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UFC Raleigh: Blaydes vs. Cigano - Main Fight Preview

This weekend, the UFC visits the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, to hold the 166th edition of its Fight Night. UFC Raleigh counts important matches for the rankings of some categories. Not that the ranking is so important, of course.

In the main event, we will have two Top  5 heavyweights: Curtys Blaydes and Júnior Cigano. Blaydes seeks to get even closer to the belt dispute. In the joint battle, Rafael dos Anjos faces Michael Chiesa. Dos Anjos will be a difficult test for Chiesa at welterweight. The event starts at 19h, with the main card scheduled to start at 22h. Always in Brasília time. Check out the previews.

Curtis Blaydes (12-2, 1 NC in MMA, 7-2, 1 NC in UFC) is one of the few athletes under 30 in heavyweights who already enjoy elite status in the largest organization in the world. Stopped only on the two occasions when he faced Francis Ngannou (the first being in a distant beginning of 2016), the American has shown an interesting evolutionary curve, placing tall names like Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem among his victims during his time with the company .

In a division populated mostly by crude strikers, with less physical preparation than expected from a high level athlete, Blaydes and his wrestling stand out with praise. In the last four years, the Elevation athlete has considerably improved the defensive phase of his game, exposing himself less and less in striking, as well as in the approach and search for spaces to apply his grappling game. In his last performance inside the UFC cage, we were given a complete monologue of falls and ground and pound against the modest Shamil Abdurakhimov.

Despite the setbacks for Ngannou, at that point in the championship it is already evident that Blaydes is on another level in relation to the core of the Top 15 and that he deserves to be facing the best in the category. It is not difficult to say that Blaydes will certainly compete for the belt in the next two years, as it is such a deficient and not very promising category.

On the other hand, Junior Cigano (21-6 MMA, 15-5 UFC) is experiencing the bitter transition from top athlete status to the “porter” position of the division's cream. Cigano striking is still an interesting cut-off point for athletes trying to ascend ladders in the heavyweight category, but it has become increasingly distant from what is necessary to face the small slice of great athletes that are among the candidates for title.

Although his boxing technique is still arguably sufficient to stand up to dangerous but limited athletes, such as Derrick Lewis and Blagoy Ivanov, the speed and movement that made Cigano a unique part of the division were long gone. The Brazilian has become a stationary target and vulnerable to athletes with speed, strength and wingspan advantage, having succumbed by technical knockout in his last three defeats - all of them in front of athletes who could be considered superior in the division's food chain.

Blaydes offers Cigano a marriage that the Brazilian has not seen in a long time: a wrestler who sustains his game under pressure and who has the strength and explosiveness to face the vast majority of the division. It should also be noted that Curtis' own level of striking and fitness are even higher than those of some of the athletes that Júnior has beaten in a bureaucratic way in recent years.

Gypsy needs more than ever to move around a lot, rotate the octagon and avoid being cornered by Curtis. Overeem, arguably Blaydes' biggest win and who sold the defeat very dearly, did what he could in that line, but it was not enough to prevent the timely fall entries of an athlete who, still in the third round, showed a very fuel tank above average for the weight class.

It is very difficult to envision a scenario where Cigano does not facilitate the imposition of the Razor game, which not only knocks down, but is active in exploring positions and owns a devastating ground and pound. The strategy to minimize these risks is based on values ​​that we have not seen in dos Santos for more than half a decade.