From The King’s Speech to Billy Madison, most Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fans can instantly recognize stuttering as a speech disorder. Just now, as I write this, I cringe as I remember all of the times I have stuttered at a UFC post-fight press conference – it is embarrassing, and every time it happens, I don’t want to speak publicly anymore.
Now, imagine you’re one of the baddest men on the planet, and every time you do an interview, you stutter, and people don’t even listen to what you’re saying anymore. The collective public thinks, “Wow, this guy has CTE or something.”
That’s what happens when No. 5-ranked Heavyweight Curtis Blaydes speaks. Indeed, “Razor” — a 265-pound, highly-skilled mixed martial arts (MMA) professional who has been on the cusp of several world title shots — has been struggling with a stutter (or a speech impediment) his entire life.
“I first realized in kindergarten or the first grade, honestly I don’t know, but I was real young,” Blaydes told MMAMania.com. “It was the other kids who pointed it out to me, but it wasn’t too malicious because we were so young.”
When Blaydes was in the third grade, his mother made him go to a speech pathologist who was attached to the school, and he took the classes for two years; however, when he moved schools in fifth grade, the Heavyweight chose to stop attending speech class.
“I remember my mom asking me, ‘Do you want to keep going? Do you want to do it again?’ and I was like, ‘nah’ because it didn’t seem to be helping me at all,” Blaydes explained. “My stutter wasn’t getting better. And it just seemed to get in the way of school because they would come and take me out of class at like 11 and I’d be with a speech pathologist for like an hour a day twice a week.”
Having a stutter in grade school wasn’t so bad, “Razor” recalls, but when he got to middle school, that is when the bullying took place — and it wasn’t easy — especially living in a rough-and-tumble city such as Chicago.
“Growing up in Chicago, everyone has to deal with a little bit of bullying, it’s just part of the culture. But, I was easy ammo,” Blaydes said. “With me having glasses, bad skin, and a stutter? Oh, it was a wrap; the kids have easy ammo to tease me. When anyone heard it, they were an asshole. Not everyone was an asshole, but the ones that were were mean.”
“It really affected me mentally in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade,” Blaydes continued. “Around that time, boys start getting hormones and with females around, boys just want to make them laugh, right? Well, the easy way to do that is to make fun of the kid with a speech impediment.
“So, it got to the point where I didn’t raise my hand to answer questions,” Blaydes added. “Even if I knew the answer, I just wouldn’t raise my hand. Or like, in school the teachers make you read out loud. What I would do is figure out what paragraph I was going to read and then I would rehearse it the whole time until it was my turn. I think that only made it worse, usually. After screwing up my reading, I really wanted to get up and walk out of the classroom and obviously, you can’t, but I could hear all of them talk and laugh at me. It hurt; I can’t even lie.
“Oh yeah, and the letters S, W, J and C usually set off my stutter, which is wack because my name starts with C – so whenever I tried to introduce myself, it was already over,” Blaydes explained. “The first day of school – and it’s already over.”
Blaydes was never a violent or aggressive kid. He just let everyone poke fun at him and make jokes; however, he did get into a scuffle in his final year of middle school.
“I did snap one time, I can’t lie,” Blaydes laughed. “I went to ask the teacher something, and it was one of my bad stutters – like, hey Mrs. t-t-t-t-h-h-h-a-a-h … — I knew it was a bad one, and my ears were already on the lookout.
“There was this dude, I forgot exactly what he said, but it made me completely snap,” Blaydes explained. “I walked over and put the guy in a headlock and just squeezed until they broke it up. It wasn’t really a fight, but it was by far the most aggressive thing I’d ever done up until that day.”
After all of the bullying and ridicule he suffered during middle school, Blaydes decided to go to an all-boys high school, something that he proclaimed was the best decision he had ever made during his childhood.
“I loved high school,” Blaydes said. “I didn’t really get bulled at all. One, because there were no females to make the other boys act out, and two, because I really started to excel at sports. When I started playing sports, everyone was like, ‘Look that’s the guy who plays football, he helped us win the game.’ Everyone wants to be a friend.
“And then the same thing with wrestling,” Blaydes continued. “I went undefeated as a freshman, which got me attention like, ‘Hey he’s a wrestler. He’s really good.’ And I got respect for that. Obviously, my stutter got brought up, but it wasn’t with the same malice as in like eighth grade.
“My confidence also got much better,” Blaydes explained. “I started raising my hand to answer questions, and I got to talk to people, I wasn’t hiding away. I used to just read all of the time, and I wouldn’t speak to people. Like for recess, I wouldn’t really hang out. I just read my books. Like I would hang out a little bit if they were playing with Pokemon or Yugio, but that was the only thing that would make me interact with the other boys, but I still wouldn’t really talk.”
