UFC 235: is Jon Jones back on track?

UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith is set to kick off in the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada on Sunday, 3rd of March at 3:00am UTC. Following a not-so-star-studded UFC Fight Night, this is quite the fighting fan's feast. Bitcoin betting opportunities abound, as both main and co-main contenders bravely step forward to challenge the reigning champions in the Light Heavyweight and Welterweight divisions.

Adding even more petrol to the fire, we have the return of big hitters in the form of massive favourite Jon “Bones” Jones (currently at 1.07) headlining the night against Anthony Smith (currently at 7.60); and Robbie Lawler (currently at 3.20) facing Ben Askren (currently at 1.35), with a range of fights on the night that showcase balanced skillsets and the true artistry of MMA.

Jon Jones v Anthony Smith

Light Heavyweight Main event

Even those who don’t follow the UFC closely will have heard of Jon “Bones” Jones. He’s been currently widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Through a combination of his incredible record and the media frenzy he seems to ignite, Jones is always the fighter to stir the crowd’s emotions.

Jones was dubbed the evolution of this sport” by none other than Anderson Silva (a legend in his own right), who admitted that Jones would win a hypothetical match between the two at their peak. No one can deny the exceptional fighting IQ of Jones, which has kept him a firm favourite on the cards despite all the controversy that seems to follow him - most recently, the colossal move of UFC 232 from Las Vegas to California due to Jones’ failing to pass the Nevada Commission’s drug screening.

This has nailed him a huge amount of disapproval from fellow fighters on the card and fanbase alike. The Commission have since given the UFC a one-fight license for Jones on the grounds of it being a testing issue so that UFC 235 could commence as planned in Nevada. His convincing win in the rematch against Gustaffson via knockout itself followed a 15 month-ban due to a failed USADA drug test whereby his planned match against Cormier was deemed a No Contest. This win against Gustaffson returned the Light Heavyweight title to Jones.

And now, someone else is stepping up to challenge him. These recent events may well put the fans support in favour of the underdog challenger, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith. Smith certainly comes into this fight worthy of his stage name. He is facing a formidable adversary in what is likely to be the most high-profile and challenging fight of his career.

Smith is no stranger to the grind and fighting back against adversity. In his words at the UFC 235 press conference, “I’ve been doubted my entire career”, and will hardly be fazed by his underdog status now. He actually holds a greater total of wins (31 to Jones’ 23) but he also racks up 13 losses as compared to Jones’ single loss and No Contest. His career has been a rollercoaster ride of winning and losing streaks one after the other. Smith has never given up despite this and is riding the high of 3 most recent finish wins this year (one by submission and 2 by knockout - unconventionally by elbow and knee respectively).

Whilst similar in height and age, Jones’ holds an 8-inch reach advantage against Smith, which he knows how to exploit. Smith will have a hard time even getting near to his opponent. Jones wants to ride this high with no further issues and Smith certainly wants to take his shot at the champ, proving himself once and for all. Apart from Jones’ most recent fight, his previous four bouts were won by decision. This is his comeback, and he wants to make a statement.

As to Jones’ fighting style, his creativity and skillset is simply extraordinary. Though known for his knockouts, his wins are overall balanced with ten by KO, six submissions and seven decisions. His technical knowledge and creativity cannot be denied and this is evident in watching him perform.

Jones classical wrestling background laid the solid foundation for his style as well as a bridge between striking and submissions. He excelled in state and high school level, applying those skills to American Football at collegiate level before dropping out of college altogether to pursue his MMA career. It paid off big time, as he achieved six professional wins in the space of three months (all finishes) before being hired as a last-minute UFC replacement back in 2008. It was onwards and upwards from there.

Owing to his background, Jones’ wrestling is incredibly diverse, though he favours classical technique. He uses a solid clinch to control and strike his opponents against the cage. He goes for and achieves colossal and consistent double legs, singles, hip throws and even suplexes against his opponents, though the double is his clear favourite. He even managed to take down Daniel Cormier, a former Olympic wrestler who is renowned for his skill.

Jones combines his wrestling effectively with devastating and unconventional strikes. Those in his repertoire require great confidence and accuracy. Spinning elbows, flying knees, spinning back kicks, front head kicks and round-houses. His use of combined elbows, knees and trip takedowns could be seen particularly in his first fight against Gustaffson (UFC 165) as well as his fight against Cormier (UFC 182) whereby he also implemented a number of head-kicks. His elbows in particular are deadly counting for three of his knockout wins and also the cause for his only official loss - fairly early on in his career - via DQ due to illegal downward elbows against Matt Hamill (UFC - The Ultimate Fighter 10 Finale).

