UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Spann

After a two week break, the UFC returns with a 14 fight card headlined by a five round main event in the light heavyweight division between former title challenger Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann.

The action gets started at 4pm EST and streams on ESPN+.

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Anthony Smith (-170) vs. Ryan Spann (+150)

In the main event, Anthony Smith takes on Ryan Spann in the light heavyweight division.

Smith has won back to back fights, both in the first round. Most recently he picked up a first round doctor stoppage over Jimmy Crute when Crute injured his leg and was unable to continue. Smith is 6-3 since moving to light heavyweight with all six wins coming inside the distance.

Spann has won five of six fights since joining the UFC. He’s coming off a first round knockout of Misha Cirkunov in just over a minute. The lone loss is a first round knockout to Johnny Walker. Since getting knocked out in 15 seconds by Karl Roberson on the Contender Series, Spann has won nine of ten with seven wins coming inside the distance.

Neither Smith or Spann are legit contenders in the light heavyweight division, but this is a mildly intriguing fight. I think of Spann as more of a power puncher, but he does boast a fair amount of submission victories on his resume. The major concern for me is his cardio. He barely squeaked out a split decision over Sam Alvey and Smith is far more aggressive and more of a pressure fighter. Smith is also pretty durable and has made a name for himself with late finishes of Alexander Gustafsson, Hector Lombard and Andrew Sanchez.

Spann’s best chance is to get Smith out of there early. If he can’t, Smith is just going to keep coming and drag Spann into deep waters, where I see him getting a finish in the third round or later.

PREDICTION: Smith by fourth round knockout

Ion Cutelaba (-145) vs. Devin Clark (+125)

The co-main event also features light heavyweights as Ion Cutelaba battles Devin Clark.

Cutelaba is coming off a split draw with Dustin Jacoby and has just one win in his last five fights. His last win is a first round knockout of Khalil Rountree almost two years ago. Cutelaba is just 4-5-1 in the UFC with three of his wins coming by knockout in the first round. He’s been finished in four of those five losses.

Clark is coming off a first round submission loss to Anthony Smith that snapped a two fight winning streak. Clark had scored back to back unanimous decisions over Alonzo Menifield and Dequan Townsend. Smith is 6-5 in the UFC with all of his wins coming by unanimous decision. He’s been finished in all of his losses, three times by submission.

Cutelaba is an absolute madman for the first round, but then his production drastically drops off and that’s why he only has one win in his last five fights. His wrestling is strong early as well as his power. I don’t expect him to have much success taking down a strong wrestler in Clark, but he could hurt Clark early.

If Clark can weather the early storm, his chances of winning increase considerably as he has the better gas tank. However, I am concerned with his durability and see Cutelaba coming out and getting the finish.

PREDICTION: Cutelaba by first round knockout

Ariane Lipski (-125) vs. Mandy Bohm (+105)

Ariane Lipski will welcome UFC debutante Mandy Bohm in a women’s flyweight bout.

Lipski has lost back to back fights and four of six since joining the UFC. The last two losses have been especially ugly as Lipski has been absolutely dominated on the ground by Antonina Shevchenko and Montana de la Rosa, being finished in the second round in both fights.

Bohm is undefeated at 7-0 with four wins coming inside the distance, split evenly between submission and knockout.

Lipski has been a huge disappointment since signing with the UFC. The “Queen of Violence” has been badly exposed on the ground and hardly impressive in her two wins. Bohm isn’t an elite prospect and it’s hard to tell how good she is considering the competition she has faced.

Bohm has some decent grappling skill and honestly that’s all it takes to beat Lipski. This could be a very ugly fight and I’m not very confident in the pick, but I’m going with Bohm.

PREDICTION: Bohm by decision

Arman Tsarukyan (-800) vs. Christos Giagos (+550)

Arman Tsarukyan is one of the brightest prospects in the lightweight division. He made his UFC debut on short notice against Islam Makhachev and lost a unanimous decision, but he’s still the only UFC fighter to land a takedown on Makhachev. Since then, Tsarukyan has picked up three straight unanimous decision wins over Olivier Aubin-Mercier, Davi Ramos and Matt Frevola. He’s 16-2 overall with ten wins coming inside the distance, split evenly between knockout and submission.

