The #4 ranked light heavyweight, Magomed Ankalaev (16-1; 8-1 in the UFC), is set to fight the former title challenger and current #5 ranked light heavyweight, Anthony “Lion Heart” Smith (36-16; 11-5 in the UFC) this weekend at UFC 277.
Since losing his first fight in the UFC via a last-ditch effort submission thrown up by his opponent, Ankalaev has faced little adversity over his eight-fight win streak. On the other end of the spectrum, Anthony Smith and adversity have coincided with one another for quite some time, yet, he has been able to battle back from a lackluster 1-3 record over the years 2019-2020 to now, on a three-fight win streak, all of which being first-round finishes.
UFC 277 is this Saturday night, and the PPV main card will stream live exclusively on
Ankalaev, being long touted as a future title holder, is once again a massive favorite in his fight as he is a -555 favorite over Smith.
Each time Ankalaev enters the octagon, I am more and more convinced that he is the biggest enigma in the UFC. I have this stance because the championship talent is certainly there, however, the performances which he puts forth seem to be getting worse, albeit he still earns the victory. The reason why the tag of “overrated” or “inconsistent” is not chosen, rather “enigma,” is because while I recognize the performances he has put forth are less than desirable, I still contend he has a high probability of becoming champion in the near future.
The reason why I still believe Ankalaev has the potential to become a champion is that he has a repeatable skill-set that is proven to result in victories. When standing in his southpaw stance, Ankalaev has a laser-quick straight left hand that has serious power behind it. And, when grappling, Ankalaev has the wrestling prowess to win scrambles and get himself in top position where he is heavy and has solid ground and pound.
Having power on the feet, fast hands, and an ability to wrestle well is a combination that I love. But, the reason why Ankalaev has regressed in impressing within his fights is that he has not improved his footwork or mentality. The former is key because Ankalaev looks to be a slow-mover who wants to march down his opponent. The issue with this is that his lead leg is quite easily kicked given he is heavy on it and does not employ in and out movement nor angles. The latter issue is important because Ankalaev has recently fought not to lose contrary to fighting to win, as such, he has been in far closer fights than his skill level should allow. If he continues to do so, the fate of losing a bad decision will inevitably ensue, as such, he needs to alter his mentality to being more of an aggressor to ensure his fate remains in his own hands.
When looking back at my notes on Anthony Smith from 2020, there are few positives. Whether it was gassing early, looking confused at times in the striking department, or lacking the desire to go out for a finish, inconsistencies and fighting abnormally contrary to what he has been his entire fight career plagued Smith during this time frame. But, since 2020, Smith has seemingly taken a U-turn and is now on the same road he was when he was on a 6-1, all-finish streak, earning him a shot at the light heavyweight title.
The “all-finish streak” seen prior to his title contention is important to note, as Smith fights his best self when he is finishing fights. This statement may seem quite obvious, given finishing fights nets victories, but the mentality of going out for a finish contrary to fighting timid – fighting not to lose – is the mentality best suited for Smith and is why he has a jaw-dropping 92% finish rate over his sizable 36 professional wins.
This dangerous finish rate is able to be seen due to Smith’s mentality, but also his well-rounded skill-set. Smith is a natural athlete who looks to have explosive movements on the feet to land damaging blows. He elects this style because if he overextends and is taken down, he has a strong submission game to win from his back, and more importantly, has the ability to create and win scrambling situations. Winning a scramble is where Smith is most dangerous, as he has damaging elbows from the top position and is very good at taking the back of his opponent if presented. So, in this fight, if Smith can win a scramble against another good wrestler in Ankalaev, he has the fight-ending skills to shock the oddsmakers and earn himself the victory.
This is a fun fight to predict. The “safe” bet is backing Ankalaev, as he has repeatedly shown he understands how to win fights, albeit looking lackluster at times. The “fun” bet is picking Smith, who looks for the finish early and has a tendency to gas if he does not get it. While I commend Smith for turning his career back on track, and I almost want him to win to award for the fighter who has the mentality of winning contrary to not losing, I simply cannot ignore the potential that I know to be in Ankalaev.
I believe Ankalaev has the faster hands and know he has the better power. While he is perhaps more hittable than Smith, Ankalaev has shown to wear a punch quite well, so the hittability does not move me off of him. Lastly, while Smith is a good scrambler and quite dangerous in chaotic situations, Ankalaev’s sound, technical wrestling should allow him to get Smith to the mat and keep him there if he so desires. In the end, I believe Ankalaev will weather an early storm from Smith and eventually get the finish once Smith gasses.
Pick: Ankalaev to win inside the distance (+135 odds at MyBookie)