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The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday will cram 28 competitors into the UFC Apex in Las Vegas for UFC Fight Night 192—an event light on ranked matchups but full of violence potential. The lines are all over the map, with pick’ems and favorites above -600 strewn about the overfilled lineup. The main and co-main events both provide decent action, as each favored man possesses a rightful path to victory. Meanwhile, a solid favorite and a big underdog each come together to form the Voltron that is this edition of Prime Picks.
Anthony Smith (-167)
When the words “veteran savvy” get thrown around, few fighters seem more eligible for that distinction than Smith. Whether coming back from adversity, beating the odds on multiple occasions, turning away hard-charging upstarts or simply from being in the game for over 13 years, Factory X’s Smith has earned such an honor. It can be a dubious distinction, as it sometimes means he has to take a pounding to come back strong. On numerous memorable occasions in his second Octagon tenure, Smith has dropped rounds and absorbed serious damage, only to spring a comeback in the third round or later. It would not be remotely surprising to see “Lionheart” grit through a tough early going against Ryan Spann to come out clean on the other side, a la Andy Dufresne.
Smith’s win-loss record—and even his UFC ledger at 10-6—is misleading on its face. In the last five years, “Lionheart” has fallen short to future title challenger Thiago Santos, champion Jon Jones, resurgent top contender Glover Teixeira and a man in Aleksandar Rakic who should rightfully be on a 15-fight winning streak but for a head-scratching decision defeat on his way up. On the other hand, he has plowed through ranked 205-pounders like Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oezdemir, as well as up-and-comers in Jimmy Crute and Devin Clark. All the while, Smith has recorded stoppages in every single one of his victories since moving to light heavyweight and each of his last nine triumphs overall.
Spann will unquestionably be at his most dangerous in the first three minutes of the match. Rarely does Smith fall victim to an early blitz, and his cage presence and massive experience edge means that he will likely be prepared for the sudden onslaught of “Superman.” When Spann ends his opponent inside the distance, it usually comes in the first few minutes: 15 of his 17 stoppages have come in Round 1, while about 10 of those occurred within 180 seconds. Although he was once known as a fairly effective puncher who would rather handle his business by securing a neck, Spann’s inclination to let his hands go has served him well on multiple recent occasions, with half of his last eight wins ending by first-round knockout.
Smith’s chin, like usual, will almost certainly be tested in the opening frame. At age 33—it may seem unbelievable that “Lionheart” clocks in just three years the elder of his counterpart, despite the fight mileage of these two men—Smith still possesses the recoverability to take some shots and come back strong. Eventually, that toughness and willingness to rely on a sturdy chin will come back to haunt him, and the possibility does exist that the Fortis MMA standout puts him away. Spann Wins Inside Distance is quite fair at +210, and it is much more likely that he gets the job done before the final bell than after five rounds of battle. Other than some rough sledding early on, Smith’s style and never-back-down mentality should give him the upper hand. Each minute that ticks off the clock should worry those who placed money on Spann while encouraging bettors who selected the moderate favorite.
Ion Cutelaba Wins Inside Distance (-105)
It might come as a shock to some that Cutelaba’s best performances have come not from his willingness to throw caution to the wind and brawl but when he embodied his inner Division I-AA wrestler. The iron-fisted Moldovan is quickly falling into the light heavyweight trap of his best showings in efforts where a win is not added to his ledger. Before his draw to Dustin Jacoby, his last victory came when he grounded former Lumpinee Stadium champ Khalil Roundtree and rearranged his face with elbows. “The Hulk” faces an opponent who would likewise be interested in taking and maintaining top position, and he can make Devin Clark struggle by putting him on his back while unleashing hellacious ground-and-pound. In the sheer power-versus-power battle, “The Hulk” smashes.
Clark has struggled to get over the 205-pound hump or even put together more than two wins in a row together; the same, however, can be said about Cutelaba. The record is simple: When Clark has won, it has been on the scorecards, leveraging his opponent to the canvas and controlling him for an extended period. When he has lost, he has been finished within two rounds. This same narrative should play out here, as well, with either Cutelaba forcing a stoppage or Clark weathering the storm to grind out a decision (+250). The Moldovan simply hits too hard, is better at getting up from a grounded position and presents as a much stronger man while he still has gas in the tank. The first round is where Cutelaba likely gets it done, and that particular prop bet is +225.
Joaquin Buckley (-200)
A 2-to-1 favorite might on paper seem like one who could be avoided for better, more valuable options, but it makes sense when it is for a fighter who should be much higher. In this case, Buckley, the owner of not one but two highlight-reel knockouts inside the Octagon, is the kind of fighter who likes to press the pace for as long as he can muster. When someone turns the tables on him as he fatigues, a la Kevin Holland in 2020, he can struggle. Against Antonio Arroyo, a middleweight in search of his first UFC win, he faces a man who can be bullied. The diminutive Deron Winn not only pushed him around for the good part of 15 minutes, but he managed to ground him a dozen times. This grappling strategy is not one Buckley will look to emulate, but it does show that Arroyo struggles against someone who makes him fight off his back foot.
While Buckley will hold three inches in reach over his Brazilian adversary, Arroyo will measure up several inches taller. This should be no problem for Buckley, who likes kicking, and he managed to get his foot up high enough to send Impa Kasanganay to the astral plane. Arroyo could attempt to take Buckley out of his game by forcing clinches and tripping him to his back, but “New Mansa” has a strength that allows him to toss takedown setups aside so that he can drill opponents in the face. He may not possess the sheer force of will of a Derrick Lewis to simply decide he does not want to play on the ground and buck you off, but his ability to burst in and out of situations within the first two rounds will serve him well. Because this could be one-way traffic with Buckley possibly becoming the first man to finish the Brazilian with strikes, this line of -200 is still a worthwhile pursuit.
Brandon Jenkins (+255)
On less than a week’s notice, Jenkins will make his organizational debut replacing the COVID-afflicted Dakota Bush. Whether it is because the fight came together days ahead of the event, this is his first trip to the Octagon or that he completed recently, “The Human Highlight Reel” finds himself as a wide underdog. Three weeks ago, Jenkins scorched UFC castoff Jacob Kilburn with a flying knee under the Professional Fighters League banner to earn the biggest win of his career. Momentum is surely on his side, as is a slight reach and height advantage against a man who would not be opposed to a wild dogfight. As long as Jenkins does not burn his gas tank early while going for a highlight-reel finish—something that could certainly happen if he wishes to live up to his nickname—he has real potential to spring the upset.
Zhu Rong does present himself as a bit of a headhunter, with an approach of a man more inclined to line up kill shots than set anything up. This may have worked on the lower circuits with porously defensive opponents, but as he rises through the ranks, he will find that those simple salvos may be more difficult to land. Volume has become the new meta for striking in the lighter weight categories instead of one-hitter quitter approaches, and Rong will need to string combinations together and evolve his pace should he wish to remain on the roster. Mixing in takedowns and nullifying the lanky yet explosive striker by keeping him grounded is his clearest path to victory. It may not win him many fans, but it would spoil Jenkins’ debut, as well as this play.
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