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Diggin’ Deep on UFC 261: Can Weidman and Smith maintain newly found momentum?

Get the nitty gritty on the opening pair of main card contests, featuring a rematch over a decade in the making as Uriah Hall looks to gain a semblance of vengeance over former champion Chris Weidman.

Chris Weidman just before his fight with Omari Akhmedov at UFC Vegas 6
Chris Weidman just before his fight with Omari Akhmedov at UFC Vegas 6
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Obviously, this isn’t a preview of the entirety of the main card. In fact, it isn’t even half of the main card as Bloody Elbow policy is to give title fights their own preview. Thus, only two of the five main card fights are on this preview and it’s the two fights that are attracting the least attention. Fortunately, they are solid fights with solid name value. One contest features a former champion in Chris Weidman and a former title challenger in Anthony Smith. Unfortunately, both are miles away from reentering the title picture, but don’t tell them that. Regardless of the implications of these contests, they are well-matched and difficult to predict… just the way most fans prefer their fights.

Chris Weidman vs. Uriah Hall, Middleweight

This is a very simple contest to understand from a unique perspective. Weidman and Hall are both headcases who are unable to fulfill their current potential because of the mental issues. Who wins this fight most likely will boil down to who has their head in the right space.

Weidman’s mental issues are completely understandable. After going unbeaten in his first 13 career contests, Weidman endured a 1-5 stretch that saw him get violently finished in every one of those losses. Losing in that manner time and again is no doubt going to put the potential of being finished in the back of someone’s mind… if not at the front of their mind. Weidman fights that way now, avoiding engaging in a standup contest as much as possible. Fortunately for him, he has a strong wrestling game to fall back on, though it hasn’t been as effective since opponents know the takedown attempts are coming. Regardless, it was enough for him to right his ship in his last contest, securing a win over Omari Akhmedov.

In the case of Hall, he tends to overthink things, leading to inactivity. It’s a bigger problem in the beginning of the contest as it takes him a while to simplify things and just start throwing. Given Hall is at his best as a counter striker, it isn’t really a surprise that some of his KO’s have seemingly come out of nowhere as his opposition tries to crowd him. Then again, there have been several contests where Hall’s opponents have overwhelmed him with volume and put him away. Thus, it is certainly a possibility to find success pressuring Hall, but his opponents need to be wary of his unique power and ability to counter.

It’s not like Weidman can hope to stand and trade with Hall at a distance either. Weidman, though a fine athlete, has never been very quick, relying on his length to find success from the outside with his jab. The problem is Hall has developed a nice jab himself that is accentuated by his reach – not quite as long as Weidman’s, but comparable — and Weidman doesn’t want to give Hall any room to throw kicks either. Thus, pressure and wrestling appears to be Weidman’s only path to victory.

This contest is a bit maddening to pick. Weidman is perfectly capable of wrestling Hall to the mat and controlling him for the majority of every round. However, Weidman has also faded pretty hard in the final round, giving opponents every reason to believe Hall will have the opening he needs to test Weidman’s chin. If Hall lands a clean shot, it’s hard to believe it won’t be lights out given Weidman’s weak chin. Like pretty much everyone else, Weidman’s defense gets sloppy when he’s tired and Hall tends to be more effective with his energy management. I’ll go with Hall to get a late stoppage. Hall via KO of RD3

Anthony Smith vs. Jim Crute, Light Heavyweight

After a two-fight skid that saw him endure a brutal beating in one contest and offer no resistance in the other, it was fair to question if Smith had anything left in the tank. He may only be 32, but his fighting career began when he was still a teenager and he’s sitting at 50 professional contests. That’s a LOT of mileage to be putting on one’s body. Fortunately, the former title challenger rebounded with a one-sided submission win over Devin Clark… but Clark is a far cry from the level of competition Smith was falling to.

Whether Crute is at Clark’s level or higher is up for debate. The young Aussie is still a way away from being a finished product, but he’s certainly far more polished than he was upon his UFC arrival over two years ago. Though he’s always been a physical bulldozer, Crute was relying almost exclusively on his physical toolkit to dominate his opposition. Now that he’s adding some technique, he’s getting them out of the cage faster. However, though Paul Craig is a solid win, who else would be considered a quality win for Crute? Michal Oleksiejczuk? Either way, that’s a far cry from Smith’s wins over Alexander Gustafsson and Volkan Oezdemir.

Even though Smith represents a big step up in competition, there’s reason to believe Crute can handle it. First, Smith has struggled with physical wrestlers, a description that fits Crute to a tee. No, Crute isn’t the cleanest wrestler and he doesn’t always maintain a heavy top position to keep his opponent down, but he is relentless in his pursuit and is happy to drag his opposition right back down. Secondly, Smith has to respect his power. No one is saying Crute is the better overall striker. Smith is taller, longer, and has picked up all sorts of savvy tricks to outwit less experienced fighters. However, Crute’s hands are loaded with TNT and KO’s should only become more frequent for him as he hones his craft. Even if Smith manages to outstrike Crute – a very likely scenario – he has to be aware of Crute landing a heavy blow.

What it might come down to for Smith is his submission game as it’s hard to believe Crute won’t put him on his back with Smith’s poor takedown defense. Smith is one of the better submission artists off his back in the division, something Crute will no doubt be aware of. Regardless, Crute can get overaggressive on the mat and it isn’t hard to see Smith either catching him in a triangle or initiating a scramble or sweep that puts Crute in a bad spot. The guess here is Crute has enough control and does enough damage to take a decision over the ultra-durable Smith. Crute via decision