Former UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen has discussed why heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes has had difficulty “getting over” in the promotion.
There are few fighters who have split opinion in the MMA fanbase quite like Blaydes, at least among those not involved in any outside-the-cage antics, legal run-ins, or controversial statements.
While many have acknowledged the 31-year-old’s immense skill inside the Octagon, which has seen him dispatch the likes of Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, unfortunately for Blaydes’ appeal, his game centers around something that many of the more casual fans don’t enjoy: grappling.
It’s probably safe to say that not many have received as much backlash for a wrestling display as “Razor” Blaydes did at UFC Vegas 3 in 2020. In the main event, the Illinois native landed 14 takedowns on former Bellator and M-1 Global champion Alexander Volkov, which helped him control the contest for five rounds en route to a decision win.
As well as many fans letting their displeasure at the performance known on social media, Blaydes even received criticism from UFC President Dana White, who accused the heavyweight of “talking sh*t” pre-fight and not backing it up in the cage.
While his latest performance, an impressive knockout victory over Chris Daukaus in the UFC Columbus main event earlier this year, likely turned a few more fans on side, it would be fair to assume that Blaydes still has an above-average number of detractors, which is something that confuses Chael Sonnen.
During a recent video uploaded to his YouTube channel, the former two-division title challenger questioned why a fighter who “ticks” most boxes has struggled to establish himself as a favorite, both with the fans and in the eyes of the promotion’s bigwigs.
“Curtis Blaydes, the hardest time getting over with you, the audience. I really haven’t seen anybody in a meaningful period of time that checks as many boxes as Curtis does, and for some reason, there’s resistance,” said Sonnen. “And it’s not just with you, it’s with the media. It’s not just with you, it’s not just with the media, it’s with his opponents. It’s not just with you, it’s not just with the media, it’s not just with opponents, it’s with the boys in the suits on the second floor of the UFC.
“It’s just one of those things and it’s very hard to explain. He’s a handsome guy. He’s not afraid to fight. He fought Ngannou before anybody knew what an Ngannou was. When he found out what an Ngannou was, he demanded to fight him again… Got the same result and has been trying to fight him a third time. We love guys like that,” added Sonnen.
According to the 45-year-old, the negative view of Blaydes among some fans comes down to the fact that his wrestling-heavy game was branded as “boring.”
“Somebody comes along the way and decides they’re gonna call him boring. If you have a national wrestling championship, which Curtis Blaydes does, and somebody decides to go on (a forum) and label you boring, you’re stuck with ‘boring’ for a little bit. That’s the way it works,” said Sonnen.
“Curtis hears this, doesn’t wanna be boring, goes and starts working on his kickboxing. It’s cost him a couple times, go see the Derrick Lewis fight. But in all fairness, his kickboxing’s gotten very good… He’s an excellent fighter,” concluded Sonnen.
Having put his improved standup game on full display last time out, Blaydes will look to impress once again when he makes his second walk to the Octagon of 2022 this summer. On July 23, he’ll be entering enemy territory to face England’s Tom Aspinall in the UFC London main event.
Given Aspinall’s well-rounded game, it stands to reason that even if the headliner hits the ground, Blaydes will receive more resistance than he did against Volkov, whom the Manchester native has also had success against, submitting the Russian in one round in March.
Do you think Curtis Blaydes deserves more respect?