Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight contenders Magomed Ankalaev and Anthony Smith will throw down this weekend (Sat., July 30, 2022) at UFC 277 inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
For quite a while now, Ankalaev seemed like an imminent title threat, Dagestan’s best chance at 205-pound gold. He’s been moving up the ranks slowly, but consistently, a Terminator-like march to the top. The next obstacle in his path is Smith, who knows a thing or two about fighting highly-touted prospects. After his own failed bid at the title, Smith hit a rough patch and was largely written off, but he’s since rebounded to build up quite a bit of his own momentum.
As a result, there are title implications here for both men. Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Volkan Oezdemir (UFC 267), Thiago Santos (UFC Vegas 50), Nikita Krylov (UFC Vegas 20), Ion Cutelaba (UFC 254, UFC Fight Night 169), Dalcha Lungiambula (UFC Fight Night 163)
Key Losses: Paul Craig (UFC Fight Night 127)
Keys to Victory: Ankalaev has the Combat Sambo background that we’ve come to expect of fighters coming from his part of the world, but he doesn’t often fight that grinding wrestler style ... though he can. Instead, Ankalaev is a sharp Southpaw counter striker with some powerful kicks.
This match up reads rather nicely for Ankalaev. At distance, he’s the sharper, more powerful man. Smith is tricky and dangerous, but he’s nowhere near as fast as Ankalaev. If forced to lead, he’s very likely to walk into big shots. Between those counter blows, Ankalaev would be well-advised to rip liver kicks or attack the calf.
If at any point Smith starts building real momentum, Ankalaev always has his wrestling to fall back on. Smith is a solid submission fighter, but it’s been repeatedly proven at 205 pounds that he can be contained on the canvas without huge issue.
Accurate counter shots, the occasional takedown, and smart overall shot selection should keep Ankalaev in the driver’s seat.
Key Wins: Ryan Spann (UFC Vegas 37), Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 138), Alexander Gustafsson (UFC Fight Night 153), Jimmy Crute (UFC 261), Mauricio Rua (UFC Fight Night 134), Hector Lombard (UFC Fight Night 116), Devin Clark (UFC Vegas 15)
Key Losses: Jon Jones (UFC 235), Glover Teixeira (UFC Jacksonville), Aleksandar Rakic (UFC Vegas 8), Thiago Santos (UFC Fight Night 125), Cezar Ferreira (TUF 23 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Smith is the textbook definition of a crafty veteran. He’s been there and done that for decades now, scoring tons of finishes on the strength of his kickboxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu skill.
For reasons explained above, I don’t think a clean, technical fight goes all that well for Smith. To win, he’s going to have to do real damage, and for that to happen, taking chances and walking through some fire is going to be necessary — winning the point fight battle just doesn’t seem likely.
The problem is Ankalaev’s check hook. If Smith just marches forward without adjusting for that punch, he’s going to get creamed. At a minimum, Smith has to keep his left hand glued to his jawline while advancing. Head movement would be great too, but perhaps the best strategy for Smith’s style would be to try to destabilize his opponent’s stance with low kicks then press forward with punches.
Whether in the clinch, at distance, or (most dangerously) in the pocket, Smith has to keep working and try to land something devastating.
The Light Heavyweight title picture is uncertain at the moment.
Is Jiri Prochazka going to rematch Glover Teixeira or face off with Jan Blachowicz? Both men have arguments for a title shot that make sense. Either way, that leaves one of them without a dance partner. Likely, the winner of this fight squares off versus that third man in a title eliminator for the following shot.
Defeat looks different to either man. Ankalaev is in his prime and riding a significant win streak, so his first loss in years would certainly hurt quite a bit. However, he’d still have more opportunities to rebound than Smith, who’s still more looked at as a gatekeeper to the belt. If Smith comes up short, he’s got at least two fights against up-and-comers before he can try to take on the current crop of contenders again.
At UFC 277, Magomed Ankalaev and Anthony Smith will battle. Which man will earn the victory?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 277 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ABC/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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