Jones is tactical in his strikes, making good use of his great height and reach to target the bodies and legs of opponents from afar with a “battering-ram” style of striking, where they have no chance of reaching him. One way he does this is through hard front, side and round-house kicks to the leg as well as devastating spinning back kicks to the body, weakening the base of his opponent before going in for the kill with his impressive close-range strikes, takedowns and submissions. This is evident throughout his fights, but a great example of this strategy was the Guillotine of Lyoto Machida (UFC 140).

Jones weakened Machida’s base, dealt a knee to the body which caused Machida to double over, thus leaving his head and neck open for the choke. With his solid head movement, he avoids getting hit whilst striking at close range and is able to dominate his opponents to finish submissions such as the Guillotine, the strongest weapon in his submission arsenal.

Smith is an opponent ready to take on the challenge of Jones. He’s ranked number three for the weight class, right behind Jones at number 2 (again, due to his no contest against Cormier). A more experienced fighter overall, despite his 13 losses, not a challenge to be sniffed at. In fact, he has achieved more knockouts numbering 17, 11 submissions and 2 decision wins. Like Jones, he is also has balanced finishing power and as mentioned, his current three-fight winning streak will no doubt have raised his confidence. He’s certainly going to need that. Shying away from Jones doesn’t work because he’s more of an offensive fighter than a counter-puncher.

It’s an interesting matchup in terms of style. Smith also had a background in wrestling and football during his formative years. But he developed in MMA from the roots up, starting with amateur fights at 17. He is also a fan of using a range of strikes, such as front kicks to the body, knees and elbows.

His strike accuracy may not be as pinpointed as Jones but he prefers to fight at close range, not himself holding an extensive reach. He lands his strikes often by combining them with classical wrestling control of the wrist and neck, using his spacing well to launch opponents into his strikes, particularly into elbows and knees. A great fight demonstrating this was his elbow and punches technical knockout (TKO) of Elivis Mutapcic (UFC - The Ultimate FIghter 24 Finale).

His fight against Brian Green (Bellator 129) is a great example of Smith’s versatile style and how he implements combined techniques such as the roundhouse kick and knee combinations which take great accuracy and confidence to be successful. Smith is also similar to his upcoming opponent in being a fan of low front and leg kicks to weaken the base of his opponents. He can then launch into his powerful close-range elbows. In his recent, clean knockout of Mauricio Rua via elbow (UFC Fight Night 134), he led up to the finish with counter-punching technique. Smith does read and adapt to his different opponents well to get the finish.

Smith also has a varied repertoire of submissions, from arm bar to knee bar and rear-naked choke though he favours the arm triangle choke finish. Though prior to his most recent victory, he hadn’t had a submission win since 2015, Smith recently proved his adaptability again in his finish of Volkan Oezdemir (UFC Fight Night 138) via rear-naked choke.

Jones will always have his staunch supporters due to his undeniable talent but no doubt everyone will respect Smith for taking on this challenge. It could be said that Smith faces the fight of his life and any advantage granted to him might well be the complacency of Jones. However, in the pre-event press conference Jones seemed keen both to vindicate himself and to not underestimate his opponent: “When you are fighting a guy that no one expects to do well, as the favorite, you have to be mature and humble enough to stay on the drawing board”.

It was clear that both fighters had a healthy respect for each other. However, despite Smith's lion heart, the wide-ranging skillset and creativity of Jones will likely be too much for him to handle, as the champion is probably a few steps above the opponents he has faced before. March 2nd will reveal it all, but one thing’s for certain, this main event is one you don’t want to miss.

Jones to win at 1.07

Tyron Woodley v Kamaru Usman

Welterweight Co-main Event

Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley (currently at 1.52) stands as the Welterweight champion co-headlining this event and ranked number one in his weight class. He’s looking to hold his belt against the slightly less experienced challenger ranked as the number two, Kamary “Marty/ The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (currently at 2.54).

As far as the physical match up, Woodley has a slight physical disadvantage in being older by five years, shorter by three inches with a shorter reach by two inches. The records of the two fighters however in wins and losses are not dramatically different, they are both relatively balanced in their skillsets, though Woodley is naturally the more experienced with more balanced finishing power in his victories.

