Light Heavyweight Bout
This is an unreal fight to kick off the main card. These two guys have had a lot of time to think about each other since their first fight back in February. This fight has now been made and cancelled three times, but they’ve been eager to get back in the octagon after a grossly incorrect stoppage in the first round of the first fight.
There isn’t much to take from the film on the first bout, other than Ankalaev likely having the power advantage. He went straight for Cutelaba’s head throwing roundhouses and overhands and stunned him early. Ankalaev has great conditioning, but it’s a question whether he’ll be able to sustain that pace for the full 15 minutes. Our lone criticism of his game is that he puts everything into every strike, which can cause him to gas out a bit. But when he gets tired, he falls back on his wrestling.
Magomed Ankalaev is a talented grappler, an up and comer in the light heavyweight division, and a prototypical Dagestani fighter. He’s a disciplined striker and can definitely stand and swing, but he’s an excellent wrestler and can do serious damage from full mount and side control. He has great takedown defense but when he does get taken down, he showcases elite reversal and escape skills. However in his UFC debut and only professional loss, he was caught in an arm triangle by Paul Craig in the closing seconds of what was otherwise a dominant affair in Ankalaev’s favor.
He’s been on a warpath since then, winning 3 of his next four by KO and the other by unanimous decision, though the Cutelaba knockout is obviously still open to interpretation. He’s shown more advanced and effective striking in each of his fights, landing kicks and hooks from the outside and landing devastating uppercuts in the pocket. He dominates in the clinch and, on the ground, Ankalaev has developed a complete game and is looking like a future title contender.
Cutelaba will be a legitimate test, and I expect Ion to come out measured and patient. He has to respect the power of Ankalaev after being tagged a number of times in the first fight. Cutelaba is himself a dangerous power striker, each of his last three wins have come by knockout. If he’s going to find a knockout in this fight, it will likely be standing. He has shown some ground and pound ability but his wrestling is just not on the same level as that of Ankalaev.
We also don’t see Cutelaba’s conditioning being an advantage for him. We think Ankalaev is going to have the advantage in pretty much every facet of this fight, and Vegas agrees, slating him as a -275 favorite while Cutelaba stands as a +235 underdog. On this card, sportsbooks are obviously pushing for more action on this fight. The last time it was made, for the Smith vs Rakic card in August, Ankalaev was a-345 favorite while Cutelaba was a +245 underdog.
The first fight would lead one to believe Ankalaev has the power advantage, but Cutelaba has shown some nasty hooks and elbows. He’s almost as powerful as Ankalaev, if not, just as powerful. But Ankalaev has great striking speed and will probably be the first and last to land in most of the close exchanges. He’s also much less predictable in the pocket, though neither of these fighters throw very many combinations; both throw big shots one-at-a-time.
It’s tough to tell how Ankalaev will approach this fight, he came out swinging for the fences last time and it worked out. It’s hard to tell if he only did that because of the way Cutelaba has of getting under his opponents’ skin before the fight, or if he truly feels he can just go after Cutelaba from the opening bell and find an early knockout. We can’t discount the possibility of a repeat first-round knockout. Even though Cutelaba didn’t deserve to have the first fight stop, he was definitely wobbled early and ate some big shots. If he comes out more measured in this one, he’s got a chance to survive into the third round and maybe steal the fight.
That being said, that isn’t his style. He swings big and when he misses, he leaves his head open which you just can’t do against Ankalaev. If it does get to the later rounds, look for Ankalaev to get a takedown and ware Cutelaba out while working in some strikes. This is a tough fight to bet, because the obvious results are priced appropriately.
We think Ankalaev is actually quite a cheap favorite at -275, and you should lock him in before the line moves. Ankalaev by knockout is worth a look at +110, and the rounds under at 2.5 isn’t very enticing at -240, but under 1.5 rounds at -110 could cash. This fight could also go the distance, or close to it, if Ankalaev starts to control the fight on the ground, so we’re not super comfortable with a distance bet. Ankalaev by decision is a longshot, but has a lot of juice at +360 and could make a nice hedge for a distance bet.
Our official picks for UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gathje will be available this Saturday 10/24 at 9:00 am EST.