Christos Giagos has won two fights in a row and four of six since rejoining the UFC. He’s coming off a second round submission of Sean Soriano, his first finish in the last five years. He’s 5-4 overall in the UFC with three wins by decision and two by submission. In those four losses, he’s been submitted twice and lost by decision twice.

Tsarukyan is an absolute stud and this is just a bad match-up for Giagos. Tsarukyan is a better wrestler, better striker and he has superior cardio. Giagos does his best work against inferior grapplers, but his cardio is so poor that he’s usually just clinging onto his opponents until the final bell. Tsarukyan is going to wear him down with his wrestling and I expect him to score a late finish.

PREDICTION: Tsarukyan by third round submission

Tony Gravely (-210) vs. Nate Maness (+175)

Tony Gravely was submitted in his UFC debut in the third round by Brett Johns, but has bounced back with two straight wins, a split decision over Geraldo de Freitas and second round knockout of Anthony Birchak.  Gravely has finished 12 of his 21 wins, nine by knockout.  He’s also been submitted in all of his losses.

Nate Maness has won both of his fights since joining the UFC.  He defeated Johnny Munoz in his UFC debut and then submitted Luke Sanders in the second round by rear naked choke.  Maness is 13-1 overall with seven wins coming inside the distance, four by knockout.

Gravely is a strong wrestler with solid striking skills, but his submission defense is an obvious concern. He’ll be giving up five inches of height and three inches of reach to Maness, who is a solid striker himself. Cardio is also a bit of a concern for Gravely. He should be effective with his wrestling for the first two rounds, but will likely have to hold off a late charge from Maness.

PREDICTION: Gravely by decision

Joaquin Buckley (-200) vs. Antonio Arroyo (+170)

Joaquin Buckley scored the most viral knockout of 2020 over Impa Kasanganay and followed it up a month later with a second round knockout of Jordan Wright.  Riding the momentum of those knockouts, Buckley faced Alessio Di Chirico earlier this year and ironically was on the receiving end of a highlight reel head kick knockout just over two minutes into the first round.  Buckley is 2-2 in the UFC with two wins by knockout and two losses by knockout.  He’s 12-4 overall with nine wins by knockout, but he’s also been knocked out in three of those four losses.

Antonio Arroyo earned his UFC contract with a second round submission of Stephen Regman on the Contender Series, but has gone winless in two fights since joining the UFC, dropping unanimous decisions to Andre Muniz and Deron Winn.  He’s 9-4 overall with eight wins coming inside the distance, split evenly between knockout and submission. 

Arroyo is the taller fighter by five inches, but it’s Buckley who holds a three inch reach advantage. Simply put, Arroyo has looked awful in the UFC. He had a massive size advantage over Winn, but couldn’t stop a takedown and was far too content to fight off his back. Now Buckley isn’t a wrestler, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to mix in a takedown or two. Arroyo prefers to strike and has never been knocked out so Buckley can’t just rely on his power.

PREDICTION: Buckley by decision

Tafon Nchukwi (-125) vs. Mike Rodriguez (+105)

Tafon Nchukwi earned his UFC contract on the Contender Series with a second round knockout via head kick of Al Matavao and then picked up a unanimous decision over Jamie Pickett in his UFC debut.  Most recently, he lost a majority decision to Jun Yong Park.  Both the Pickett and Park fights were at middleweight, but Nchukwi will make the jump back to light heavyweight for this fight.  He’s 5-1 overall with four wins by knockout.

Mike Rodriguez has only won two of seven fights since joining the UFC and officially has lost three of his last four fights.  His unanimous decision loss to John Allan was overturned to a no contest so unofficially he’s lost four of five.  His lone wins are first round knockouts of Marcin Prachnio and Adam Milstead.  He did get a raw deal against Ed Herman, who he hurt with a body shot, but the referee ruled it a low blow.  After Herman recovered, he rallied to submit Rodriguez in the third round with a kimura.

Nchukwi is still very raw as a prospect. He’s a powerful striker, but he fights at a more methodical pace and very likely to lose fights based on volume. Rodriguez prefers to strike and will have a four inch height and five inch reach advantage over Nchukwi. Rodriguez’s biggest flaws are his takedown defense and grappling, but Nchukwi hasn’t displayed any strong wrestling yet.