Whilst their co-headliners were humble and respectful of each other in the pre-fight press conference, the same could not be said of the welterweight warriors between whom the animosity was evident. Their back and forth exchange made clear the tension that had been built on both sides. Each man talking over the other and trying to dominate the conversation. Usman was keen to show that he was unafraid of Woodley, stating “I ain’t backing up….You hit me, I’m still coming”. Woodley stated that he simply saw Usman as another fighter trying to imitate him and lacking originality, that Usman should “thank him” for giving him the game plan and structure to beat his own opponents, but that now he was facing the real deal at the top.   

Like his co-headliner, Woodley also has a background in wrestling from his high school and college days. As with Jones, Woodley’s wrestling acumen comes through in his fighting through the use of classical techniques. He is also a fan of the double leg takedown and single leg pick, achieving it most masterfully and consistently.

This is a great part of how Woodley demonstrates dominance through his range of skills. He launches his punches from afar, making good use of his range before cornering his opponents against the cage with strikes and knees and going for submission attempts.

His finishing power however cannot be denied on both the side of strikes and submissions. In his strikes it is clear that Woodley generates immense power and combines it with excellent timing and accuracy. This was evident in his previous match against a fellow main card fighter, Robbie Lawler (UFC 201). Woodley was cautious, tactical, he committed to his shot when he found an opening, ending in a very clean, one-punch knockout of Lawler.

It’s not just his hands that need to be feared. His leg kicks are deadly, generating a crazy amount of power that literally launch his opponents off their feet. In one case, one of these powerful, well-aimed and timed leg-kicks (a low roundhouse) actually finished the fight against Carlos Condit (UFC 171).   

Here we have a good match for Woodley in Usman. It’s true that he has a similar style, having been himself heavily involved in wrestling (where he got his nickname of “Marty”). He had a 53-3 record in high school wrestling and at the University of Nebraska he earned NCAA Division II All-American honors all three years he attended helping his school win the overall team title in 2008.

Amongst his other wrestling accolades, he was also a member of the University World Team for wrestling in 2010. He brings this knowledge in dominating his opponents, having achieved a string of TKO finishes in the earlier stages of his career (numbering six of his overall 13 wins), but since 2014, all of his fights apart from his clean knockout of Sergio Moraes (UFC Fight Night 166) have been won via decision.

Though Usman does not have the balanced finishing power of Woodley, he still maintains a diverse skill set. He presents an amazing constant force in his takedowns, reflecting his background. Whether he goes for doubles or angled over the leg takedowns, he maintains that wrestler's mindset of a clear direction and commitment to finish without hesitation.

As could clearly be seen with his fights against Warlley Alves (UFC Fight Night 100) and Alexander Yakovlev (UFC on Fox 20), Usman then often dominates his opponents with ground and pound strikes whilst either in the top position or controlling the back with strikes to the side of the head. He is also a fan of using elbow strikes, as could be seen in the Alves fight.

In his one submission win he skillfully positioned for an arm-triangle choke to finish off Hayder Hassan which also won Performance of the night and showcased some of his adaptability.

Usman certainly knows how to put on a show. In his other fight of the night performance against Rafael Dos Anjos (UFC – The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale), he achieved 11 takedowns compared to none by Dos Anjos, hit double the clinch strikes and three times the ground strikes. He showed his versatility and also defended on the ground well.

In mentioning Usman’s more recent performances, those knockout finishes cannot be ignored. He has undeniable power in his hands, using the same kind of grappler’s entry in fact that Smith is a fan of. His clean knockout punch against Moraes proves he still has that knockout potential in him. This may be crucial combined with his other skills in facing Woodley.

Usman is younger and undeniably hungry for this win. It’s true that he does share many similarities with Woodley in terms of style and background, with a slight physical advantage. Despite this, many would argue that the skillset and power of Woodley is a level above Usman or any opponent Usman has recently faced in the division. Usman will need to bump up his game if he’s to have a chance against an opponent like Woodley.

Tyron Woodley to win at 1.52

Robbie Lawler v Ben Askren

Welterweight

Robbie Lawler (currently at 3.20) is the established name well-known to the UFC world. He is far more experienced than his opponent with 27 wins to his name, though he has suffered more losses.

Ben Askren (currently at 1.35) on the other hand, has only had 18 fights but remains undefeated. These stateside heroes are eager to battle it out after their previously scheduled fight was unexpectedly cancelled when UFC 233 was unable to find a suitable main event for the night. The two fighters are of a similar age with Lawler holding the 1-inch height advantage.

