The UFC’s latest offering is pulled directly from the top shelf of its product, and fight fans are left with nothing to gripe about. Tonight’s card features not one but two true championships (not interim) in premier divisions, light heavyweight and welterweight. Let’s get right into it.
Men’s Light Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs.)
In a relatively quick turnaround for the freshly minted champ, Jon Jones steps into the Octagon against journeyman-turned-contender and upset specialist Anthony Smith for the UFC’s undisputed light heavyweight championship.
Jones’ last fight was in December against one of his toughest challengers in Alexander Gustafsson. The fight was marred by Jones failing yet another drug test and by a venue change one week before it was scheduled to happen. All the bad publicity and bad will left fans understandably upset, but as the saying goes, the show must go on. Jones ended the fight in the 3rd round of a contest that looked completely different from his first fight against Gustafsson. Jones used his elite wrestling to continually look for takedowns and interspersed his creative and devastating striking to keep Gustafsson guessing and not able to mount any sort of offense. It looked like Jones realized his opponent was no match for him on the ground and did not entertain the much closer striking battle that was the main factor in the first fight.
If it’s possible, this iteration of Jones is a scarier version of the Jones that ran roughshod through the light heavyweight division on his way to wrest the title from the legend Mauricio Rua as a late replacement. This iteration realized his opponent’s weakness and exploited it to get the TKO victory instead of the usual game plan that uses Jones’ extraordinary striking prowess to break down and eventually knock out or submit his opponents.
Jones is a polarizing figure and is a draw for the same reason that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is, because fans want to see him lose and get humbled. Jones has been humbled somewhat outside of the cage but he has never lost inside of the Octagon. His only loss is a disqualification due to downward elbows in a fight he was absolutely dominating. The no contest on his record was due to his last victory against Daniel Cormier being overturned due to testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Love him or hate him, you will probably watch his fights.
Anthony Smith comes into this fight as the biggest underdog in UFC championship history at 7 to 1. He is riding a three-fight winning streak at light heavyweight after moving up from the middleweight division. The winning streak is skewed by highlight reel knockouts against past-their-prime former champions Mauricio Rua and Rashad Evans. His best recent win comes against former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in what is probably Smith’s career-best performance.
Smith has turned around his career from a journeyman to a title contender in little more than one calendar year. He has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career, and his physical attributes (6’4”, 73-inch reach) make him a tough out for any opponent. He has used a blitzing striking style to overwhelm and overpower his opponents. The issue is that Jones’ physical attributes (6’4”, 84-inch reach) outweigh Smith’s.
Smith is the younger fighter (30 years old to Jones’ 31 years), but has the overall experience advantage, having fought in a total of 44 fights to Jones’ 25. The problem for Smith is that his experience has been relegated to non-title fights and preliminary fights, whereas Jones has fought in 12 consecutive main event championship fights. Jones will have the advantage here too.
When this fight was announced, I was happy for Anthony Smith, but I did not like the matchup at all. Smith does plenty of things well, but Jones does those exact things at a G.O.A.T. level.
I have Jones winning by KO in the 2nd round.
Men’s Welterweight Championship (170 lbs.)
In a perplexing fight for the UFC and for champion Tyron Woodley, Kamaru Usman will be in the Octagon tonight instead of interim champion Colby Covington. Both Covington and Usman are similar fights for Woodley, and not fighting Covington after all the trash talk seems like a miss on the UFC’s part.
Woodley uses freakish speed, power and elite wrestling to win fights. He is not the most exciting champion the UFC has seen, but he is dominant nonetheless. He has defended his belt three times against the very top of the UFC’s welterweight division, but injuries have stalled his title reign. His only losses have come early in his career against high-level and well-rounded martial artists. His last loss was in 2014 against perennial contender and current Bellator welterweight champion Rory MacDonald.
Kamaru Usman is an Ultimate Fighter champion from the 2015 season titled “The Ultimate Fighter: American Top Team vs Blackzilians.” He is 14-1 and is on a 13-fight win streak. He has not lost since 2013. Usman’s preferred path to victory is to use his dominant wrestling to hold opponents down, batter them and win a decision.
Woodley has fought better opposition and is a better overall version of Kamaru Usman.
I have Woodley by decision.
Undercard Highlight Fight
Men’s Welterweight bout (up to 171 lbs.)
There could be several fights in the highlight fight slot but the debut of a dominant undefeated fighter taking on a former champion is hard to top. Ben Askren joined the UFC in a rare MMA trade that sent former UFC flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson to ONE Championship and brought Askren to the UFC fold.
Askren is a throwback to the beginning of mixed martial arts, when honing one discipline was the path to winning a fight. Askren is a dominant wrestler. I cannot overstate how dominant he is at this one aspect of mixed martial arts. He has gold medals in freestyle wrestling in the Pan American Games (2005, 84 kg), US Championships (2008, 84 kg), and a gold medal in grappling at the World Championships (2009, 84 kg). He uses this skill set to take the fight down early, keep it on the ground, and look for a submission or knockout. He has dominated his recent competition and boasts that he has not been hit in 2 years or his last 4 fights.
Robbie Lawler is a fan favorite who always brings it. He’s been fighting since 2001 and has wins over several top fighters including Rory MacDonald (2x), Carlos Condit, and Johny Hendricks, among others. He uses his wrestling background to keep the fight standing and beats up his opponents with his power punching ability. He only throws his techniques one way: hard. His path to victory is to nullify the wrestling of Askren and beat him up enough to knock him out or earn the decision.
Everyone in the arena will know what Askren’s game plan is, including Lawler, but I don’t think anyone can stop it.
I have Askren by decision.
Preliminary and Main Undercard Fights
This fight card has several big-name fighters rounding out the main pay per view event. #7 women’s strawweight Tecia Torres takes on #15 Weili Zhang. Former champion and #2-ranked bantamweight Cody Garbrandt takes on #9 Pedro Munhoz.
In the preliminary matches, I’m interested in the Zabit Magomedsharipov vs Jeremy Stephens fight, Johnny Walker’s quick turnaround and fan favorite Diego Sanchez taking on Mickey Gall.
Definitely nothing to sneeze at with this pay per view.
What: UFC 235 Jones vs Smith
Where to watch: Preliminary Card – ESPN; Main Card – Pay Per View
When: Saturday, March 2, 2019
Time: Preliminary Card – 7:00 p.m. CST; Main Card – 9:00 p.m. CST