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UFC 225 Is Going Big in Chicago—with Plenty of Chicago Talent

What to watch? Start with former De La Salle wrestling star Curtis Blaydes, the #4 heavyweight contender on the rise, and CM Punk, the local WWE star who’s trying to forge a new career in ultimate fighting.

CM Punk has brought home the hardware in pro wrestling, but he’s got a long climb ahead of him in UFC.   Photo: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune

Don’t hassle me I’m local

Ricardo Lamas, CM Punk and Curtis Blaydes are among the group that will be putting their combat skills on display and representing Chicago on Saturday at the United Center.

CM Punk, a Lockport Township High School grad who came to fame in the WWE (and whose signature move was named after a Kill Hannah song), is looking to prove that his desire to be a pro fighter isn’t a parlor trick. The 39-year-old welterweight aims to put forth a better showing against Mike Jackson than he did in his MMA debut, a first round tap vs. Mickey Gall in September of 2016.

The 27-year-old Blaydes, currently the #4 heavyweight contender, has quickly been climbing the rankings after such impressive UFC wins as a decision over veteran knockout artist Mark Hunt this past February. It’s Blaydes’ competitive wrestling experience, forged as a star at De La Salle—he went 44-0 and won a state title as a senior—that gives him an edge over the other heavyweights and helped him beat Hunt. And he did it in definitive fashion: 10 takedowns, tied for second-most in a UFC heavyweight bout.

“I assumed it would be a lot harder to take him down,” Blaydes said of Hunt. “I was preparing to have to be on my feet a lot longer than what I was.

“That was the only surprise, just how much easier it was to get him down than [what] I imagined going into it. Not that it was easy, it was just easier than I expected. I thought I’d get maybe one or two takedowns, I didn’t think I’d be able to [set] my own takedown record.

All signs point to Blaydes being the Chicagoan to keep an eye on at UFC 225, even against a tough veteran opponent like #2 ranked Alistair Overeem.

“He’s a veteran, so I know he’s going to be smart,” Blaydes said of Overeem. “He’s not going to make it easy for me, he’s not going to put himself in bad positions. I’m going to have to force those positions to happen and he’s going to make me work for it.

“He’s probably looking to knock me out pretty early because I think I’ve got the cardio advantage. I don’t think he wants it to go out of the second round…. Really, I don’t think he wants it to go out of the first round. I don’t plan on it ending soon. It should be a banger.”

The heavyweight matchup is truly a clash of the titans. It’s a wonder why the bout was recently moved to the undercard on Fox Sports 1 instead of remaining on Pay-per-view. Lamas, a Hinsdale Central grad and the #7 ranked contender in the featherweight division, will also appear on the network, squaring off against #11 Mirsad Bektic in the preliminary fights.

UFC veteran Rashad Evans, who’s been training in Chicago, Mike Santiago from Melrose Park, Andrei Arlovski—from Belarus but also training out of Chicago—and Clay Guida from Round Lake, round out those with local ties appearing at UFC 225.

Your main event of the evening

The main event, a title fight and rematch between middleweight champion Robert Whittaker and #1 contender Yoel Romero, certainly has the makings for the fight of the night. Whittaker defeated Romero for the UFC interim middleweight title at UFC 213 in July of 2017.

Colby won’t put co-main in the corner

The co-main event, an interim Welterweight title fight between #1 contender Rafael Dos Anjos and #4 Colby Covington, has been at times overshadowing the main event due to some epic smack talk.

Covington has been initiating and laying it on thick for Dos Anjos, whom Colby often refers to as “Dos Nachos,” and the former UFC Lightweight champion is having none of it.

Thursday’s conference call for UFC 225 was the peak showcase for the verbal warfare.

“I’m about to make history,” Dos Anjos said. “I’m about to be among the very few that have two belts and I’m training hard to get my second belt. That’s my goal.”

Covington then interjected on the call: “I’m going to hit you so hard next week, RDA. The whole world is going to hate you. I’m going to mark your face up like the Liberty Bell. Land of the free, home of the brave, bitch.”

“This guy is so fake,” Dos Anjos retorted. “Everybody saw in the media day in New York, when he sees people, he just sticks with his phone, he doesn’t even look around. This guy is so fake, now he’s on the phone he’s going to grow his balls. On fight night, his balls shrink. I’m going to smoke this guy.”

The trash talk continued, especially from Covington, as it probably will up until they touch (or don’t touch) gloves on Saturday night.

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