UFC Fight Night – Smith vs Spann: Four reasons you can’t afford to miss it

Former light heavyweight world title challenger Anthony Smith looks to claim a third consecutive victory against dangerous contender Ryan Spann, exclusively live on BT Sport this Saturday night.

By George Mills Published: 17 September 2021 - 4.33pm
Features UFC

Anthony Smith

It may lack the star power of some of the fight cards that came before – and certainly what follows – but scratch beneath the surface and this weekend’s bill could surprise you with some intriguing battles to look forward to at UFC Fight Night: Smith vs Spann.

And it's another prime time event, so there's no need to set any early morning alarms! Our live coverage gets underway on BT Sport 1HD from 10pm on Saturday night.

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Smith seeks three in a row

The top of the light heavyweight division has not seen a great deal of activity since Jan Blachowicz defended the throne against middleweight king Israel Adesanya earlier this year, but two top-ranked contenders look to change that in the main event on Saturday night.

Former 205lb title challenger Anthony Smith, who was defeated in his only shot at the gold against Jon Jones at UFC 235 in March 2019, takes on Ryan Spann in a showdown that pits #6 against #11 in the rankings.

For Smith, the bout represents one last defence of his lofty ranking from a challenger positioned beneath him before he begins to target those in the top five on his way back to another title shot.

“The Rakic fight makes sense to me. I have to climb ahead of me”
- Anthony Smith

And, if he is victorious on Saturday night, the 33-year-old already has a name in mind when he grabs the mic.

“I think after the Glover [Teixeira] and [Aleksandar] Rakic fights I wasn’t in a position to ask for anybody ahead of me [in the rankings],” Smith told reporters at Wednesday’s media day.

“So I just had to kind of defend the position I was in. I did that by fighting the guys that were behind me.

“I think after this fight, if I go in and have a dominant performance, I don’t think I have to defend my position anymore and I can go back to climbing.

“That’s why the Rakic fight makes sense to me. I have to climb ahead of me. Thiago [Santos] already has a fight coming up, Jiri [Prochazka] has the title shot to fight the winner [of Jan Blachowicz vs. Glover Teixeira], Reyes is coming off three losses – I don’t think that makes sense for me. There’s really just Rakic there and that’s the guy that makes sense for me.”

Back-to-back stoppage wins against Devin Clark and Jimmy Crute look to have restored Smith’s confidence – but can he find a way past “Superman” Spann?

Spanner in the works

Contender Series alumni Ryan Spann hasn’t had it all his own way on his route to the UFC’s light heavyweight rankings.

The 30-year-old was knocked out in just 15 seconds by Karl Roberson on his first appearance in the Contender Series back in 2017 and was subsequently forced to put his dreams of reaching the UFC on ice.

Rebuilding under the Legacy Fighting Alliance promotion, Spann claimed the LFA 205lb crown before returning to the Contender Series in June 2018 on a mission to prove his defeat to Roberson was nothing but a bump in the road.

That he did, submitting Emiliano Sordi in just 26 seconds in June 2018 to secure his UFC contract.

Since that date, the Fortis MMA charge has slowly matured into a genuine contender worthy of the number next to his name, defeating the likes of Misha Cirkunov and Antônio Rogério Nogueira (aka Lil Nog) on his way to a 6-1 record in the promotion.

His only defeat in the UFC came during a wild back-and-forth brawl against Johnny Walker last September but with a win over Cirkunov, Spann returned to form at the first time of asking.

“I don’t know what he’s going to try to do and I really don’t care because it’s not going to work”
- Ryan Spann

Now presented with the biggest opportunity of his career to date, Spann believes he is on the cusp of changing his and his family’s lives forever.

“I have a lot of respect for him [Smith]. I’m happy. I’m in a good place. I’ve seen where this takes my family. I’ve seen a glimpse of it, like, getting to take my wife on a trip,” he explained.

“For the longest you hear, ‘You can do this,’ or ‘You can do that.’ But for the longest when you’re fighting for free hearing that you can be champion of the world, you’re looking down a dark tunnel.

“Now, I’ve gotten to the point where I can see glimpses of the light. Now, it just makes me stronger, makes me freer. I’m happy because I’m actually seeing fruits of my labour now.”

Despite the calibre of the man standing in the opposite corner on Saturday night, Spann said he has not spent too much time thinking about Smith in the build-up to this fight.

“Honestly, I don’t know what he’s going to try to do and I really don’t care because it’s not going to work,” he added.

“The plan, if it goes according to how I’ve been seeing it, it doesn’t matter what he (does). It won’t work.”

The Hulk is back

To judge Ion Cutelaba’s record on paper alone probably does the Moldovan brawler a disservice.

Yes, with a ledger of 4-5-1 since joining the promotion, Cutelaba is unlikely to be troubling the top contenders any time soon but fighters like him remind us why we’re fans of this sport.

A true character from the weigh-ins, where he has become renowned for painting himself green during a hostile face-off with his opponent, Cutelaba’s style may be best characterised as reckless aggression.

As a result, the 27-year-old tends to find himself in exciting scraps; the downside is, he’s only won one of his last five outings.

He’s still young and with a clear sense of focus, Cutelaba could yet develop into a decent all-round fighter.

But while he’s not there yet – let’s enjoy the wild ride!

KO King Buckley on the rebound

Joaquin Buckley’s stunning spinning back-kick KO of Impa Kasanganay in October last year saw the 27-year-old become the viral sensation of the sports world for a brief period.

Plastered all over every social media feed, Buckley’s incredible feat of athleticism pocketed him a deserved performance bonus, as well as a profile boost many other fighters in his position could only dream of.

The Missouri man then followed that up with another impressive stoppage against Jordan Wright, cashing a $50k performance bonus for a second successive fight to put the middleweight division on notice.

But then Buckley hit a speed bump at just the wrong time as he eyed a place in the 185lb rankings, coming up short against Alessio Di Chirico in January.

But ‘New Mansa’ is unconcerned by the pressure of returning after a loss, telling reporters: “There’s nothing different. I came off a loss before when I put out the most viral knockout in UFC history, so it’s nothing different.

“Losses are a part of the game, but I plan on going out there and just showing everybody a complete fighter Joaquin Buckley. Everybody’s going to see I’m championship-worthy after this fight.

“That kick only happened to get my name out there. Period. I don’t have to live up to that kick. I ain’t got to do nothing. The kick is just something in a moment in time. I’m greater than that kick.

“That kick is not going to be the definition of me, and everybody is going to find out eventually what I’m talking about once I beat Antonio, and I beat the next guy because I plan on fighting right after this before the end of the year.”

Don't miss a second of the action with coverage live on BT Sport 1HD from 10pm on Saturday night!