Volkan Oezdemir and Anthony Smith are expected to produce fireworks, but they could also be fighting for a title shot when they meet at UFC Moncton.
The light-heavyweight division could be flipped upside down in just under two months as Daniel Cormier, Jon Jones, and Alexander Gustafsson are all scheduled to be in action before the end of the year. But while the public awaits the outcome of those battles, two contenders this Saturday will prepare for the future. Knockout artists Volkan Oezdemir and Anthony Smith will collide in match-up that could leave the winner with a title shot when all business is settled in 2018.
Last year, Volkan “No Time” Oezdemir put together one of the best campaigns in the modern era by a fighter who made their UFC debut. A short notice replacement back in February, he dispatched the top-ten ranked Ovince Saint Preux, Misha Cirkunov, and Jimi Manuwa. The combined time of the latter two bouts was just over a minute as Oezdemir scored impressive back-to-back finishes. Previously unknown, the Swiss knockout artist was a breath of fresh air in a light-heavyweight division that had been struggling to have a contender break-through.
Despite a strong start, he did not have an answer for the swarming pressure of Daniel Cormier in his bid for the light-heavyweight belt this past January. Oezdemir was stopped early in the second round and has not been back in action since due to a variety of issues. He previously was set to face Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in Germany but visa issues stemming from battery charges in Florida (later dropped) that kept him from traveling internationally. The bout was rescheduled for July, but Oezdemir was removed so that he could face Alexander Gustafsson in August. Oezdemir would then suffer a broken nose just weeks out from that bout, and Saturday’s contest is his long awaited return.
It couldn’t come at a better time. It is likely Oezdemir could challenge for the light-heavyweight title again in 2019 should there be a shake-up at the top. Standing in his way, however, is upstart Anthony “Lionheart” Smith. A former middleweight, he recorded wins over Andrew Sanchez and Hector Lombard, before a tough loss to Thiago Santos which led to Smith moving up to light-heavyweight in July. In his 205lb debut, he dispatched former champ Rashad Evans. Ironically, Smith next took the place of Oezdemir against “Shogun” Rua and dispatched the former champion in the first round for the biggest victory of his career.
Notably, many wondered if Rua might challenge next for a title shot had he gotten past Smith as the light-heavyweight division was lacking for contenders. With Smith coming out victorious, he now finds himself with a prime opportunity to leap to the front of the line should he defeat Oezdemir in Saturday’s contest. He has developed a reputation of being a “legend slayer” as his victory over Rashad Evans pushed the latter to retirement and some expect the same to happen with Rua. Oezdemir remains among the most dangerous fighters in the world today and the two will collide in a bout that many expect to produce fireworks.
Stylistically, both men come forward and look to take the offensive to deliver damage and set up a knockout. Oezdemir will look to use a primarily boxing attack and use his aggression to take away the space of Smith and overwhelm him with strikes. Smith does not attack with high volume but rather loads up more on his power shots. He also has devastating leg kicks that can sap away at the mobility of his opponents quickly. The bout figures to showcase both men’s destructive capabilities for as long as it lasts.
Moving forward, the winner of this bout will be anxiously awaiting the results of the next several months. If Daniel Cormier prevails next week, will he end up facing Brock Lesnar in early 2019? Or, should Jon Jones triumph again over Alexander Gustafsson in December, will the demand for a third match-up make the fight happen? Could either DC or Jones come up short before the new year? All of this affects whether or not the winner of Oezdemir and Smith will be fighting for the championship in their next outing. The winner figures to be the next logical contender after the trifecta plays itself out in the next two months. The only question is: how long will they have to wait to know if their fight is the one the UFC will go with?