Neither Anthony Smith nor Glover Teixeira would label it as such, but their light heavyweight bout in Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night main event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, is the proverbial crossroads fight.
Each has fought and lost for the title and each has been on a recent roll. Smith is 4-1 in his last five, with the only loss a decision to champion Jon Jones at UFC 235 last year. Teixeira has won his last three fights.
There is a crowd at the top of the light heavyweight division beneath Jones, with Smith joining Dominick Reyes, Thiago Santos and Jan Blachowicz all in the running for a title shot.
Smith, though, knows he’s not going to get one immediately because Reyes nearly upset Jones and Jones defeated Smith handily. Teixeira is eighth and needs to continue his winning ways if he’s ever to get another chance at the championship.
Teixeira has the better striking and has the knockout power that Smith lacks. Smith is a big, rangy fighter with long legs, but he’s not the kind of a striker who is going to instill fear in any opponent, particularly not one as experienced as Teixeira.
But Smith is a plugger who uses his strikes to set up a dangerous submission game. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and he has the kind of chin that should serve him well against the heavy-handed Teixeira.
Smith has a tightrope to walk toward victory, because not only is Teixeira the better overall striker, but he has a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well. Just getting him down to the ground will only be part of the issue for Smith.
The 40-year-old Teixeira’s wins have come against up-and-coming contenders Karl Roberson, 29; Ion Cutelaba, 26; and Nikita Krylov, 28. That would suggest that he’s not slowing down.
Smith needs to wear him down by varying his attacking, chopping at his legs and pushing a pace. If Smith makes Teixeira defend rather than attack, he’ll not only succeed in tiring Teixeira but won’t be in nearly as much danger from Teixeira.
He should try to chop Teixeira down with kicks and follow with his hands. At UFC 249 on Saturday, Yorgan De Castro got off to a great start against Greg Hardy by repeatedly kicking at Hardy’s legs, opening the way for him to throw his strikes. But when De Castro stopped kicking, he wasn’t able to land many strikes and Hardy cruised past him.
So even though they have vastly different body types, Smith’s goal should be to weaken Teixeira with kicks and punches and to make him expend a lot of energy. That could give him an opportunity for a submission in the back half of the fight.
Teixeira needs to get to a middle distance against Smith where he’ll be most effective trying to land something hard that will change the course of the fight.
Smith is now a -190 favorite at the MGM Grand Sports Book, and while I think Smith wins the fight, that’s too much to lay. So if I were to bet, I’d take Smith by decision at +450. Smith by submission is also intriguing at +1800.
In the co-main event, Ovince Saint Preux is a -130 favorite in his heavyweight debut to defeat Ben Rothwell. Rothwell is a big challenge for a new heavyweight, so I’ll recommend a play on Rothwell to win at +110.
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