Tai Tuivasa and Curtis Blaydes are Much Needed New Blood In The Heavyweight Division

MMA

Thirty six. 

 

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That was the average age of the UFC heavyweight champion and his top five contenders prior to UFC 221 on Saturday. 

 

Curtis Blaydes unanimous decision victory over Mark Hunt, which vaulted him over Hunt and to the number five spot, drops that average age to thirty four. It's still a division run by the old guard, but new blood is finally starting to seep in.

 

At the forefront of the new blood is Blaydes. The 26-year-old Chicago native who has stood toe-to-toe with Hunt and Francis Ngannou and lived to tell about it. He lost his UFC debut to Ngannou via doctor's stoppage due to a cut, but is unbeaten in five fights since. His lone blemish was a TKO victory that turned to a no contest after Blaydes failed his post-fight drug test for marijuana. 

 

While the UFC put their entire hype machine behind Ngannou leading up to his UFC 220 bout with Stipe Miocic, Blaydes is the guy with a higher ceiling. As he pointed out in the post-fight press conference, he's five years younger than the Cameroonian and always has a more developed ground game. Ngannou might be the hardest puncher in MMA history, but that power is useless when you're on your back and carrying 250-plus pounds.

 

While Blaydes beat the bigger name, it was Tai Tuivasa who stole the show on Saturday. 

 

Fighting in his hometown of Australia, the 24-year-old battered Cyril Asker en route to his ninth professional victory, all by (T)KO stoppage. The only thing that topped his performance in the cage was his performance after the fight, where he chugged a beer out of a shoe. He stole the post-fight press conference by expressing disappointment that he did not receive a Performance of the Night bonus of $50K. 

 

Tuivasa didn't mix words when asked what the division needed, saying, "They need me. The division is boring."

 

The rise of Blaydes and Tuivasa is much-needed in a division filled with guys on the wrong side of 30. 

 

It's a testament to guys like Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum that they are able to compete at this level into their late 30s and 40s, but it also speaks volumes about the lack of up-and-coming talent. 

 

It's been ten years since Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez burst onto the scene as "can't miss" prospects. Arguably, neither man filled their potential. Each became heavyweight champion, but the beatings dos Santos received at the hands of Velasquez took years off his career. And Velasquez just could not stay healthy enough to impact the sport the way he should have. 

 

In the ten years since, there has not been another young heavyweight who looked like they could rule the division for years to come. The current champion rose up the ranks and knocked off top guys along the way, but he was 31 when he beat Roy Nelson. 

 

It's possible that Tuivasa and Blaydes are more Travis Browne and Brett Rogers than dos Santos and Velasquez. Heavyweight is the one division where power can trump skill. Older fighters have more success at heavyweight because power is the last thing to leave a fighter.

 

Don't beat on Tuivasa and Blaydes flaming out the way Browne and Rogers did. Not only are they more talented, but they're fighting older versions of the guys who knocked Browne and Rogers off their pedestal. 

 

The division is ripe for the picking. Tuivasa and Blaydes just need a big enough basket. 

 

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