7:41 PM ET
Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim
Anthony Smith is UFC's Mr. Reliable.
The UFC light heavyweight contender is a trusted studio analyst on broadcasts and always there when the promotion needs him in a big spot. Smith was called upon again Friday.
With the heavyweight contender main event between Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis canceled due to a positive COVID-19 test, the UFC tabbed Smith for the headlining spot. Smith was scheduled for the co-main event against Devin Clark at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas. Now, Smith vs. Clark will be the headliner.
This will be Smith's seventh consecutive UFC main event. He is the only fighter to never win a UFC title who has done that. In addition, this is the second straight time Smith has been asked to move up to the main event. In August, Smith's bout against Aleksandar Rakic was elevated after the cancellation of Yair Rodriguez vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov.
How much of a stalwart is Smith? He asked the UFC to make his fight against Clark five rounds, even though he had been training for only a three-round co-main event. And so it is, and it will be a huge opportunity for both men.
Smith (33-16) has lost two straight and is trying to get back on track. The Omaha, Nebraska, native fought then-champion Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight title in a losing effort at UFC 235 in March 2019. Smith, 32, has fallen out of ESPN's top-10 light heavyweight rankings but is still just a short winning streak away from being a contender again.
Clark (12-4), meanwhile, has never had this kind of platform. The South Dakota native has won two in a row but has never even fought as high as a co-main event in the UFC. Clark, 30, should be well-prepared for Smith, though. Clark is a longtime teammate of Jones at Jackson Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In a bout now acting as the co-main event, a pair of rising welterweights in Miguel Baeza and Takashi Sato will square off. Baeza (9-0), a training partner of Colby Covington, is a legitimate prospect and coming off a knockout of veteran Matt Brown in May. Sato (16-3) knocked out Jason Witt in just 48 seconds in his last bout in June.
Also on the card, heavyweight prospects Josh Parisian and Parker Porter match up, featherweight prospects Jonathan Pearce and Kai Kamaka clash and popular women's flyweight Rachael Ostovich tries to snap a two-fight losing streak against Gina Mazany.
Fight in progress:
The UFC might have a new name to watch at 125 pounds.
Mudaerji looked excellent in his flyweight debut, stopping Gordon via TKO at 44 seconds of the first round. Mudaerji made it look easy. He sniped Gordon with precision straight left hands until Gordon basically had enough, flopping to the mat. Mudaerji followed him to the canvas and landed more blows until referee Dan Miragliotta stepped in to stop it.— UFC News (@UFCNews) November 29, 2020
The stoppage is tied for the third fastest finish in UFC flyweight history, per ESPN Stats & Information.
"That was my plan," Mudaerji said in his postfight interview. "I didn't want to fight in the second round."
Mudaerji, just 24 years old, showed uncommon power for a 125-pound fighter. The Tibet native has won two straight after losing his UFC debut to Louis Smolka in 2018. Gordon, a 30-year-old Canadian, has dropped both of his UFC fights thus far.
After just one fight at flyweight, Mudaerji said he is ready for the elite of the division.
"I want to fight next someone with a top-10 ranking," he said.
The exchanges of punches came fast and with a fury, both men throwing heavy leather for extended spurts of violence. Sanders appeared to land more frequently, but on two occasions in Round 2 his knees buckled when a Maness shot connected. The next time they came together, Maness landed a straight left hand, followed by a right that put Sanders down, and Maness pounced to sink in a rear-naked choke at 2:29 of the round.
Wow what a comeback sanders blew the lead— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) November 29, 2020
It was an exhilarating way to get the night started, with two Southern gentlemen throwing caution to the wind and going for it, full force.
Maness, 29, out of Henderson, Kentucky, has won three in a row, including his UFC debut, a decision win over Johnny Munoz in August. The victory was Maness' third submission, all three by choke.
For Sanders, 34, of Clarksville, Tennessee, three of his four losses have been by submission. He hadn't fought since February 2019, when he knocked out former champion Renan Barao. Prior to that, he had lost three of four.
Still to come:
Light heavyweight: Anthony Smith (33-16, 8-6 UFC, -135) vs. Devin Clark (12-4, 6-4 UFC, +115)
Welterweight: Miguel Baeza (9-0, 2-0 UFC, -170) vs. Takashi Sato (16-3, 2-1 UFC, +150)
Heavyweight: Josh Parisian (13-3, 0-0 UFC, -200) vs. Parker Porter (10-6, 0-1 UFC, +175)
Men's featherweight: Spike Carlyle (9-2, 1-1 UFC, -180) vs. Bill Algeo (13-5, 0-1 UFC, +160)
Women's bantamweight: Ashley Evans-Smith (6-4, 3-4 UFC, -135) vs. Norma Dumont Viana (4-1, 0-1 UFC, +115)
Men's featherweight: Jonathan Pearce (9-4, 0-1 UFC, +260) vs. Kai Kamaka III (8-2, 1-0 UFC, -320)
Men's bantamweight: Martin Day (8-4, 0-2 UFC, -164) vs. Anderson dos Santos (20-8, 0-2 UFC, +145)