Pasar al contenido principal
Ryan Spann reacts after his knockout victory over Dominick Reyes in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

Ryan Spann Has Grown Into A Real Contender

Contender Series Alum Ryan Spann Is Putting It All Together To Make A Run At The Belt Heading Into UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs Spann

Streaking light heavyweight contender Ryan Spann has always been a little reluctant when it comes to doing media over the course of his UFC career, preferring instead to let his actions inside the Octagon speak for themselves.

The soft-spoken hitter from Texas, who headlines opposite Nikita Krylov this weekend in Las Vegas, used last year as both a comeback campaign and his personal coming out party, registering a pair of first-round stoppage wins over Ion Cutelaba and Dominick Reyes to put the memory of previous setbacks in the rearview and a place in the Top 5 within reach.

Order UFC 285: Jones vs Gane

“I think really what it is, more than anything, is that I think he’s just grown up; that’s the easiest way to say it,” said Sayif Saud, Spann’s coach at Fortis MMA, who has long suggested the Beaumont, Texas native has the skills and talents to be UFC light heavyweight champion. “He’s 31 now, and I think that’s really a time where we all kind of start to grow up — when you hit your 30s — and I feel like I’ve seen that maturing process out of him.

“As you grow, you learn, and I feel like his fighting career is doing the same thing. We’re just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s capable of with this kind of focus.”

Ryan Spann punches Dominick Reyes in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Ryan Spann punches Dominick Reyes in a light heavyweight bout during the UFC 281 event at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


There have been glimpses of the kind of dominant efforts Spann has put forth in his last two efforts over the last several years.

He rattled off three straight stoppage wins following his quick knockout loss to Karl Roberson on the first season of Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS), returning on the second episode of Season 2 and collecting a contract with an equally swift submission win over Emiliano Sordi.

Fight By Fight Preview | UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs Spann

He collected victories in each of his first four UFC appearances, including knocking out Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro at UFC 237 and submitting Devin Clark as an encore. He had Johnny Walker on rubber legs before making a tactical mistake and getting stopped himself, and rebounded with a quick finish of Misha Cirkunov that earned him the first post-fight bonus of his career.

But when he lost to Anthony Smith in his first main event assignment in the fall of 2021, quiet questions started being asked about whether Spann was ever going to be able to clear that next step and develop into a bona fide contender or would he be destined to be a perennially entertaining competitor that never quite put it all together.

Over his last two fights, the towering “Superman” has started to look like a potential problem for everyone else in the light heavyweight division.

Ryan Spann punches Ion Cutelaba of Moldova in a light heavyweight fight at UFC APEX on May 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Ryan Spann punches Ion Cutelaba of Moldova in a light heavyweight fight at UFC APEX on May 14, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


“Ryan’s a father and a husband, and he’s just growing into the man that he needs to be, really, and that’s what I’ve seen in a lot of these guys as they get older,” began Saud. “Their ‘why’ changes a little bit, and I think he’s just growing up, to really put it simply.

“The process does maybe take a little longer (with bigger guys),” continued the respected coach. “I think that’s why you saw Glover (Teixeira) and these guys realizing success, having success in these bigger divisions when they’re older, when they’re smarter.

“These guys peak in a different way in the heavier weight classes, and I think Ryan is just getting started in that process.”

The man standing opposite him on Saturday night has followed a comparable delayed trajectory, as well.

Jon Jones | Dynamic Debuts

Krylov first touched down inside the Octagon at UFC 164, losing to veteran Soa Palelei in the first of two heavyweight bouts before he wisely dropped down to the light heavyweight ranks. He went 6-3 during his initial nine-fight run, parting ways with the promotion following a loss to Cirkunov at UFC 206.

He earned stoppage victories in each of his next four fights, including wins over Emanuel Newton and Fabio Maldonado, and returned to the UFC roster when the organization made its first appearance in Russia in the fall of 2018. While he’s gone 4-4 in his second UFC run, Krylov, like Spann, enters on a two-fight winning streak, ready to show that these recent flashes are actually the start of a more prolonged run of success.

Ryan Spann trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 15, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Ryan Spann trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 15, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)


“Krylov is really very good everywhere and he’s got a lot of experience,” Saud said of Spann’s opponent, who knocked out Alexander Gustafsson in July before earning a unanimous decision win over Volkan Oezdemir in October at UFC 280. “He’s been in there with all the toughest guys and former champs, and he’s not somebody that you should look at lightly.

“He hasn’t had the biggest success in some of those big moments, but he’s been in those big moments before, and you have to respect that.

“Guys get older and they get better — they might be a little slower, but they’re craftier, they do more film study, they set traps,” he added. “I think Krylov is going to be really well prepared. He fights ambidextrously, he’s got good wrestling, good kicks, too — we just have to be prepared.”

Fighters On The Rise | UFC Fight Night: Krylov vs. Spann

All too often in this sport, we want to see fighters march undeterred to the top of their division, failing to remember that just about every all-time great and former champion was forced to deal with a couple of setbacks before reaching their apex and ascending to the throne.

The road to the top can feature a lot of twists and turns, and there is no specific timeline when it comes to development.

You get there when you get there, if you get there, and more often than naught, it comes down to one thing.

Ryan Spann trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 15, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Ryan Spann trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 15, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Ryan Spann trains at the UFC Performance Institute on September 15, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

“It’s experience,” said Saud when asked what has clicked for his charge, widening out the answer to include not only Spann, but the other emerging talents from Fortis MMA, as well. “What do you do when you get in trouble? How do you handle that? What do you do when you get in those situations? What you’re trying to do is navigate these guys through the process to where they reach a point of maturity to where they can handle all those things.

“These guys are starting to understand all those little intricacies at this level, and that takes time. I’m proud of them for those adjustments and all the things they’ve done, but I think that just continues on. It’s a continuous process, even when you win.”

And as of late, Spann has been winning, making adjustments, and continuing on, and his coach believes it’s all coming together perfectly.

“He’s a vet — he’s got a lot of fights, he’s been in the game for a while, so he’s always had the skill,” offered Saud. “Now, we’re seeing the work ethic and all the other things you need to succeed at this level. Seeing him do these things and be consistent, be focused, I feel like it couldn’t come at a better time.”

UFC Fight Night: Muniz vs Allen took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on February 25, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass