UFC Jacksonville Primer with picks

Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith will return to the Octagon for the first time in nearly a year Wednesday night to take on eighth-ranked Glover Teixeira in the UFC on ESPN+ 9 headliner. This light-heavyweight showdown will take place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville.

As of Tuesday, most betting shops had Smith (33-14 MMA, 8-3 UFC) installed as a -180 favorite vs. Teixeira, the +155 underdog. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -130, ‘over’ +110). William Hill was offering multiple totals, including 3.5 rounds (‘under’ -200, ‘over’ +150).

Smith has been out due to a broken hand sustained in his fourth-round submission win over Alexander Gustafsson as a road underdog at UFC Stockholm on June 1 of last year. He went into hostile territory and impressively bounced back from his loss to light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones.

Smith is 4-1 in five fights since moving up to 205 pounds from middleweight. To earn the title shot against Jones, the Nebraska native won three consecutive fights by finish. Smith needed only 53 seconds and 89 seconds to earn first-round knockout victories over a pair of former champs in Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua, respectively. He also finished Volkan Oezdemir via third-round submission.

Smith owns 17 wins by KO, 12 via submission and three by decision. He has other notable scalps over Josh Neer, Hector Lombard and Andrew Sanchez.

The 40-year-old Teixeira (30-7 MMA, 13-5 UFC) is trying to make a push toward a title shot late in his career. He went 3-0 in 2019 and with a win in this spot, the Brazilian will be just one more win shy of legitimately being in the conversation.

Teixeira beat Karl Roberson by first-round submission in January of last year. Then in April, he took out Ion Cutelaba via second-round submission. Teixeira is off a split-decision triumph over Nikita Krylov this past September.

Teixeira owns other notable career victories against Misha Cirkunov, Jared Cannonier, Evans, Patrick Cummins, Ovince Saint Preux, Ryan Bader, Rampage Jackson, Fabio Maldonado and Kyle Kingsbury.

After a poor performance in his title shot against Jones last year, the fourth-ranked Smith is clearly behind Dominick Reyes and Thiago Santos, both of whom gave Jones all he wanted and then some in recent losses, in the line to get another crack at Jones. (Santos lost by split decision, while many felt Reyes beat Jones.) Third-ranked Jan Blachowicz is also in front of Smith, who can keep his place in line — and possibly get a fight with whoever doesn’t get booked with Jones next – with a win in this spot.

Smith hasn’t faced Reyes or Blachowicz, and he lost by second-round KO on the road to Santos in a Fight of the Night in 2018.

The stakes are clear for Teixeira, who must win if he hopes to get another crack at UFC gold and might be staring at retirement with his next defeat.

Teixeira has only been finished three times in his career. The first time was in his MMA debut way back in 2002. The other instances were against Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson by violent right-hand uppercut only 13 seconds into their showdown and from Gustafsson in a fifth-round KO loss three years ago that took FOTN honors.

PREDICTION: I point out how tough it is to finish Teixeira to explain why I’m hesitant to take Smith by a method of victory (he’s available at +110 to win by KO, +1000 (or 10/1) to win by submission and +600 to win by decision). I think Smith gets it done here, but I’m not risking the expensive price. Therefore, I’ll just say that if you do a parlay for this card, include Smith in it. If the odds were to dip down to -160 or cheaper, that would be cause for a small play on Smith.

In the co-main event, OSP will make his heavyweight debut against ‘Big’ Ben Rothwell. Saint Pruex weighed in at 240.5 pounds on Tuesday morning, while Rothwell tipped the scales at 265.

Most books had OSP (24-13 MMA, 12-8 UFC) listed as a -140 favorite, leaving Rothwell at +120 on the comeback. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘under’ -120, ‘over’ +100).

The 37-year-old OSP, a former Tennessee football player, is 2-3 in his last five scraps. He’s looking to jumpstart his career with a move up to a new weight class.

OSP has 11 career wins by KO, eight by submission and five via decision. He has four wins by Von Flue choke, his go-to submission. His best career victories are over Michal Oleksiejczuk, Tyson Pedro, Corey Anderson, Yushin Okami, Cummins, Ryan Jimmo, Krylov and Gian Villante.

Rothwell (37-12 MMA, 7-6 UFC) is hoping to build off his second-round KO win over Stefan Struve in Washington D.C. this past December. The win over Struve snapped a three-fight losing skid, although MajorWager scored a unanimous-decision loss to Blagoy Ivanov in favor of Rothwell (29-28) last March.

Rothwell was on a tear from 2013-2016, winning four straight fights by finish over Brandon Vera, Alistair Overeem, Matt Mitrione and Josh Barnett. However, in a main-event showdown vs. former heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos at UFC Zagreb, he was routed (50-45, 50-45, 50-45) by UD.

Then Rothwell tested positive for a banned substance and was issued a two-year suspension from USADA. He returned in the controversial loss to Ivanov and then lost again by UD to Andrei Arlovski (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

Other notable wins on Rothwell’s resume have come over Brendan Schaub, Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson and Gilbert Yvel.

PREDICTION: OSP is about to find out that there’s another level of power in the heavyweight loop. Rothwell’s fists are as lethal as anyone’s in the division. Rothwell at +120 underdog odds is a gift, and we’re going to take full advantage of it with our favorite play of the night on the veteran out of Wisconsin.

**Other Picks**

–Let’s go with Michael ‘The Menace’ Johnson at a -107 price (SportBet, 5Dimes at -110 and most others at -115) vs. Thiago Moises. The 33-year-old Johnson (19-15 MMA, 11-11 UFC) has had such an up-and-down career. He has great wins over the likes of Dustin Poirier, Edson Barboza and Tony Ferguson, in addition to quality scalps over Shane Roller, Danny Castillo, Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau. Johnson was absolutely robbed in a split-decision loss to Beneil Dariush, and he had his moments in Fight of the Night losses to Nate Diaz and Justin Gaethje. Johnson won back-to-back fights over Andre Fili and Artem Lobov in 2018, and then he was dominating Josh Emmett last year before Emmett ended the bout with a one-punch KO with only 46 seconds remaining. Then Johnson lost a majority decision to Stevie Ray his last time out. The 25-year-old Moises (12-4 MMA, 2-2 UFC) is getting too much respect from the oddsmakers.

–Chase Sherman (14-6 MMA, 2-5 UFC) was cut by the promotion in 2018 after losing three straight fights. However, after posting three consecutive wins by first-round KO under the Island Fights regional promotion in the Pensacola (FL.)/Orange Beach (AL.) area, the ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ is back to take on Isaac Villanueva in the card’s lid-lifter at 6:00 p.m. Eastern. I’m a big fan of ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +115 return. Fourteen of Sherman’s 20 career MMA fights have ended in Round 1. Villanueva is making his UFC debut after posting four straight wins by first-round KO.

–Let’s also go with ‘under’ 2.5 rounds for a +115 return in a lightweight scrap between Gabriel Benitez and Omar Ferrer.

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