When top-10 heavyweights Curtis Blaydes and Shamil Abdurakhimov step into the Octagon in Abu Dhabi at UFC 242 both men will be looking to add clarity to a division distinctly lacking in it at present.
Fourth-ranked Blaydes will be looking to put himself in the title picture, while Abdurakhimov – currently in tenth spot, can slot himself into some much more interesting conversations by picking up a win.
With a Daniel Cormier v Stipe Miocic title match on the horizon much can change in a division that has lost its mojo somewhat in recent time – but here are the main talking points.
Can Razor cut through the competition?
A win for Blaydes doesn’t put him straight into the title frame, but he would potentially be one win away a shot at the gold.
With Francis Ngannou now poised to fight the winner of Cormier v Miocic it would make sense for a victorious Blaydes to take on the loser.
This is complicated if Miocic reclaims the title as you would question Cormier’s appetite to continue at the age of 40 – unless it’s rubber match with Stipe, but that keeps the title picture locked down for some time to come.
In this scenario, Blaydes taking on Junior Dos Santos, Ngannou’s latest victim seems likely to decide who forms an orderly queue behind Ngannou.
Shamil on the surge
Working on the back of a three-fight win streak, the Dagestani will be buoyed by some vociferous support in Abu Dhabi thanks to the backing afforded to his countryman, and headliner, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Following a debut defeat in the UFC, Abdurakhimov has won five of six fights since including victories over veteran Andrei Arlovski and Marcin Tybura in his last couple of outings.
A win over Blaydes would project ‘Abrek’ comfortably into the top 10.
A smart fight from here would be to try to avenge his loss to Derrick Lewis from 2016. Lewis is now ranked in the top-five but has dropped his last two to Cormier and Dos Santos.
Between now and then
Before the UFC rolls into Abu Dhabi on September 7, there are a couple of key dates for the heavyweight division.
The obvious one is Cormier v Miocic 2 on August 17, with Cleveland-native Miocic fighting for the first time in 12 months and seeking to claim the gold he lost to the now former two-weight champ DC last July.
However more pertinent to Blaydes and Abdurakhimov may be UFC on ESPN 4 on July 20.
Here the experienced, and currently ninth-ranked Alexey Oleynik will take on Walt Harris, himself looking to break into the top-10.
Russian 42-year-old Oleynik lost last time out to Alastair Overeem, but enjoyed an impressive outing prior to that beating Mark Hunt via first round submission. A win here could see him go after Blaydes in the future – looking to avenge a 2017 loss to the American.
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