Light Heavyweight Co-Main Event
The new main event features two light heavyweights, each at very different points in each of their respective careers. Devin Clark, one of the better wrestlers in the UFC heavyweight division, has won his last two fights to move to 12-4 in his professional career.
All of Clark’s UFC wins have come by decision, and he has been finished in each of his four losses, thought each of the last three of those losses have come at the hands of ranked fighters (one of them now-champion Jan Blachowicz,) and the other was in his UFC debut.
Anthony Smith has lost in each of his UFC appearances in 2020, the first by late knockout to Glover Teixeira, and the next by unanimous decision in a three-round main event to Aleksander Rakic this past August.
Smith’s career took a sharp downturn somewhere in the 2nd round of the Teixeira fight. Over 2018 and 2019, Smith went 4-1 at light heavyweight, finishing Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Volkan Oezdemir and Alexander Gustafsson, losing only to Jon Jones in a five-round championship fight in which Smith certainly had his moments.
Some of the commentators around MMA have attributed Smith’s seemingly sharp decline to a presumed trauma, resinating from the well-noted home invasion he very unfortunately was forced to experience earlier this April. This may or may not be true but, one thing is for sure, Anthony Smith isn’t afraid of anything inside the octagon. However, something is definitely off about his approach to and confidence during his recent fights.
Smith had success in the early rounds against Teixeira, but seemed to taper off and lose his rhythm as the fight went on. Early on, he found a home for his jab and appeared to be the much faster fighter. He looked to be controlling the pace of the fight, leading the dance and applying the pressure.
Around the 3:15 mark of the 2nd round, Glover backed Smith down and landed a beautiful three-piece combination, going overhand, hook, uppercut, then getting into the clinch and landing more shots. Since that flurry, the bright moments for Smith have been few and far between.
Glover pieced him up for the remainder of the shot, landing power shot after power shot before taking the fight to the ground, controlling Smith for the majority of the final three rounds, and eventually finished it there, capping off a spectacular night of ground and pound for Texeira.
Smith’s August bout against Aleksander Rakic was, largely, more of the same. Rakic chopped Smith down with some early outside leg kicks (one of Devin Clarks best weapons) and then dominated him on the ground for almost the entirety of all three rounds. Mind you, Anthony Smith is a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, and Rakic is a fighter who simply could not be mistaken for a grappler prior to that fight.
There is no reason to believe that Devin Clark isn’t going to do to Smith exactly the same thing his last two opponents have. Namely, controlling and damaging Smith in the clinch, taking him to the ground and landing strikes until the fight ends.
Clark is a two-time all American and one-time national champion in wrestling at the junior college level. When he believes in his hands, he can throw them with some of the better strikers in the light heavyweight division, but his style and his advantage is undoubtedly his wrestling.
Clark uses basic boxing combinations to close the distance and work into clinch situations. From there, he looks to take over using his solid wrestling fundamentals, executing single and double leg takedowns to get the fight to the canvas.
If that doesn’t work, he’s one of the best at both controlling and maintaining pace in the clinch. A lot of referees look to break stalled clinch action, but Clark is never really stalled there. From these positions, he executes creative inside kicks, powerful knees to the body and is always working for a better position.
When it comes to picking this fight, it is very difficult to place any confidence in Smith when he is clearly not confident in himself anymore. Lionheart has had an awesome run in the UFC and has pulled of some of the most memorable finishes in recent memory. But the Anthony Smith we have seen in 2020 is simply not the same guy we saw in 2018 or 2019.
That is not to be critical of Smith but rather to demonstrate that it just is not safe to invest in him, especially considering Clark’s wrestling acumen coupled with the sub-par grappling performances turned in by Smith this year against arguably worse wrestlers than Clark.
Clark is a live underdog here, and the only real reason Smith is favored is the number in front of his name. That being said, the Clark money line isn’t the only opportunity to cash on this fight. Over 2.5 rounds sits at -140 and is a bet we feel extremely confident in here. Clark is going to dominate this fight on the ground, and the guy just isn’t a finisher.
Even if he were, Smith can defend himself on the ground, at least for three rounds. This fight will go the distance, but the odds difference is only a change of 20 points (fight to go the distance is -120, over 2.5 is -140.) It’s a safer play and a not much more expensive play to take the over at 2.5, especially since we expect to be cashing some +120 tickets on the Clark moneyline.