The UFC takes a well-deserved break this weekend, but MMA action will return on Sept. 18 with light heavyweight contenders Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann taking the spotlight main event bout. Betting lines have been released, and we can delve into some fight analysis and predictions.
Born in Texas, and raised in Nebraska, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith has generated a wealth of mixed martial experience from competing since the age of 19. The former middleweight-turned- light heavyweight came up through the Strikeforce fight promotion and went undefeated in Bellator MMA before reaching the UFC.
Smith boasts first-round finishes against former champions Rashad Evans and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and owns significant career wins over Devin Clark, Volkan Oezdemir, Alexander Gustafsson and Jimmy Crute. There aren’t many UFC light heavyweights who possess such a high level of experience at a prime fighting age.
A well-diversified skill set doesn’t reveal one particular approach to anyone’s fight. Still, if we nitpick against Smith’s talents, we should highlight his suffering cardiovascular when entering championship rounds. When facing Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira, this issue was on display and will hopefully be mended when heading into another five-round brawl against Ryan Spann. However, we should give credit where it’s due; Smith has looked impressive against young, up-and-coming talent during his most recent bouts.
The importance of UFC Vegas 37’s main event could propel the winner into serious title talks, the veteran Smith won’t allow this to affect him, but can his opponent remain composed in his first main event?
Hailing from Memphis, Tenn., Ryan “Superman” Spann has blasted through the UFC rankings and is now one win away from entering a top-10 position. With a mere three years spent in the promotion, he initially made his name known on Dana White’s Contender Series and has since gone 5-1 while fighting for the promotion. Impressive stoppage victories over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Misha Cirkunov were a positive beginning to Spann’s UFC tenure. Now he’s granted a No. 6-ranked former title challenger.
Spann has shown a love for striking, but you cannot neglect his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills. Spann owns seven guillotine submission finishes during his professional career, something that Smith will want to avoid if deciding to level change and attempting shots.
Breakdown and Betting Odds
Both men have striking prowess that is evidently a favorable approach. Where Smith has often utilized his long reach, this factor will be removed, and a powerful opponent with an even longer reach will be positioned in front of him. And similar to each other, both men enjoy switching stances with a striking output that stems beyond a simple 1-2 combination.
On the ground, I’d lean towards Smith owning the advantage, but Spann has proved his worth in this area of the fight game too.
To find success, I believe Smith needs to clinch with Spann to work his Muay Thai and remove the range advantage of Spann. Grind Spann against the fence and work towards an eventual takedown. Smith will undoubtedly test his striking against Spann, but if Smith wants to play into the preferred fight of his opponent, fisticuffs will do it.
With that said, Spann’s clinch work was tested by the elite grappling of Cirkunov; this could be a sign that Smith will struggle to get a hold of Spann on the inside and struggle in attempting to ground this contest.
Spann owns fight-ending power, but he’ll need precise timing and a mixture of combinations to get the job done. However, I believe the experience of Smith can avoid the baited approaches from Spann, and a single-leg or two could jeopardize Spann when forcing him to fight off his back.
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