Nchukwi likely wants to make this a close quarters battle, while Rodriguez will be looking to use his length and fight at range. Nchukwi may have some success in the clinch, but Rodriguez has good Muay Thai skills. He will attack with knees and elbows and I have to favor him in a fight I expect to be spent primarily on the feet.

PREDICTION: Rodriguez by decision

Raquel Pennington (-130) vs. Pannie Kianzad (+110)

Since upsetting Miesha Tate in 2016, Raquel Pennington has lost three of her last five fights, including a five round beating at the hands of Amanda Nunes.  She also lost unanimous decisions to Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm.  Her two wins in that stretch are a split decision over Irene Aldana and most recently a unanimous decision over Marion Reneau.  She’s 8-5 in the UFC with six wins by decision and four of those losses coming by decision.

Pannie Kianzad made it to the finals of season 28 “The Ultimate Fighter” at featherweight, but was submitted in the second round by Macy Chiasson.  She was released from the UFC, picked up a win on the Swedish regional scene and then dropped a unanimous decision to Julia Avila at UFC 239.  Since then, Kianzad has won four straight fights, all by unanimous decision. 

Pennington is a solid fighter. She has good boxing, can wrestle a bit and is durable. She only loses to the elite in the division. Kianzad also has good boxing skill and she’s a more active striker than Pennington. However, she is less defensively sound than Pennington and highly unlikely to wrestle.

If Pennington can mix in takedowns, she probably wins this fight, but I’m going to side with the activity and volume of Kianzad to sway the judges in her favor.

PREDICTION: Kianzad by decision

Zhu Rong (-305) vs. Brandon Jenkins (+240)

Zhu Rong was originally supposed to face Dakota Bush, but after Bush tested positive for COVID-19, he’ll instead face UFC debutante Brandon Jenkins on about four days notice.

Rong made his UFC debut earlier this year, losing a unanimous decision to Rodrigo Vargas.  Prior to that loss, Rong had won ten fights in a row.  He’s 17-4 overall with 15 wins coming inside the distance, 11 by knockout.

Jenkins just fought in PFL three weeks ago and picked up a highlight reel first round knockout via flying knee over UFC veteran Jacob Kilburn.  Jenkins is 15-7 overall with 13 wins coming inside the distance, 10 by knockout.  Five of his seven losses have come by decision.

I was not too impressed by Rong in his UFC debut and was going to pick Bush here. Rong may have an impressive record for such a young kid, but keep in mind the competition. I don’t consider Jenkins a UFC caliber fighter, but he does have experience and comes from a good camp in Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. If he’s in remotely good shape, I believe he can pull the upset.

PREDICTION: Jenkins by decision

Montel Jackson (-675) vs. JP Buys (+475)

Montel Jackson was originally supposed to face Danaa Batgerel, but after visa issues forced him out of the fight, JP Buys will step up on about a month’s notice and up a weight class at bantamweight.

Jackson is coming off a first round ground and pound finish of Jesse Strader earlier this year and has won four of six since joining the UFC.  He’s 10-2 overall with seven wins coming inside the distance, six by knockout.

Buys earned his UFC contract with a first round submission of Jacob Silva on the Contender Series.  The stoppage was controversial as Silva never tapped, but Buys was dominating the fight.  He made his UFC debut against Bruno Silva and was knocked out in the second round.  Buys is 9-3 overall with all of his wins coming inside the distance.  He’s been finished in all three of his losses, twice by knockout.

Jackson is the naturally bigger fighter and will have a five inch height and eight inch reach advantage over Buys. Jackson is a strong striker and a good wrestler. His defensive wrestling was exposed in his losses to Ricky Simon and Brett Johns and Buys is an aggressive wrestler. However, Buys has major cardio concerns so even if he’s successful early, that game plan won’t be sustainable. Once Buys starts to fade, Jackson will pour on the pressure and get the finish.

PREDICTION: Jackson by second round knockout

Erin Blanchfield (-380) vs. Sarah Alpar (+190)

Erin Blanchfield was supposed to make her UFC debut earlier this year at bantamweight, but the fight was scrapped after Norma Dumont badly missed weight.  Now she’ll make her debut at her natural weight class of 125 pounds.  She’s 6-1 overall with her lone loss a split decision to UFC veteran Tracy Cortez.  Three of her wins have come inside the distance, two by knockout.

