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One down, two to go. Fresh off its return to the main stage, the Ultimate Fighting Championship on Wednesday follows UFC 249 with UFC Fight Night 171—a card packed with intriguing betting options. We look to keep it rolling, albeit mostly at heavyweight, in this edition of Prime Picks.
Anthony Smith (-175)
In the only pick we will pursue between two fighters under 207 pounds, we expect that Smith can work his way back up to another title shot and snap Glover Teixeira’s quiet three-fight winning streak. Although Teixeira presents a puzzle that could grind out his opponent, over the course of five rounds, Smith has shown to possess the durability and wherewithal to adjust against most opponents. Both men have reached the scorecards in a 25-minute affair once in their respective careers, as both lost clear-cut decisions to Jon Jones.
Smith rebounded from a one-sided shellacking from Jones with a late submission over Alexander Gustafsson in June 2019. Lifting his finish rate to over 90 percent with the win, the 31-year-old Nebraskan proved he belonged among the light heavyweight division’s elite. Having moved up from middleweight to start a run that resulted in finishes over Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua and Volkan Oezdemir, the jury was still out on whether Smith could hang with the best at 205 pounds. He could.
Once lauded as a frightening knockout artist, Teixeira has found a second wind at the age of 40. In addition to tapping Karl Roberson and Ion Cutelaba in his longest winning streak since 2016, he took Nikita Krylov to the scorecards for the first time in the Ukrainian’s 33-fight career. Relying less on power punches and more on his grappling and surprisingly effective takedowns, this version of Teixeira will likely have to be on point for all 25 minutes to win. It may be difficult to imagine this fight going the distance, with the line of the judges getting involved an unlikely +215. Alternatively, Teixeira could play spoiler if he implements a suffocating strategy, as he did when he faced Ovince St. Preux or Quinton Jackson.
Although Gustafsson was coming back against “Lionheart” in the third and part of the fourth round, one slip-up from “The Mauler” was all Smith needed to take his back and coax the tap. Smith’s craftiness and relentless aggression is what he will need to make Teixeira wilt as the fight progresses. Should Teixeira need to take time to recover from Smith’s assault by clinching, the Factory X standout can make him pay dearly with any of his eight sharp limbs. While Teixeira has never before tapped out, it might be risky to pursue a narrow prop of Smith Wins by TKO/KO at -110. Instead, Smith Wins Inside Distance at -115 allows for the potential of a submission while not surrendering much on the backend.
Ben Rothwell (+120)
In the first of several discussions about a fighter changing weight to meet a heavier opponent, Rothwell will almost certainly have at least 30 pounds on a former light heavyweight title challenger in St. Preux. While generally the sentiment is supportive of fighters moving up in weight during the pandemic to keep from cutting weight, taking on a man that likely cuts weight to get 265 is not optimal. If this fight plays out like Rothwell will want—on the feet—it should be his to take home. Of note, St. Preux has never beaten an opponent in the Octagon who has landed more than 37 strikes on him.
Rothwell has vastly preferred to slug it out throughout his career, but “Big Ben” wields an underrated submission game. The 10-finger guillotine he hit on Josh Barnett—a man who had never before tapped to a submission, while hitting nearly 20 of his own—was not accidental or a fluke. Against a fighter who can get complacent in his grappling, it would behoove St. Preux not to take Rothwell’s ground game lightly. At 38 years of age and entering his 50th fight, it is not anticipated that Rothwell will get careless enough to do something like pull for a guillotine choke off of his back.
Size matters to an extent, and although it remains to be seen exactly how large St. Preux will be on fight night, he will be smaller than his opponent. “OSP” has largely abandoned the headhunting nature he adopted earlier on in his UFC tenure and has been gravitating to his wrestling to force opponents into making mistakes. Rothwell has not been taken down since Gabriel Gonzaga grounded him three times in 2013 and snatched his neck in a guillotine choke, and it is not likely that “OSP” will be the one to take him back down to the canvas. The Kenosha, Wisconsin, native should come away with the upset by forcing St. Preux to strike with him.
Philipe Lins (-165)
In his promotional debut, Lins has the ability to make a statement by taking out a former champion. While his level of competition is not nearly as sturdy as that of his opponent, the last 10 bouts for Lins have taken place in Bellator MMA or the Professional Fighters League. As the inaugural winner of the PFL heavyweight tournament, an undisclosed injury ejected him from the 2019 tournament. Instead, the former light heavyweight signed with the UFC, and this will be his first match since New Year’s Eve in 2018. The move from 205 pounds to heavyweight for the PFL season proved to be in his best interest, as he finished all four of his opponents—including three UFC ex-pats—to win the coveted $1 million prize.
Throughout his UFC tenure, Arlovski has gone through more reinventions than a pop star, but he has fallen into a bit of a rut the last few years. Most recently, Jairzinho Rozenstruik laid waste to him in November in less than 30 seconds, but before then, he went the distance eight times in a row. “The Pit Bull” celebrates one win in his last six appearances, as he took a decision over the aforementioned Rothwell. Having crossed the plane of 40 and not looking back, the Belarusian has seen his best days and will be fighting a man seven years his junior with far less battle damage.
Although Lins does not display one-shot knockout power, his volume will likely get the job done. At the moment, Arlovski is one shy of the all-time record for the most knockout losses as a modern UFC heavyweight, with seven. Only Frank Mir and Gabriel Gonzaga have suffered more knockouts at the hands of their opponents, with eight each. If the history for “Monstro” is any indication, he can lift Arlovski into that top spot and do so in dramatic fashion. As Arlovski has been submitted only once, the safe method of victory prop of Lins Wins by TKO/KO at +130 is a preferred option if you see the fight ending inside the distance.
Chase Sherman (-160)
Simply looking at the Fight Finder profile of a fighter like Sherman may be misleading, as his last MMA bout took place in February 2019. Since then, “The Vanilla Gorilla” went over to bare-knuckle combat, competing three times in 2019 with Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, including a title victory over heavyweight tournament winner Arnold Adams. A close decision loss to one-time middleweight Joey Beltran saw Sherman gather his thoughts and decide to sign with the UFC—although three first-round knockouts with Island Fights did not hurt.
Making his promotional debut on short notice is Isaac Villanueva, who earned his spot on the roster after becoming a two-division champ with Fury Fighting Championship in Texas. The heavy-handed Houstonian posts an 81 percent knockout rate, and his last two victories have come over UFC veterans Roger Narvaez and Rashad Coulter. Prior to that, his competition was what one would expect from the regional circuit. Should “Hurricane Ike” storm through his competition and win his debut, he will likely need to get the job done early and catch Sherman off-guard.
One way or another, this fight should not reach the scorecards, and the line is even at -115 on whether the fight ends within the first round and a half. Fight Doesn’t Go to Decision at -320 may not be worthwhile on its own, but that option as part of a parlay could be beneficial. Sherman’s size as a full-fledged heavyweight will be evident compared to his opponent, and the power should come with it. We see the knockout coming, and expect that it will be Sherman who records it (+120) to kick off the card.
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