For the UFC and fight fans, UFC 225 at the United Center on Saturday went swimmingly. It was the highest attended non-basketball event in the history of the arena. The UFC even decided to add standing room only tickets.
World Series champion Kris Bryant, Cubs president Theo Epstein and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews were among those in the sold out crowd.
Appropriately, the main and co-main events were the peak bouts of the night. For the co-main, Colby Covington beat Rafael dos Anjos for the interim Welterweight title in a spirited scrap after loads of trash talk leading up to their fight.
Despite Yoel Romero missing weight by .2 pounds and the contest between him and Robert Whittaker no longer being a middleweight title fight, the bout won fight of the night honors, going the distance after several rounds of each dishing out devastating blows.
One big win for a Windy City fighter (and a lot of losses)
Heavyweight Curtis Blaydes, ranked #4, was a wrestling star and state champion at De La Salle high school, where he went undefeated in his senior year. He had a fighting chance to best #2 ranked Alistair Overeem.
Blaydes took Overeem down with a double-leg in the first round. That was a surprise in and of itself with Overeem’s tall-tale UFC reputation.
The underdog improved more and more as the fight went on. As Overeem couldn’t defend Blaydes’s wrestling, Curtis was able to land a series of powerful strikes. The fight was stopped in the third round and Blaydes upset Overeem by TKO with vicious elbows.
“I’m next in line for the belt,” Blaydes told Joe Rogan in the cage following his shocking victory. “It’s my time! It’s my time.”
“The motivation [was to] get a ‘W’,” Blaydes said later in the media room. “I just knew that if I got a ‘W’, it makes more sense of the rankings and current matchups.”
With the wrestling chops Blaydes displayed Saturday night, the secret is out that it’s what future opponents need to watch out for.
“I kept hearing that Alistair was a pretty good wrestler,” Blaydes said. “There’s a difference between ‘pretty good’ and Division 1. My wrestling is the best in the division.”
UFC President Dana White was impressed by Blaydes following the fights. “He looked unbelievable,” White said. “And obviously beating Alistair Overeem is a big deal. So very impressive. And the way he beat Alistair Overeem is a big deal.”
After Blaydes rose to the occasion, and then some, all eyes were on former WWE star CM Punk to see if he had improved since he was submitted only two minutes and fourteen seconds into the opening round in his first UFC fight vs. Mickey Gall in September of 2016 by rear-naked choke.
Punk lasted all three rounds vs. Mike Jackson in his sophomore UFC fight, but lost in a lopsided decision. He showed improvement, scoring a takedown and landing some strikes, but Jackson dominated the fight, sitting on top of Punk and landing punches for much of it.
To Punk’s credit, he never showed signs of quitting. The loss came after what he called “the best week ever,"which he exclaimed while noticing a sign from the Chicago Blackhawks’ offices at the United Center during UFC 225 Media Day that read “Blackhawks love CM Punk.”
“I feel that my entire pro-wrestling life was focused on what’s coming next and a lot of the time I didn’t get to enjoy being in the moment,” Punk said. “I don’t know if you want to say I’m more zen now or anything like that, but I very much am enjoying this.”
At the post-fight press conference Dana White said Punk should “call it a wrap” on his UFC career.
Things didn’t go a lot better for the rest of the pro fighters on their home turf.
Mike Santiago from Melrose Park, Clay Guida of Round Lake and former UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans, who now calls Chicago home, were all finished in the first round.
Even #7 ranked featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas couldn’t turn it around. Lamas has beaten some of the division’s toughest fighters and even fought for the belt in February of 2014, losing in a decision to Jose Aldo. The Chicago native faced #11 ranked Mirsad Bektic.
Bektic kept his distance from Lamas in rounds one and two and controlled the fight. Lamas had two quality guillotine chokes on Bektic in the third round, but couldn’t force his opponent to tap during either and Bektic was able to escape and win the decision.