For the second time in five days, the UFC will hold an event featuring 11 fights. Following Saturday’s UFC 249 is UFC Fight Night: Smith vs. Teixeira on ESPN.
Although most modern UFC cards happen on Saturday evenings, longtime fight fans can remember the midweek timeslot dating back to the UFC’s cable television roots with Spike TV.
Anthony Smith (32-14) vs. Glover Texeira (30-7)
#3 light heavyweight contender Anthony “Lionheart” Smith will be making his way to the octagon for the first time since last June after he finished Alexander Gustafsson via rear-naked choke in the fourth round. Smith sustained a broken hand early in the fight and had to have it surgically repaired. The Factory X product also was in the news recently after a home invasion incident.
Smith will be taking on the grizzled veteran, #8 Glover Texeira, who is currently on a three-fight winning streak.
As crazy as it sounds, the 40-year-old Texeira is not the more experienced fighter in this contest. He will be making the walk for the 38th time, whereas the 31-year-old Smith will be doing it for the 48th time.
With more than 75 fights of combined experience, we can be certain that there will be respect shown for each other early on. However, it may only be a matter of time before Lionheart sees his opening to pounce and go for Texeira’s throat. Literally and figuratively. During media day, Smith said that he wants to submit Texeira and that he sees the potential opportunity for the submission when Texeira shoots for his takedowns.
A strong showing from Smith on Wednesday night could put him back in line for a number one contender fight, with the ultimate goal being to take another crack at Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship. Outside of his March 2019 decision loss against Jones, it is worth noting that Smith has finished every other opponent since moving up to the 205 lb. division.
Ben Rothwell (37-12) vs. Ovince St. Preaux (24-13)
When the co-main event was announced, it was somewhat of a shock. Ovince St. Preaux was a fixture in the light heavyweight division since his promotional debut in 2013 against Gian Villante, but the former Tennessee Volunteer football standout has made the move up to heavyweight to face the much larger Ben Rothwell.
The 38-year-old Rothwell will be making the walk for the 50th time as a professional. Since returning from a USADA suspension, Rothwell has gone 1-2 while nabbing a controversial TKO victory that saw him land multiple illegal strikes on Stefan Struve.
Alexander Hernandez (11-2) vs. Drew Dober (22-9)
In the feature fight, fans are in for a treat. Elevation Fight Team’s Drew Dober is set to take on Alexander Hernandez. Hernandez is a great young talent but has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in his young UFC career.
Hernandez caught the attention of Cowboy Cerrone with all of the chatter before their fight, only to receive a firsthand introduction to the infamous Cerrone head kick. Hernandez recently broke the gauge on the cringe meter when he spoke out against the Coronavirus and said that he thought he may have had it, but refused to get tested or stop training.
Dober is quietly climbing up the ranks of the lightweight division after winning five out of the last six contests. The Nebraska native’s cross is a lethal problem as each of Dober’s previous two opponents have fallen victim to it.
Ricky Simon (15-3) vs. Ray Borg (13-4)
For the first time, UFC fans will get to see a mullet-less Ricky Simon. Simon decided to shave his signature locks after losing his last two fights against Urijah Faber and Rob Font.
Ray Borg returns to the 135 lb. division at the directive of the UFC after too many failed flyweight weight cut attempts.
Borg is a suffocating grappler fighting out of Albuquerque, NM, where he last competed on UFC Rio Rancho back in February and won via Unanimous Decision in front of his hometown crowd. Borg has had to overcome much more significant obstacles in his UFC career than just his weight. Borg and his wife Amanda have endured unfathomable adversity as parents since the birth of their son Anthony in 2018. Anthony was born with hydrocephalus and has had to undergo multiple surgeries related to the abnormal build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in his brain.
Flashback to the Conor McGregor bus incident in 2018, Borg suffered a significant eye injury that required a series of operations from the shattered glass.
Marvin Vettori (14-4-1) vs. Karl Roberson (9-2)
“The Italian Dream” Marvin Vettori looks to make a statement with his performance on Wednesday night against Karl Roberson in hopes of landing a ranked opponent for his next fight. If we take a look at the good ol’ MMA Math, they both fought Cezar Ferreira, and they both had different results. Vettori won by Unanimous Decision, and Roberson got submitted via a first-round triangle.
