UFC Vegas 37 was an exceptional UFC card. The first three fights saw knockout finishes. After a back and forth match with Antonio Arroyo, Joaquin Buckley scored a knockout finish that earned him a $50,000 performance of the night bonus. After a rocky first round in which Nathan Maness was almost finished, he came back with another knockout victory over Tony Gravely that also earned him a performance bonus. Arman Tsarukyan, who came into his fight with Christian Giagos as a -800 favorite, was also able to score a performance bonus that earned him an extra $50,000. The next two fights were hard fought, but ultimately one sided victories. Ariane Lipski dominated the undefeated Mandy Bohm, almost finishing the fight twice, and winning all three rounds. Then, in the Co-Main event, Ion Cutelaba also delivered an exceptional performance against Devin Clark, battering his way to a 10-8 first round on all 3 judge’s scorecards, and winning an easy decision victory. The crowd at the UFC Apex was primed for the main event: a 5-round Light-Heavyweight match between Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann.
Ryan Spann has been a professional fighter since 2013. After a strong start that saw him go 8-1, he went on a skid that saw him lose 4 out of his next 6 fights. But Spann quickly recovered, winning 4 fights in a row, and earning himself a UFC contract. Once he entered the UFC, he won 5 of out of 6 fights placed in front of him, which put him at a #11 ranking in the Light-Heavyweight division. Most fighters would need to fight there way into the top 10 with lower ranked opponents, but Spann saw an opportunity to establish himself as a contender by taking out #6 ranked Anthony Smith. But making a name off of Anthony Smith is no easy feat.
Anthony Smith has been a fighter since he was 17. Now 33, Smith has been fighting for almost half his life, officially making him a veteran contender. His experience shows, both in his well rounded fighting abilities and his consistent ability to finish fights. With 19 knockouts and 13 submissions, it’s obvious that fighting Smith is a difficult task from the standing position or on the ground. Although Smith has had some trouble lately, losing two tough matches and dropping in the rankings, he has rebounded with two first round finishes, and placed himself in a perfect position to move back into title contention. All he had to do was get through Ryan Spann.
Leading up to the fight, both men were very confident. Anthony Smith has over 50 fights of experience, which lends itself to a certain level of self-belief. As Smith puts it: “Ryan isn’t going to take me anywhere in that Octagon that I haven’t already been.” But Ryan Spann was more than ready for his main event as well. He mentioned on several occasions that he didn’t care about all of Smith’s bonuses, wins, or experience, and he was more than happy to throw down. These words got under Smith’s skin because he believed that Spann wasn’t showing respect for his journey. This led to some heated exchanges that caused both men to enter the octagon angry. It was clear to any spectator as soon as the bell rang: there was no way that this fight was going the distance.
As the fight began, both men immediately got to work. They each threw some range finding shots before going in for power punches. Although Spann was tossing some imposing shots, Smith seemed unfazed, and waited for his moment. He clipped Spann with a big left hand that dropped him, before scrambling for an arm bar. Any submission attempt by Smith, a Jiu Jitsu black belt, should be considered a major threat. But Spann was able to scramble out of it, and bring the fight back to the feet. After another few minutes of fighting, Smith was able to land another big left hand that put Spann on the back foot before landing two rights that dropped him. Spann couldn’t do anything but hold on for dear life while Smith worked in his hooks. Eventually, Smith was able to take Spann’s back and put him in a rear naked choke. As soon as Smith locked up his arms, Spann tapped, ending the fight.
Smith celebrated, and called for some respectful acknowledgement from Spann. Although Spann initially responded angrily, leading to both men having to be pulled back by the officials, they eventually reconciled, and respectfully embraced. After the official decision, Anthony Smith called out #3 ranked Alexander Rakic for a rematch, that would place him in contention for a title challenge. After briefly losing his footing in the Light-Heavyweight division, Anthony Smith had gone on a 3 fight win streak, and re-established himself as a true contender. He stood his ground against a tough opponent, and he’s now ready to move on to bigger things. I, for one, can’t wait to watch whatever fight he takes next.