UFC Fight Night expert picks and best bets: Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus

A pivotal matchup in the UFC heavyweight division between Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus will headline Saturday's UFC Fight Night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio (ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET; prelims at 4 p.m. ET).

The original main event was supposed to highlight former UFC light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz against Aleksandar Rakic in a matchup between contenders for the title at 205 pounds. However, Blachowicz was forced to withdraw in late January due to a spine injury, thus lifting Blaydes (15-3, 1 NC) and Daukaus (12-4) to headline status.

Blaydes, winner of five of his past six bouts, is ESPN's No. 6-ranked heavyweight. Daukaus, also 5-1 in his past six bouts, is ESPN's No. 8-ranked heavyweight. Both fighters were handed knockout losses by Derrick Lewis in 2021, but the winner of Saturday's contest could find themselves back in title contention in the near future.

"Daukaus is a bit of a mystery as far as grappling goes -- which doesn't mean he can't grapple, I just haven't seen it personally," UFC heavyweight contender Tom Aspinall told ESPN on Wednesday. "I think it all depends on the level of grappling of Mr. Daukaus and if he can hang with the best wrestler in the division -- Curtis Blaydes."

The card in Columbus also features top-10 matchups between women's flyweights Joanne Wood and Alexa Grasso along with men's flyweights Askar Askarov and Kai Kara-France.

Veteran MMA coach Sayif Saud of Fortis MMA breaks down the matchup for Marc Raimondi from an inside-the-cage perspective, while experts Ian Parker and Reed Kuhn analyze the card from a betting viewpoint.

Heavyweight: Curtis Blaydes vs. Chris Daukaus

Sayif Saud, Fortis MMA