Glover Teixeira (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC on ESPN+ 29 Preview and Predictions

UFC Fight Night is back!

After an almost two-month-long hiatus, UFC’s run of Fight Nights resumes on May 13 in what will be the second in a string of three UFC events in a matter of eight days. The card takes place in Jacksonville, Fla., at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena behind closed doors.

The main event is a light-heavyweight showdown between No. 3-ranked Anthony Smith and No. 8-ranked Glover Teixeira that may very well determine which of these top light heavyweights is on the path to another title shot. Both men have lost to Jon Jones and are no doubt looking to claim their vengeance in 2020 with another crack at the pound-for-pound king.


In the co-headliner, heavyweights clash when Ben Rothwell meets Ovince St. Preux. OSP is making his UFC heavyweight debut after compiling a 2-3 record in his last five UFC appearances as a light heavyweight. The 38-year-old Rothwell is looking to build upon his December win over Stefan Struve.

The remainder of the card features several UFC veterans and notable names. The main card includes showdowns between Alexander Hernandez and Drew Dober, Ricky Simón and Ray Borg, and Karl Roberson and Marvin Vettori. These are all significant fights to determine which fighters continue to climb in their respective division’s rankings. The preliminary card is headlined by fan-favorite Andre Arlovski, who takes on UFC newcomer Philipe Lins in a heavyweight clash. The prelims also feature UFC veteran Michael Johnson, Sijara Eubanks and Gabriel Benitez.

The festivities get underway at 6 p.m. ET on ESPN+ with the preliminary card. The rare Wednesday event continues with the main card at 9 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Matt Petela and Andrew Sumian preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

The 40-year-old Glover Teixeira is still a force in the light-heavyweight division. He’s a perennial contender who is now enjoying a three-fight winning streak. How does he stack up against recent title challenger Anthony Smith? Is Teixeira bound to get steamrolled in this one by his far younger opponent?

Petela: Teixeira has built himself an impressive resume throughout his time in the UFC, despite visa issues preventing him from joining the organization until he was 32 years old. He has looked fantastic during his current winning streak and has shown that, even if his athletic prime is behind him, there hasn’t been a significant decline in his skills and abilities.

The version of Teixeira that we will see in Jacksonville will very much resemble the fighter who has racked up notable wins over Ovince St. Preux, former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans, and current Bellator two-division champion Ryan Bader. At this point in his career, it is clear that Teixeira is a finished product. Despite having a slick submission game and heavy hands, the Brazilian has repeatedly come up short against the best of the best at 205 pounds. Only five people have bested Teixeira in the Octagon: Jon Jones, Phil Davis, Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson and Corey Anderson.

Despite being nearly nine years younger than his foe, Smith is a veteran in his own right and actually has 10 more professional fights than Teixeira. “Lionheart” has excelled since making the move from middleweight to light heavyweight, with his only setback coming in a title fight against the aforementioned Jones. Smith rebounded from that loss with a third-round submission finish of Gustafsson.

MMA math says this fight should go in favor of the Factory X fighter. The question mark is going to be whether there are any lingering effects from when Smith had to fend off a home invasion that he called one of the toughest fights of his life. Even being only slightly less than 100 percent could make all the difference in the world in a match-up at the elite level.

Ultimately, though, it will be Smith who comes away with a win in a clear decision. Physically, he won’t show any ill effects of the thwarted home invasion, and he is the more talented fighter at this point in these veterans’ careers. A win over Teixeira will further cement Smith’s name as one of the best 205ers on the planet, and fans could very well be discussing whether or not the only man who can best a physically filled-out and healthy Smith is the current champion.

Sumian: This fight will not be competitive. Yes, Teixeira is on a three-fight winning streak, but the strength of schedule in that streak is at best questionable. He defeated Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov, all in 2019, but frankly none of those names come close to the caliber of the opponent that Smith represents.

Smith is coming off a stellar performance in which he convincingly dismantled the aforementioned Gustafsson for four rounds before securing a submission victory at 2:38 of the fourth frame. The former UFC light-heavyweight title challenger is 7-2 in his last nine UFC appearances and likely one or two wins away at most from another crack at UFC gold.

The only way Teixeira might have a chance in this fight is to get it to the ground, where the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt should enjoy a grappling advantage. Even then, Smith is well versed on the mat and holds a BJJ black belt of his own. Smith is certainly the better striker at this point in time and will have a distinct speed and height advantage.

Frankly, this fight makes little sense. Teixeira is extremely tough and has had a successful UFC career, but his days of being able to keep up with top-five light heavyweights are long gone. Smith deserves a higher-ranked opponent for what he has accomplished in the last few years. He will pepper Teixeira with a variety of strikes before knocking out or submitting the former top light heavyweight.

Ovince St. Preux is stepping up to the heavyweight division for a showdown against Ben Rothwell. Can OSP top Rothwell, and is there a future for him at this weight class?

Sumian: There was a time when Rothwell looked like he would easily earn himself a shot at the UFC heavyweight championship. After a rocky start to his UFC career, the Wisconsin native went on an impressive run in which he defeated Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett between 2013 and 2016. It was after the Overeem knockout, where fans were treated to one of the most entertaining and bizzare post-fight “dances” we have ever seen in the Octagon, that Rothwell really looked like he had a chance to become a true contender. However, he went on to suffer a three-fight skid courtesy of Junior dos Santos, Blagoy Ivanov and Andre Arlovski, while also spending time on the sidelines as the result of a two-year suspension from the USADA.

Rothwell’s fortunes finally changed in December when he defeated Stefan Struve in an extremely controversial performance. Rothwell hit Struve in the groin twice, which seemed to noticeably limit Struve’s fighting ability and resulted in a second-round knockout for Rothhwell. Now, Rothwell attempts to build on that performance against one of the most experienced light heavyweights of the past decade.

Say what you want about St. Preux, but the guy is wildly entertaining. His head-kick knockout of Corey Anderson? One of the best in recent memory. His several successful Von Flue chokes? Wild! Whether he is winning or losing, the man entertains every single time. OSP has been a top-15 UFC light heavyweight for a long time, and he has fought the best of the best, including Jon Jones, Volkan Oezdemir, the aforementioned Anderson, Dominick Reyes, and more. At this point in his career, there isn’t much that OSP hasn’t seen.

At first glance, this fight might seem like a questionable co-headlining choice. However, expect it to provide some entertaining exchanges and a rejuvenated St. Preux. OSP, who stands at more than 6-foot-3 and boasts an 80-inch reach, is already a big light heavyweight. He is approaching the later years in his fighting career, and we have certainly seen a number of heavyweights find their success after the age of 35. After a fairly mild first round, expect OSP to find his groove and start landing heavy shots on Rothwell. Rothwell has absorbed 6.36 significant strikes per minute throughout his UFC career and averages a 47 percent significant-strike defense rate. OSP will capitalize and make a successful heavyweight debut with a knockout of Rothwell.

Petela: I was there in Washington, D.C., for that bizarre fight between Rothwell and Struve. From the infuriatingly obnoxious fans booing and cheering every time Struve would change posture and try to adjust his groin, to the blatantly inappropriate advice referee Dan Miragliotta gave Struve, the whole situation was funky. “Big Ben” didn’t look great in the cage, and I doubt we see a version of the Wisconsin native that is close to peak performance.

St. Preux will get the win, but a knockout is not on the horizon. The last person to knock out Rothwell was Cain Velasquez in 2009. That was 11 years ago, and Rothwell has gone on to become much more susceptible to dropping fights by lackluster decision. It will be the ground game that spells doom for Rothwell against OSP. This isn’t a shot at Rothwell’s grappling skills — anyone who submits Barnett has serious talent — but as much as anyone may try to prepare for the Von Flue choke, St. Preux has shown an uncanny ability to sneak his way into securing the shoulder choke. OSP has used the submission en route to victory four times, which is twice as many times as the man who made the move famous, Jason Von Flue.

With the strange lead-up to this fight, the cardio of the bigger man Rothwell will be questionable. By the end of the second round or beginning of the third stanza, he will find himself on his back and vulnerable. Rothwell will become the fifth victim of OSP’s Von Flue choke.

Philipe Lins — do we need to know this name?

Petela: Lins has a name that many MMA fans will already recognize from his time in Bellator and his 2018 run to capture the Professional Fighters League heavyweight championship. The UFC newcomer trains out of the legendary Nova União gym in Brazil and is surrounded by world-class talent on a daily basis. He has evolved into a finisher and stopped every opponent he faced during his time with the PFL, notching three knockouts and one submission. However, as a 34-year-old veteran, Lins shouldn’t be viewed as someone who’s set to become a star or a real contender at heavyweight.

The Brazilian has an impressive record of 14-3, but those three losses all came under the Bellator banner, where he had a modest record of 3-3. Lins will find himself in a little over his head inside the UFC, where, despite the heavyweight division being one of the shallowest weight classes, the majority of the fighters currently on the roster hold a distinct advantage in terms of sheer physical ability.

Sumian: I have to disagree with my colleague on this one. Lins will come into the UFC and provide a newfound excitement resembling the debut of Jairzinho Rozenstruik.

Lins, at 6-foot-2 and with a 79-inch reach, is a decent-sized heavyweight. He has a black belt in BJJ and thunderous power in his hands. His right hook and right uppercut are not only powerful, but fast for a heavyweight. In addition, Lins does something that many heavyweights fail to do. He throws combinations and throws them well. He mixes his hooks and uppercuts effectively, which results in a relentless attack that overwhelms his opponents.

Lins is currently riding a four-fight winning streak, all by way of finish. By no means is Andrei Arlovski an easy opponent for anyone’s UFC debut, even if the former champion is well out of his prime — Arlovski is 1-4-1 in his last six UFC appearances and has undoubtedly lost a step. However, Lins will knock out the future heavyweight Hall of Famer in impressive fashion and introduce himself to the UFC fans.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Sumian: It’s hard to imagine any fighter on the ropes due to the current situation, really. In the spirit of playing along, though, let’s go with Michael Johnson. While I do not think Johnson will be cut if he loses to Thiago Moisés, he will certainly be one or two more losses away from a UFC release. Johnson has had an illustrious career in the promotion since making his debut in 2010. He has compiled an 11-11 Octagon record, but he fought a majority of the best fighters in both lightweight and featherweight. Johnson is capable of defeating the less-experienced Moisés, though. He will do so in convincing fashion to earn a continued stint with the organization.

Petela: Sijara Eubanks has to be coming to the end of the line inside the UFC if she falls short against Sarah Moras. Eubanks started her tenure with the promotion on a tenuous note when she had to be pulled from her fight with Nicco Montaño for the inaugural women’s flyweight title. When it seemed like she was on the right track with consecutive wins over Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi, Eubanks dropped a decision to Aspen Ladd in her return to bantamweight. She then lost to Bethe Correira, which brought her record inside the promotion to 2-2. Add to that the missed weight in the Modafferi fight, and there isn’t much reason the UFC brass would be interested in keeping her around much longer if things don’t go well against Moras.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Ray Borg and Ricky Simón.

I’m cautious to be too critical of Borg, because I sympathize with the difficulties in his personal life with his young son dealing with immense medical issues. However, it’s unfair that he seems to largely be getting a pass for saying that he would walk away from the sport if he ever missed weight again after he came in heavy in a bantamweight fight he went on to controversially drop to Casey Kenney in March 2019. After one successful weight cut at 135 pounds and a win over Gabriel Silva, Borg moved back down to flyweight… and lost the fight on the scale.

Borg is continuing to yo-yo between weight classes. Instead of walking away from the sport as promised, he is once again fighting at bantamweight. While the fight itself will no doubt be entertaining, the more intriguing story will be where each man goes moving forward. If Simón falls short, then it will be his third straight loss. If Borg is unable to get his hand raised, then it will clearly show that he doesn’t have the ability to make a run at the bantamweight level. The end of the line could be near for both men if they aren’t able to prevail.

Sumian: Undoubtedly Alexander Hernandez and Drew Dober.

This is going to be one of the very best fights in the lightweight division this year. Hernandez and Dober are two of the most aggressive and exciting lightweights in the UFC today. They have 21 total finishes between them. Both men enjoy trading shots with their opponents. These two guys will steal the show with a “Fight of the Night” performance.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: Smiles and wings. After an epic card on May 9, fight fans get the joy to watch more UFC just three days later and even more UFC three days after that. The weather is getting nicer, fights are back, and we could not be happier. Whether you are still working at the office or working from home, finish up Wednesday, change into some comfy clothes, and order some tasty wings to complement a mid-week night of fights.

Petela: Wednesday is always pizza night at my house, and that goes perfectly with this fight card. Just make sure it’s thin crust to match the lack of depth on this mid-week fight card. Given the circumstances, I’m not complaining, but this bill isn’t filled with high-profile names and the potential for instant classics. Average fights are better than no fights, though, so it will still be an enjoyable night and build excitement for the upcoming weekend card.

Fight Picks

Fight Petela’s Pick Sumian’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET)
LHW: Anthony Smith vs. Glover Teixeira Smith Smith
HW: Ovince St. Preux vs. Ben Rothwell Rothwell St. Preux
LW: Drew Dober vs. Alexander Hernandez Dober Dober
BW: Ray Borg vs. Ricky Simón Simón Borg
MW: Karl Roberson vs. Marvin Vettori Vettori Vettori
Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6 p.m. ET)
HW: Andrei Arlovski vs. Philipe Lins Arlovski Lins
LW: Michael Johnson vs. Thiago Moisés Moisés Johnson
Women’s BW: Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras Moras Moras
Hunter Azure vs. Brian Kelleher Kelleher Kelleher