Sometimes injuries result in the signing of a blue chip prospect, sometimes they result in the signing of a guy who is ready and waiting to do the job. The latest run of UFC acquisitions highlights that pretty perfectly as the promotion has picked up top heavyweight prospect Curtis Blaydes to fight Francis Ngannou in Zagreb, Croatia on April 10th and veteran Aussie lightweight Damein Brown to take on Alan Patrick for this week's Brisbane card. Blaydes' signing was made official via the UFC France Twitter account, and the UFC made Brown's signing official with his addition to the online roster and fight card. So...
Who is Curtis Blaydes?
"Razor" as he's also known (because of course) is a 25-year-old heavyweight fighter fighting out of Dutch Style MMA in Lisle, Illinois. It appears to be a somewhat unknown camp, from which Blaydes seems to be the first fighter to make the leap to the big time. Blaydes will enter the UFC with an undefeated 5-0 record, with all of his wins coming by way of TKO. His record is pretty strong for a regional heavyweight, having beat Bellator prospect Lorenzo Hood in his debut bout. He was also the first loss on Allen Crowder's record, with the rest of his competition being about what you'd expect for a regional heavyweight in his first half-dozen fights. Outside of MMA, Blaydes was a nation junior college wrestling champion for Harper College.
What you should expect:
Standing at 6' 4" and weighing in at the heavyweight limit of 265 (for his previous bouts) Blaydes is definitely the model of what the UFC is looking for in a their current heavyweight crop. A big, powerful athlete, with legit credentials behind him. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of good tape out there to get a great handle of his style/skill level, but what I have seen suggests that he is first and foremost a great athlete and a power wrestler. He looks like he moves with the dynamism of a much smaller fighter, and his ability to hit a suplex or throw leaping strikes suggests he has the potential to do things most UFC heavyweights just can't.
While his takedown game looks the part, it seems like the rest of his game may be unrefined. He can throw single clean strikes with decent enough technique, but he's still pretty wooden with his posture and defensive movement. And when (as with the end of the Cortez fight) he has an opportunity to open up his striking he gets wild and sloppy in a hurry. That's not a terrible thing. He's been a pro for just under two years, he's expected to look less than elite. Because of his size, power, and athletic gifts, he has the ability to be a finisher, but I'm not sure he's an especially dangerous fighter moment to moment yet. In that way he reminds me a bit of Brock Lesnar. Big and powerful enough to hurt you at any time, but without the refined technique to quickly and easily put most guys away.
What this means for his debut:
Very likely a win, and potentially a dominant one. Francis Ngannou can match Blaydes for athleticism and speed and power and even potential, but his weakness is wrestling. That's where Blaydes excels, and given Blaydes' own willingness to just drive straight in for takedowns early and often, it's hard not to see him putting Ngannou on his back and beating him up badly there. If Blaydes decides to stand and trade, he'll likely be at a disadvantage, but given his talents he would have a very very good chance of catching Ngannou with a big punch and hurting him badly.
Who is Damien Brown?
It's a bit hard on Damien Brown to go from talking about Curtis Blaydes to him, but there you have it. "Beatdown" Brown is a 31-year-old lightweight training out of Integrated MMA in Brisbane, Australia. It's the former training grounds of Jackson-Wink fighter Kyle Noke and the current home to UFC flyweight Ben Nguyen along with a strong stable of veteran regional talent. Brown will bring a 15-8 record with him to the UFC, including an 0-3 stint with Cage Warriors back in 2013-14. He's currently on a 5 fight win streak, although his record is pretty bereft of notable wins or strong competition. Generally it seems that when Brown has taken a step up against better fighters, he's lost. Outside of MMA, he has a black belt in Zen Do Kai Karate, and is a former Army physical training instructor.
What you should expect:
For the most part, and like Zafir and Kennedy before him, it looks like Brown has cut his teeth by being a wrestler on a circuit that doesn't have many wrestlers. He shoots a nice double leg, and knows how to hit trips for the body lock and stay after opponents on a shot attempt. That tends to put him ahead of the curve for the Australian MMA circuit, but he's fallen short with that style against better fighters. He's not a bad fighter technically in any dimension, but isn't a very dynamic athlete and can get outworked in scrambles by faster guys.
As a striker, Brown is alright, or would be if he threw more strikes. He's got a decent idea of defense and uses his hands and head movement to keep incoming shots to a minimum. His only TKO loss came in 7 seconds, and otherwise he's been very hard to put away. But, Brown always seems to be looking to find the perfect strike at range, and his output is low enough that even though he hits with some pop when he lands clean, it doesn't make him likely to win tough rounds or get big finishes.
What this means for his debut:
Probably a loss, probably. Alan Patrick is still a bit of a UFC enigma. He's good at the big, flashy, showy stuff, and not necessarily great at all that much else. He's a rangy lightweight, who if he can be the faster guy will pot shot from the outside and then grind you hard against the cage. Against an active rangy striker in Mairbek Taisumov, that got Patrick beat badly, but even a studied striker like John Makdessi had lots of trouble with him, just because he couldn't find a way to work inside. That seems like it will be the story here. When Brown does his best work it's when he can find a way into the pocket to throw a combination or when he can shoot in on a takedown. If Patrick keeps him at range, Patrick can probably out point him in a kickboxing bout. If Brown closes him down, Patrick's physical gifts and own willingness to go after grinding control could be more than Brown can handle (as they've been in similar fights before).
To get us better acquainted, here's Damien Brown's most recent fight against Pumua Campbell: