UFC Vegas 37 is an underwhelming card. Like most UFC cards, most of the fights are competitive contests that are difficult to pick, but none of them feel like must-see contests. The best way to put it is the main event doesn’t even feel like it would make the main card of a good PPV main card. You’d think a Fight Night main event would at least qualify in that manner, but it’s questionable at best in this case. I’m not trying to disrespect Anthony Smith or Ryan Spann, but there are a lot of fans who don’t feel the need to see that matchup, much less see five rounds of it as opposed to the traditional three. Regardless, I do believe it will be a more entertaining contest than what Bellator will be showing at about the same time between Yoel Romero and Phil Davis. Not that it’s a higher profile contest, but given most of Romero’s fights consist of standing and waiting, the UFC might be the better choice this time around.
Anthony Smith vs. Ryan Spann, Light Heavyweight
It’s hard to believe Smith could work his way back to a title shot at this point. With over 50 professional fights under his belt, it’s hard to believe all the wear and tear won’t catch up sooner rather than later. Plus, he’s got one-sided losses to some of those near the top of the division. However, that doesn’t mean that Smith isn’t perfect for the gatekeeper role at this point.
Given Spann is lacking a breakthrough win, this is the exemplary fight for him. At 5-1 in his UFC run, he’s certainly earned a chance to pick up a signature win. He’s also got an ideal frame for 205, clocking in at 6’5” with a 79” reach. Plus, Spann’s striking has shown consistent growth to the point where he has picked up a pair of KO’s on the feet in his UFC run. All that despite his grappling being the primary driver to getting him to the UFC, his guillotine quickly becoming his signature choke.
Despite Spann’s growth, there’s reason to believe he’s either at or near his peak, and it has nothing to do with his age or experience. Spann tends to float through his contests, picking his spots very judiciously, throwing a low amount of volume, making it difficult for him to curry favor with judges. Perhaps Spann would have a better chance if he can get Smith to the mat and control him for long periods as the last two men who beat Smith did. It isn’t that difficult for Smith to be taken down to the mat after all. However, Spann isn’t the caliber of wrestler of Glover Teixeira and Aleksander Rakic and has in fact been surprisingly reluctant to pursue takedowns anyway in his UFC run.
This should be a win for Spann. He is the better athlete, is still improving, and Smith has a lot of mileage on his body. However, those who have followed Smith’s career know this is the type of matchup he thrives on as Smith is the ultimate opportunist. Smith’s massive amount of experience was the primary reason he fought for the title over two years ago, having seen everything and knowing how to exploit the type of holes an opponent might leave open. Thus, even though he isn’t the classic traditional striker, he’s an exceptionally dangerous striker, knowing how to use his length very well. Plus, even if he can be controlled for long periods on the mat, he does have a dangerous guard if his opponent isn’t wary of his abilities. Even scarier for Spann, Smith is capable of sustaining a large amount of damage and still finding a way to find the finish. Can Spann finish Smith? Sure, but it won’t be easy. Can Spann outwork Smith over five rounds? It’s possible, but unlikely. The most likely result would see Smith either capitalizing on a Spann mistake or outlasting Spann late as Spann’s gas tank hasn’t been tested over five rounds. Smith via submission of RD3
Ion Cutelaba vs. Devin Clark, Light Heavyweight
Cutelaba is at the same time an interesting conundrum and exceptionally easy to figure out. He’s easy to figure out in the sense that everyone knows he’s going to barrel towards his opponent aggressively winging haymakers and looking for takedowns. Given his wrestling background, natural power, and burst, it isn’t a bad strategy. However, confounding part is how he can spend five years in the UFC, encounter the same issues time and again, and seemingly do nothing to address those issues.
Cutelaba’s aggression isn’t a rarity when it comes to young fighters. The thing is, most fighters tend to be more selective with their aggression and Cutelaba hasn’t evolved in that manner as his career has matured. Granted, he did take a more cautious approach in his rematch with Magomed Ankalaev and that may have been his worst performance in the UFC. Whether it was his approach or his opponent can be debated, but it likely solidified that he isn’t going to be anything other than the aggressive fighter we’ve all known, regardless of how tired he tends to get down the stretch.
Clark tends to tire down the stretch as well, but most would agree that he tends to be more effective than Cutelaba down the stretch. That’s likely because he doesn’t go balls-to-the-wall the same way Cutelaba does, but he also doesn’t have the finishing instincts of Cutelaba. Along those lines, Clark isn’t easy to put away and it’s hard to believe that he won’t take the last two rounds should the fight go the distance. With strong takedown defense and a much more technical striking assault than Cutelaba, Clark has the tools to do just that.
What Clark appears to be lacking is the ability to dig himself out of a bad spot. Even though he’s durable, he’s been finished in every one of his UFC losses, though all but one of those were via submission. Cutelaba isn’t known for his grappling, but he is a threat with power submissions. There are signs Cutelaba is spiraling mentally – he’s without a win in his last three appearances – but the guess here is he breaks Clark before he begins flagging. Cutelaba via TKO of RD1
Arman Tsarukyan vs. Christos Giagos, Lightweight
Since being KO’d by Adriano Martins back in 2015, Islam Makhachev has proceeded to bowl all eight of his opponents except for one: Tsarukyan. That isn’t to say Makhachev wasn’t the rightful winner (he was), but Tsarukyan was the only one to offer any sort of resistance, Even more amazing: Tsarukyan was making his UFC debut at the time at the age of 22. Two years later, the native of Armenia has only gotten better.
Already a dangerous wrestler and grappler when he got to the big show, Tsarukyan has developed into a competent striker. That isn’t to say there isn’t room for improve, but he’s grown beyond low kicks being the only consistent weapon to be landed when the fight remained standing. Though he is an accomplished mat worker, Tsarukyan’s ability to dictate where a fight takes place means he doesn’t mind keeping the action vertical if he has respect for his opponent’s ground game. The question is whether he’ll take that approach with Giagos.
Giagos has made great strides at Sanford MMA. While his standup is still largely dependent upon him winging heavy hooks almost exclusively – which also tend to sap his gas tank in a hurry – Giagos has greatly improved the timing and entries on his takedowns and improved his top control. However, he has struggled to stop takedowns when his opponent has decided to participate in a role reversal and take him down. Giagos does pack enough power in his punches that it isn’t out of the realm of possibility for him to catch Tsarukyan looking the other way and put him to sleep, but the greater likelihood sees Tsarukyan pressing a hard pace, sapping Giagos’ energy in the process, and either getting a clear decision or late stoppage. Tsarukyan via submission of RD3
- It’s hard for me to think of a bigger disappointment in the last few years than Ariane Lipski. Entering the promotion on a wave of hype due to her propensity to put away her opponents in a violent manner, Lipski has been a shell of the figure she displayed in Europe. Much of that is due to her inability to stop takedowns, resulting in her fighting with great hesitation. Perhaps that won’t be an issue with Mandy Bohm as the product of Germany is another combatant who does her best work on the feet. Leading behind a pumping jab, Bohm does her best work in the clinch... which is also reputed to be Lipski’s wheelhouse. There’s reason to believe Lipski might be able to right her ship as Bohm’s ground game appears to be simplistic to a fault. Lipski, for all her shortcomings in her UFC run, has proven to be a danger on the mat, provided she isn’t being outmuscled on the ground. Bohm doesn’t appear to be a threat in that manner. Plus, Bohm tends to slow down considerably about halfway through a contest. Here’s hoping we see a return to her aggressive form.... Lipski via TKO of RD2
- Despite finding success in his first two UFC fights, there is still no hype surrounding Nate Maness. While it’s true he isn’t a great athlete and doesn’t have a lot of power, he’s lanky, possesses a good jab, and a LOT of resilience. Maness isn’t going to be a contender at any point, but he’s not a cakewalk who has gotten lucky as so many seem to be labeling him. In fact, he seems to be a very appropriate test for Tony Gravely. An explosive wrestler who has struggled to put his natural power on his feet to good use, Gravely’s UFC’s wins have come against opposition that’s just as questionable as Maness’. If Gravely can get his takedowns rolling, he’s likely to emerge victorious. The problem is, Gravely’s grappling still needs a lot of refinement, particularly keeping his opponent on the mat. Maness’ reach presents another major issue as Gravely’s striking defense is highly problematic. I am in agreement with the odds that Gravely should be the favorite, but it should be far closer to even than the wide margins I’ve seen. Gravely via decision
- The UFC still believes in Joaquim Buckley. They’d be foolish not to believe in him. Sure, he is the owner of one of the all-time epic KO’s in UFC history, but more importantly, the heavy-handed hitter still has plenty of untapped promise underneath his explosive athleticism. Not the most technical striker, but he’s technical enough and has proven to be exceptionally creative. However, the proof that they still believe in him comes in them matching him up with Antonio Arroyo. Not that Arroyo doesn’t offer promise himself, but the lanky Brazilian has proven to be too hesitant for his own good, not to mention being unable to stop takedowns. Arroyo can win this fight if he lets his hands fly and mixes in his own takedowns — Buckley’s takedown defense was a major weakness on the regional level — but Arroyo appears to be in a mental spiral. Buckley is coming off a devastating KO loss himself, but he’s shown the ability to come back from a similar type of loss before. Buckley via decision