The UFC went eight weeks without an event — March 14 to May 9 — because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now it’s time for the organization’s second live card in just five days.
UFC 249 felt like a breath of fresh air for the sports world. And it would be hard to argue the card didn’t deliver, with incredible performances from Justin Gaethje, Henry Cejudo and Francis Ngannou, to name a few. A second group of athletes from the around the country has already stepped on the scale in Jacksonville, Florida, and will attempt to continue that momentum at UFC Fight Night on Wednesday, once again at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
Two former light heavyweight title challengers, Anthony Smith (32-14) and Glover Teixeira (30-7), will meet in the headliner. The event will air on ESPN+, with the main card starting at 9 p.m. ET and the prelims at 6.
This fight was originally supposed to take place on April 25 in Smith’s home state of Nebraska. Smith has emotional ties to the area and lives an hour away from Lincoln, where the fight was to be held. He has fought there only once in the past seven years.
Smith was in Nebraska in 2016 when he beat Josh Neer at a regional event and threw on a hat that said, “Call me, Dana.” That resulted in him signing with Dana White and the UFC, and finally maximizing his potential more than 30 bouts into his professional career. Smith was a late bloomer in MMA, but in the past four years he has gone 8-2 inside the Octagon. In 2019, he challenged Jon Jones for the championship.
Despite having nearly 50 professional bouts to his name, Smith, 31, is still in his prime and potentially not far off from another crack at the UFC title. It’s a different story for Teixeira, whose challenge of Jones was back in 2014. Teixeira is 40 and could be looking at his final chance at a title run. He does have a good thing going, however, with a string of wins over Karl Roberson, Ion Cutelaba and Nikita Krylov.
Whoever wins on Wednesday will likely need at least one more victory before vying for a title again, but this is another step in that hunt. And the fight itself will keep the return of the sports world in motion.
By the numbers
10: Finishes in the UFC by Teixeira, tying him with Jon Jones and Ovince Saint Preux for the most among active light heavyweights. OSP is also fighting on this card, but as a heavyweight.
13: UFC victories by Teixeira, putting him behind only Jones (20) for the most among active light heavyweights.
6: Fight night bonuses awarded to Teixeira, the fourth most among active 205-pounders. Smith is also in the top 10 with three bonuses.
11:53: Average fight time in the UFC for Smith, fifth longest among active light heavies with a minimum of five bouts.
29: Finishes by Smith — 17 knockouts, 12 submissions — among his 32 career victories. Twelve of his 14 losses also came by finish (eight KOs, four subs).
Sources: ESPN Stats & Information and UFC Stats
A look back
Five vs. five
Anthony Smith’s most recent results
Win: Alexander Gustafsson (SUB4, June 1, 2019, Watch on ESPN+)
Loss: Jon Jones (UD, March 2, 2019)
Win: Volkan Oezdemir (SUB3, Oct. 27, 2018)
Win: Mauricio Rua (KO1, July 22, 2018)
Win: Rashad Evans (KO1, June 9, 2018)
Glover Teixeira’s most recent results
Win: Nikita Krylov (SD, Sept. 14, 2019)
Win: Ion Cutelaba (SUB2, April 27, 2019)
Win: Karl Roberson (SUB1, Jan. 19, 2019)
Loss: Corey Anderson (UD, July 22, 2018)
Win: Misha Cirkunov (TKO1, Dec. 16, 2017)
Brett Okamoto’s prediction
Teixeira still has plenty in the tank at age 40, and he proved that in his past three fights. But Smith is aware of that, and I’d be surprised if he’s taking this bout lightly. Teixeira is very good at what he does, but I believe Smith is a little more versatile, a little better at making adjustments to his opponents midfight. And the youth on his side is no small thing. Smith via TKO, fourth round
Wednesday’s full card
ESPN+, 9 p.m. ET
Anthony Smith vs. Glover Teixeira | Light heavyweight
Ben Rothwell vs. Ovince Saint Preux | Heavyweight
Alexander Hernandez vs. Drew Dober | Lightweight
Ricky Simon vs. Ray Borg | Men’s bantamweight
Karl Roberson vs. Marvin Vettori | Middleweight
ESPN+, 6 p.m.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Philipe Lins | Heavyweight
Michael Johnson vs. Thiago Moises | Lightweight
Sijara Eubanks vs. Sarah Moras | Women’s bantamweight
Gabriel Benitez vs. Omar Morales | Lightweight
Hunter Azure vs. Brian Kelleher | Men’s bantamweight
Chase Sherman vs. Isaac Villanueva | Heavyweight
What else to look for … beyond the main event
What’s in a name, Ovince Saint Preux?
Back in 2003, Jason Von Flue was fighting welterweight Nick Gilardi on a WEC card in California when he countered a guillotine choke attempt by finishing the bout with a submission technique of his own, one that had not been seen before. The inventive maneuver became known as the Von Flue choke.
Maybe it’s time for a new name.
Von Flue made it to the UFC 2½ years later and pulled off the move in his debut, defeating Alex Karalexis, but that was it for Von Flue and his choke in a career that ended more than a decade ago.
Meanwhile, someone else made the maneuver his own.
Saint Preux, who takes on Ben Rothwell in the co-main event, is coming off a Von Flue choke victory over Michal Oleksiejczuk last September. It was the fourth time OSP has pulled off the move in the UFC.
So should this maneuver now be known as the Saint Preux choke? No, that would dishonor its inventor. Lately, the submission has been commonly referred to with the mashup name “Von Preux choke.” That works.
Nickname of the night
Kinda torn on this one. Lightweight Michael Johnson is known as “The Menace.” Call us old-fashioned, but should anyone not named Dennis be using that nickname? Then again, fellow 155-pounder Alexander Hernandez goes with “The Great,” and that feels a bit too obvious. So let’s go with the oddly poetic moniker favored by heavyweight Chase Sherman: “The Vanilla Gorilla.” Sounds like the scariest ice cream flavor ever.
Bits ‘n’ pieces
A co-main with a finish? Saint Preux has been awarded seven fight of the night bonuses. Rothwell has had finishes in 34 of his 37 career wins, including 22 KOs.
Philipe Lins is making his UFC debut against heavyweight Andrei Arlovski in the featured prelim. Lins won the 2018 PFL Championship but has not fought since. He is on a four-fight win streak, all coming by stoppage, and has won 12 of his 14 career fights via finish.
Arlovski has the most wins and losses in the UFC heavyweight division with 17 and 13, respectively. He has just one win in his past six matches (including one no contest).
Johnson fights Thiago Moises in the prelims. Keep an eye on the betting line, as Johnson has consistently defied the odds in his UFC career. As a betting favorite, Johnson is 4-9, while his record as an underdog is 7-2. His résumé includes victories over Tony Ferguson, Dustin Poirier and Edson Barboza, but he lost five of his past seven fights. He enters the fight as a slight underdog (-110), according to Caesars Sportsbook as of Monday.
Drew Dober has won five of his past six fights, including two consecutive wins by KO/TKO in the first round. He faces Hernandez, who has won three of his four fights since debuting in the UFC in 2018, including wins over Beneil Dariush and Francisco Trinaldo.
Sijara Eubanks, who faces Sarah Moras in a women’s bantamweight prelim, has never been finished in her career. Moras has won five of her six career fights by finish.
There are two undefeated fighters on the card, both on the prelims: Hunter Azure and Omar Morales. Both earned UFC contracts after victories on Dana White’s Contender Series, and both won their debut fights in 2019 by unanimous decision.