Since signing to the UFC, Vettori has only suffered losses to quality opponents. Vettori lost a Split Decision to the now current champion Israel Adesanya and #14 “Shoeface” Antonio Carlos Junior.
He also drew ire from members of the media for comments downplaying the severity of COVID-19.
Roberson will forfeit a portion of his purse to Vettori right away due to missing weight and failing to step on the scale at 186 lbs. or less.
Andre “The Pitbull” Arlovski has had more than 30 fights in the UFC alone dating back to the year 2000, and Wednesday night, the former UFC Heavyweight Champion looks to get back in the winner’s circle against UFC debutant Philipe Lins. Lins is riding a four-fight win streak in which he finished all four fights under the PFL banner in 2018.
The end may be near for the 40-year-old native of Belarus as he has won just three of his last thirteen fights.
One of the weirdest careers in modern MMA belongs to Michael “The Menace” Johnson. Why? Well, if most people take a look at his 19-15 record, they probably write him off as your average Midwest (St. Louis native) journeyman.
Do not judge this book by its cover. Some of his losses include Khabib Nurmagomedov, Justin Gaethje, Nate Diaz, James Krause, Beneil Dariush, and Josh Emmett. I get it — that is a lot of scratches in the L column. However, to even be in a position to have matchups with opponents of that caliber is what is the most telling of Johnson’s actual abilities.
He will go to battle with the 25-year-old Brazilian Thiago Moises. Moises has dropped two out of his last three, including a decision loss to a common opponent in Dariush.
The worst thing Moises can do Wednesday night is to make this a dog fight. If he doesn’t get Johnson to the ground and control where the action takes place, look for the grizzled vet to make it grimey and take the young pup into deep water brawling it out.
Sijara “Sarj” Eubanks is the highest betting favorite of the evening as of this writing, sitting at -400 against Sarah Moras. While “Sarj’ has a .500 record, it must be noted that two of those losses came at the hands of top prospect Aspen Ladd, and the other two losses were against former title contenders Bethe Correia and Katlyn Chookagian.
Eubanks has wins over quality opponents Lauren Murphy and Roxanne Modafferi (twice). Eubanks was positioned for a women’s flyweight title fight after an undefeated run on The Ultimate Fighter Season 26, but was hospitalized due to weight cut issues.
Undefeated Venezuelan Omar Morales cracked into the UFC by way of a second-round TKO on the Contender Series last August and looks to keep his goose egg against the American Kickboxing Academy veteran Gabriel Benitez.
On paper, it looks like we will have a slugfest on our hands. Benitez tends to leave himself open for counter shots, so look for Morales to precondition Benitez early on while setting up those traps that create defensive holes and advantageous striking angles.
Does the name Hunter Azure ring a bell to you Colorado MMA fans? Well, it should. The undefeated featherweight fighting out of The MMA Lab in Arizona fought both Colorado fighters AJ Robb and Jaime Hernandez under the LFA banner. Azure is another fighter who punched his UFC ticket on the Contender Series in 2019.
Azure takes on 33-year-old New Yorker Brian “Boom” Kelleher. “Boom” sports a journeyman record, but is well-respected on the ground and has a reputation on the mats for having a legit guillotine attack in his arsenal.
The former heavyweight king of Fury Fighting Championship Isaac Villanueva makes his UFC debut against Chase Sherman. Sherman was cut from the UFC in 2018 after suffering three straight losses. He then rebounded with three wins on the regional scene and went a pedestrian 1-1-1 in Bare Knuckle Boxing before getting the call to come back to the UFC.
The chances of this fight going to the cards are not high. These big boys both have something to prove and will likely come out banging in this curtain puller fight.
Coverage of the event begins at 4 p.m. MDT on ESPN+ with the Main Card scheduled for a 7 p.m. MDT start.
-Jordan Kurtz is a founding member of Comments From The Peanut Gallery and The MMA Plug and can be followed on Instagram at @CommentsFromThePeanutGallery and @TheMMAPlug303