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Anthony Smith Is Ready to Prove He’s a Top Contender in the Light Heavyweight Division

The Weekly Takedown: Smith squares off with Ryan Spann this Saturday but is already focused on what’s after. Plus, looking ahead to UFC 268 and making predictions for Saturday’s UFC and Bellator bouts.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated’s newest look at MMA. Every week, this column will offer insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

Anthony Smith isn’t worried about Ryan Spann

Anthony Smith and Ryan Spann both know what is at stake in their UFC Fight Night main event Saturday.

Smith (35–16) needs this win to prove he should be fighting up the rankings. Currently sixth in the light heavyweight division, he is on a two-fight winning streak and cannot afford to drop this bout with his title aspirations. The 33-year-old looked sharp in his TKO victory against Jimmy Crute in April, and now he’s ready to shed the image of being known as a “legend killer” or “prospect killer.”

Instead, Smith wants to be known for who he thinks he really is: a top contender in the division.


“There are so many people that don’t think I belong where I’m at,” says Smith. “How long can people deny I’m one of the best in the world? For a long time, people said I was only the ‘legend killer,’ beating old, washed-up former champions. Then I beat Devin Clark, and I hear, ‘Well, he’s not ranked,’ and then I beat Jimmy Crute, and I hear, ‘Crute’s not as good as we thought he was.’ When are people going to say I’m just good at fighting?”

Spann (19–6) has captured nine of his last 10 fights. Currently 11th in the light heavyweight division, this is Spann’s long-awaited shot at a single-digit ranking.

“My family is what drives me, and I want my family to have a different life than I had,” says Spann. “I’m so close now. For the longest time, there was a dark tunnel. Now I’m here, main-eventing and fighting for the No. 6 spot in the world.”

Smith noted that while he respects Spann, he sees a very limited scenario where he is defeated by him. “Ryan doesn’t present that many problems,” says Smith. “I just don’t see anywhere he wins this fight.” Unlike when he was preparing for Alexander Gustafsson, which he considers one of his more impressive victories, Smith says this is a safer bout for him, with Ryan’s only real chance at winning being an early knockout.

Unsurprisingly, Spann has a different perspective on how this fight will play out. And though he is open to the idea of winning by an early knockout, he remains open-minded in the way he intends to accomplish his objective.

“My game plan is to beat him wherever it goes,” says Spann. “Whatever he thinks, let him think that. My son wants me to submit him. But I don’t care. We can go three rounds or five rounds, knockout or submission. My goal is to win.”

Entering the bout as the favorite, Smith knows who he will call out following a victory.

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“Alexander Rakić, that’s the fight that I want,” says Smith. “Getting a win over him, that puts me next for the title.”

Gaethje-Chandler could steal the show at UFC 268

UFC 268 in November is an absolutely loaded card. Headlined by Kamaru Usman defending the welterweight title against Colby Covington, it also features former women’s strawweight champ Zhang Weili challenging reigning champ Rose Namajunas in a rematch for the belt.

Even with the title bouts, it is the three-round matchup pitting Justin Gaethje against Michael Chandler that has the most potential of being the fight of the night.

This will determine one of the next top contenders for the lightweight title.

With only 15 minutes, the Gaethje-Chandler bout should be an all-out sprint. Chandler is likely to attack in the early moments of the opening round, leading to a violent response from Gaethje. Neither fighter can afford a second straight loss, especially in a division so crowded at the top.

Another unique aspect of 268 is that MMA trainer Trevor Wittman has three of his fighters on the card. If Covington, Namajunas and Gaethje all win, that would be a remarkable night for one of the best coaches in the game.

The Pick ’Em Section

UFC and Bellator are back Saturday, so this week’s picks will include bouts from both card cards, which are both headlined by their light heavyweight division.

UFC Fight Night main event: Anthony Smith vs. Ryan Spann
Pick: Anthony Smith

Bellator main event: Phil Davis vs. Yoel Romero
Pick: Phil Davis

UFC middleweight bout: Joaquin Buckley vs. Antonio Arroyo
Pick: Joaquin Buckley

UFC women’s flyweight bout: Ariane Lipski vs. Mandy Bohm
Pick: Ariane Lipski

Bellator welterweight bout: Neiman Gracie vs. Mark Lemminger
Pick: Neiman Gracie

Current record: 13–14

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.