Blaydes thought the ridicule over his stutter was over following a great time in high school and college; however, when he got to UFC in 2016, he had to deal with senseless vitriol from toxic MMA keyboard warriors.
“Obviously, I lost my debut to Francis Ngannou, so I didn’t get to do any interviews, but when I won my next fight, it happened,” Blaydes revealed. “I stuttered twice, and you could definitely tell, but I didn’t mind because I did well for 95 percent of the interview. My confidence was so high that I didn’t care if people made fun of my impediment – I had gone through so much.”
The one thing that started to get under Blaydes’s skin was when the fans started accusing him of having Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive and fatal brain disease associated with repeated traumatic brain injuries.
Damn does Curtis Blaydes already have CTE?
— Reporter (@WhatIfiWasWhYte) September 26, 2021
“It probably started after the Mark Hunt fight because he hit me a few times in the first round, but after Francis stopped me and, of course, after the bad Derrick Lewis knockout, the toxic fans started throwing CTE around,” Blaydes said. “It used to be super annoying, like what the f—k. I hadn’t even thought about that as an insult because I’m just like, ‘That’s just not even the case.’ I spoke only about like three times with my buddy, James Lynch. But, that I was it because I’m not going to allow these people to make me feel like I need to validate my speech.
“I have a speech impediment, if you’re not intelligent enough to understand that I didn’t get it from a brain injury, then I don’t know what to say,” Blaydes continued. “It’s just random people who don’t take the time to find that out, like, bro, it takes 15 seconds to Google. I don’t feel the need to address it unless someone directly talks to me about it, but I know for a fact none of these people will say anything to my face.”
Even though fans making fun of his stutter or making jokes that he has CTE doesn’t affect him anymore, he has decided to leave social media … for the most part.
“I just don’t have time for toxic fans to belittle me anymore,” Blaydes explained. “I used to really enjoy social media, but then all I got was nothing but hate. I just post what I want to and then don’t look at the comments but even then what these people are saying is just meaningless. It used to hurt honestly, like it used to make me feel really bad, but now people hit me with dumb insults, and I’m like, ‘bro, I’ve been hearing that one since I was 10 years old.’
“The insults just don’t hit no more,” Blaydes continued. “Plus, if any of them had the courage to say that to my face, they know what would happen. That’s why they hid behind an avatar. I used to wish someone would, but I gave up on that dream because it never happens.”
When asked if he wants to be an advocate for people with a stutter, Blaydes admitted it’s currently not on his mind, but if it comes organically, he’d be honored.
“I don’t want to blow smoke up anyone’s ass and say that I want to be an image. If it happens, I won’t shy away from it because I do have a story to share,” Blaydes said. “If it’s organic and someone comes up to me and is like, ‘Hey, your speech impediment is empowering, would you like to do something’ then sure.
“Like, I’m not against advocating for stuttering, but to be honest, it’s not my focus because that would take so much more energy,” Blaydes continued. “I would have to be interviewed about it all the time, which could be draining and overbearing. Fighting is so much, and I already have so much on my plate.
“By the end of my career, I don’t really want to be known as that one MMA fighter who stutters,” Blayded continued. “Here is an example, you know that fighter Nick Newell? I’m sure he doesn’t want to only be known for fighting with one hand. It is kind of the same thing. But, like I said, if it happens, I wouldn’t push it away. It is part of me.”
While “Razor” doesn’t want to be an advocate in the public sense, he does have one person he will advocate for: his daughter – who also has a stutter, just like him and just like his father before him.
“My dad was super helpful with my stutter growing up. He would tell me there is nothing wrong with me and that there is nothing I cannot do,” Blaydes said. “I have my daughter in speech pathology, just like I did when I was young. The only problem is that she lives in Texas with her mom, which is my biggest regret.
“I wish I was there because I know she is going to get picked on like I did,” Blaydes concluded. “She’s going to post a video, and the response is going to hurt her just like it hurt me. I just hope she gets good friends like I had. I always had friends on the block, and it was never an issue with them. I know she’ll be good though because she has me in her corner.”
And dads don’t come much scarier — a well-trained, 6’4” cage fighter with a chip on his shoulder is daunting opposition. Motivated, too. Blaydes is looking to rebound from a tough technical knockout loss to Sergei Pavlovich earlier this year when he locks horns with red-hot rising Heavyweight contender, Jailton Almeida, in hostile territory (Sao Paulo, Brazil) on Nov. 4, 2023.
And Blaydes would love nothing more than to silence those critics who think he doesn’t have much of a chance, too. It’s just par for the course.
To checkout the latest and greatest “Blaydes vs. Almeida” fight card and rumors click here.