CHICAGO — He wouldn’t look like someone who found the sport “by accident.”
He’s 9-1 overall in the sport, and 4-1 in the UFC. If he can pull out a win at the United Center on Saturday at UFC 225, he’s in line for a possible shot at the heavyweight championship.
Yet all of this success for Chicago native Curtis Blaydes was unexpected, not because he surpassed expectations, but because the sport wasn’t on his radar for most of his life.
“I’ve never been in a fight outside the cage before. I’m not really aggressive or confrontational or anything like that,” said Blaydes. “This really all happened by accident.”
So how did this fighter, born in Naperville and raised in Chicago, end up in the UFC? It starts with his first passion.
Wrestling was a major part of Blaydes' early years as he won an IHSA state championship at De La Salle Institute and earned him the chance to wrestle at Northern Illinois University.
He transferred to Harper College after his freshman year and in his sophomore year won a NJCAA National Championship in the Heavyweight division.
When that career was over, however, he was looking for a way to continue his athletic career. An old friend from high school and his father floated MMA as an idea.
"I didn't know what to do, and a I wanted to be an athlete," said Blaydes when looking for a new sport. "I missed going to practice, having guys doing what I was doing and having something to talk about everyday."
So Blaydes took up the offer, and began to fight, and in his first five fights picked up victories in a number of series starting in 2014.
Success earned him the right to join the UFC in April of 2016.
"I figured I would just continue doing it until I lost, and I did. I just didn't have a loss till I got to the UFC and by then I was too invested to quit."
After that opening loss to Francis Ngannou after UFC Fight Night in 2016, Blades has yet to lose in the fighting league, forced only to take a no contest in his third fight. He's 4-1 overall, with his last win coming against Mark Hunt in UFC 221 on February 11th.
Because of that, Blaydes is all in on MMA, having moved to Denver fulltime for training. Alistair Overeem is next in the octogon, and a win puts him a step closer to a shot at the Heavyweight title. It will be his first fight inside the United Center, a place the fight says he's seen a few Chicago Bulls games. Now he'll take center stage in the preliminary fights at UFC 225, adding another chapter to an unlikely career path.
"It's fun. Everyday's a new day. I'm still figuring it all out. I never know what to expect," said Blaydes.
After all, doing this was completely unexpected to start.