Sarah Alpar had a rough UFC debut, getting beaten up and bloodied by Jessica Rose-Clark before getting finished late in the third round.  Alpar is 9-5 overall with five wins by decision, two by submission and two by knockout.  She’s been stopped in three of her five losses, twice by submission.

Blanchfield is one of the brighter prospects in women’s MMA. She’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt so grappling is an obvious strength. She’s not a great wrestler, though. Her striking is also improving. On paper, Alpar is probably the better wrestler, but Blanchfield is the better fighter overall. I expect her to dominate this fight on the ground.

PREDICTION: Blanchfield by second round submission

Impa Kasanganay (-125) vs. Carlston Harris (+105)

Just about a year ago, Impa Kasanganay was on the receiving end of one of the most insane knockouts in UFC history, but he bounced back with a second round submission via rear naked choke over Sasha Palatnikov.  Kasanganay competed twice on the Contender Series and was awarded a UFC contract after his second appearance.  He’s 9-1 overall with six wins by decision and three by submission.

Carlston Harris made a successful UFC debut earlier this year, submitting Christian Aguilera in the first round with an anaconda choke.  He’s won eight of his last nine fights with six coming inside the distance.  Nine of his 16 wins have come inside the distance, five by submission.

Kasanganay is another fairly raw talent from the Contender Series. He’s an athletic fighter, but I’m just not sure how good he really is. We haven’t really seen his ground game tested, but we should get some answers against Harris, who will aggressively look to take this fight to the mat. If Kasanganay can defend the takedowns, he’s the superior striker and there’s a possibility he can hurt Harris. Maybe Kasanganay is better than I think he is, but Harris is the pick.

PREDICTION: Harris by second round submission

Heili Alateng (-125) vs. Gustavo Lopez (+105)

It’s been almost a year since Heili Alateng last fought, losing a one-sided unanimous decision to Casey Kenney.  Prior to that, Alateng had won his first two fights in the UFC, a split decision over Ryan Benoit and a unanimous decision over Danaa Batgerel in his UFC debut.  Alateng is 14-8-1 overall with seven wins coming inside the distance, four by knockout.  Four of his losses have come by decision with three coming by knockout. 

Gustavo Lopez has lost two of three fights since joining the UFC.  He stepped up on short notice in his UFC debut, but was met with the unenviable task of facing Merab Dvalishivi.  He bounced back with a first round submission via rear naked choke over Anthony Birchak, but most recently was knocked out in the third round by Adrian Yanez.  He’s 12-6 overall with 11 wins coming inside the distance, six by submission.  His six losses are split evenly between knockout and decision.

Alateng and Lopez both do their best work on the mat with Alateng being the stronger wrestler, while Lopez is the better submission grappler. My pick is going to be the stronger wrestler in Alateng.

PREDICTION: Alateng by decision

Emily Whitmire (-125) vs. Hannah Goldy (+105)

Kicking off the card is a bout between Emily Whitmire and Hannah Goldy in the women’s straw-weight division.  Whitmire was originally set to face Cory McKenna, but instead will face Goldy on about three weeks notice.

Whitmire hasn’t fought in over a year and is coming off back to back losses to Polyana Viana and Amanda Ribas, both by submission.  She was submitted in the first round in her UFC debut by Gillian Robertson, but rattled off back to back wins, a unanimous decision over Jamie Moyle and a first round submission of Aleksandra Albu.

Goldy is looking for her first win inside the Octagon.  She lost her UFC debut by unanimous decision to Miranda Granger and then didn’t fight for nearly two years.  In her last fight, she dropped down to strawweight and lost a unanimous decision to Diana Belbita.

This is a very low level fight in the strawweight division. Whitmire likely wants to turn this into a grappling match, while Goldy would prefer to keep the fight standing. My pick is going to be Whitmire because I believe she can be competitive in the striking exchanges, but has a clear grappling advantage. She’s not a strong wrestler, but if she can land a takedown or two, she’ll be able to control Goldy.

PREDICTION: Whitmire by decision

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