that it was. If he was going to try and go for a shot, and it was basically just going to be met with a brick wall, he’ll start to psychologically crumble – and that’s exactly what we worked on, that’s what we prepared.”

Rest of main card, prelim results

Bruno Silva of Brazil reacts after his victory over Brad Tavares in a middleweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on April 22,...
Bruno Silva wheels away to celebrate his R1 TKO finish against Brad Tavares

Main card
Middleweight: Bruno Silva bt. Brad Tavares via R1 TKO (knee, punches)
Lightweight: Bobby Green vs. Jared Gordon ended in a no contest, after an accidental clash of heads late in the first-round saw Gordon knocked unconscious
Women’s Flyweight: Iasmin Lucindo bt. Brogan Walker-Sanchez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Welterweight: Jeremiah Wells bt. Matthew Semelsberger via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 30-27)
Lightweight: Christos Giagos bt. Ricky Glenn via R1 KO (punch)
Bantamweight: Montel Jackson bt. Rani Yahya via R1 KO (punches)
Women’s Featherweight: Norma Dumont bt. Karol Rosa via UD (29-28 x 3)
Heavyweight: Mohammad Usman bt. Junior Tafa via UD (29-28 x 3)
Catchweight (147lbs): William Gomis bt. Francis Marshall via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Bantamweight: Brady Hiestand bt. Danaa Batgerel via R3 TKO (punches)

Up next: UFC Fight Night 223 on April 29 headlined by bantamweight contenders Song Yadong [8] vs. Ricky Simon [10]

Picture source: Getty Images, quotes via MMAFighting.com unless stated