The UFC’s greatest draw is the ability to promise a range of themes within its many battles, and everything from a technically-focused grapple fest to a tit-for-tat street fight has been witnessed in the famous octagon over the past 27 years. Yet, for those that prefer a sense of real mortal danger, nothing matches a clash between two hulking heavyweights who could hospitalize anyone with a single punch.

UFC Fight Night 184’s main card, between Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis, is certainly in that hallowed category. It is a tremendously difficult fight to call, and will likely put people in mind of high-profile heavyweight bouts in professional boxing, where changes in momentum will be quick and severe. That is all the more befitting of this main event, with Blaydes boasting a high knockout percentage and Lewis considered by some to be the greatest puncher in the heavyweight division.

Despite Blaydes’ status as a pre-fight favorite, picking a winner is very difficult.

Tale of the tape

As can be seen in the latest betting odds for worldwide sporting events, certain markets can show massive odds against the underdog. This fight is not in that category, but with Blaydes’ early prices hovering around -200 across major sportsbooks, there is a clear lean towards the ‘Razor’, doubtless provoked by his hulking 6’4 frame and 71.4% knockout rate from 14 career wins.

To date, only Francis Ngannou has been able to get the better of him, doing so twice, with those defeats coming via knockout or stoppage. The second of those saw Blaydes vanquished after just 45 seconds of action, but he rebounded well from that humiliation, with two unanimous decisions and two vicious TKOs.

On that evidence, he certainly has the edge over Derrick Lewis in terms of groundwork and spatial initiative, especially if his last bout is anything to go by. Blaydes won by unanimous decision win over five rounds, and his background in wrestling provided an intriguing point of contrast against the hybrid kickboxer-karateka Alexander Volkov back in June:

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Blaydes was never in apparent danger of losing, but with considerable size comes a lesser center of gravity. That spells danger against anyone with a deadly, well-rehearsed kick or punch, as seen recently in Sean O’Malley’s win over Eddie Wineland down in the Bantamweight division.

While Blaydes’ bout with Volkov could be seen as a means to projecting the outcome of Fight Night 184’s headline event, Volkov arguably underperformed on the night, allowing Blaydes to dictate the fight without being particularly dominant. Again, this throws Blaydes’ narrow-yet-clear placement as the pre-fight favorite into question, especially as Lewis has the physique necessary to break through the opposition guard, and become a Tyson-esque infighter unless he telegraphs his moves badly.

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Derrick Lewis has some good momentum going into this battle, recovering well after two straight defeats.

Underdog may well bite

Although Lewis faces an opponent with a tremendous knockout percentage for a wrestler, a return of 19 knockouts from 24 victories is a mark of the man Lewis can be. Simply put, boxing-bred Lewis is a good punch away from ending the fight immediately. There is only one winner in a toe-to-toe battle, and Lewis’ whole gameplan will be based on him coaxing Blaydes into coming after him.

Lewis’ last bout was significant in several ways. In knocking out Aleksei Oleinik just 21 seconds into the second round, Lewis celebrated a first knockout/stoppage win in nearly two years and also broke the heavyweight division’s record for the most knockouts. Yet, given the caliber of both combatants involved in Fight Night 184’s main event, Lewis has practically no hope of scoring a first-round knockout.

So too is it difficult to see Blaydes forcing a quick tap out from Lewis, given that Lewis has lost via submission only once in his entire career. At the same time, however, it is difficult to foresee Blaydes v Lewis going the distance, putting the safe money on a flashpoint – if any at all – coming after the start of the third round.

Ultimately, Lewis’ underdog status is based only on Blaydes’ greater sense of fluidity in terms of style, and the surprise element that brings. That, however, is overshadowed by the strong sense of a fight that could turn in an instant.