Lawler is known for his striking with a staggering 20 knockout finishes. This is more than the number of fights overall Askren has ever fought. Lawler is a multi-dimensional striker with excellent head-movement and a weaving fluidity to his striking style. He’s a southpaw who makes good use of his unconventional jabbing right to disarm his opponents and maintain distance. He is highly adaptable to his opponents, using their offence strategically.

He has an unpredictable style, and examples include a range of victories that combined head kicks, knees and punches in his knockouts. Lawler’s talent and strength cannot be denied, but Lawler hasn’t fought since his 2017 defeat against Dos Anjos and has been suffering from a torn ACL since that event. This may well have an impact on his upcoming performance.

Despite Askren’s more limited experience within MMA, he was a former Olympian with a rich history in freestyle wrestling. He’s definitely used that skillset to his advantage when transitioning into MMA and - unlike Lawler - stands undefeated. Askren is looking to make his mark in this debut fight within the UFC. He has more balanced finishing power, which makes sense considering he’s a grappler, with six knockouts and five submission wins.

Askren has a great range of takedowns, not just classical singles and doubles but powerful hip throws, lifts and sweeps. He uses his grappling to control his opponents effectively both against the cage and on the ground, as well as to finish his submissions (majority via arm-triangle choke). As could be seen with his fight against Jay Hieron (BFC Bellator Fighting Championships 56), he then combines this grappling well with punches that he fires at great speed and well-timed knees. All of his knockouts have been with punches and he tends to go for a ground and pound finish.

This is a difficult fight to call. Askren and Lawler have widely varying skillsets that are in opposition to each other. Lawler has the greater experience, confidence in the UFC octagon and far heavier strikes than the debuting Askren. But Askren is not likely to try to compete against Lawler with strikes. Some will predict that he is more likely to use his wrestling skills to his advantage in dominating Lawler and getting him to the ground where Askren would have the advantage. Considering Lawler’s take down defence is not his strongest skill, combined with the factor of his previously injured ACL, Askren will likely deliver an upset to his more experienced adversary.

Ben Askren to win at 1.33

Cody Garbrandt  v Pedro Munhoz

Bantamweight

Here we have a pairing of completely different styles: a submission expert and a knockout king, respectively Pedro Munhoz and Cody Garbrandt. Garbrandt’s last two fights amount to his only two losses, suffered by knockout to T.J. Dillashaw (UFC 217 and 227). It’s 2019 and no doubt he’s looking to make a comeback against Munhoz, who is facing him fresh from a body-kick-and-punches-TKO against Bryan Caraway (UFC - The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale). Munhoz is also five years older (32 to Gabrandt’s 27) and two Inches shorter (with one-inch shorter reach), so physically he is at a slight disadvantage.

Garbrandt is another fighter like Smith - with a troubled background who found his vindication through martial arts. There is a natural aggressiveness in his style, and a will to survive that comes across in his fighting. Even when taken or knocked down, Garbrandt is quick to get back up. As far as his striking goes, he wears his opponents out and makes great use of the ground and pound. A majority (nine out of his 11 victories) have been by knockout.

Garbrandt is known for his heavy hands as the majority of these have been through punches though his leg kicks are also crippling. He faces strikes with no fear and counter strikes effectively; a lot of his opponents will chase Garbrandt only to be knocked out as could be seen in his fight against Thomas Almeida (UFC Fight Night 88).

The Brazilian Munhoz is a stand-out competitor on the main card in being predominantly a submission artist. As with many fighters in his country, he is well versed in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Submissions number a majority (nine of his 17 wins) though as mentioned he is not without knockout power. He also likes to disarm his opponents with strong kicks to the body and legs.

Though he’s exhibited a range of submission finishes, Munhoz has perfected the guillotine choke, which when connected, leaves no conceivable escape for his opponent no matter how many reversals attempts. Like Garbrandt, he also maintains low losses with only three defeats by decision.

This is a hard call. Here we have a classic matchup that should gets fans excited: BJJ expert versus knockout legend. Garbrandt was previously undefeated and catapulted his way to the top of the weight class, but the two crippling losses he suffered at the hands of Dillashaw have left him with some injuries and are likely to have rocked his confidence. Munhoz has won six out of his last seven fights. If he is able to get Garbrandt to the ground (by no means an easy feat) as opposed to trying to match Garbrandt with strikes, Munhoz is likely to take the victory - and given each fighter's current form, the tip seems to be pending slightly towards Munhoz.

Munhoz to win at 2.52


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About the Author
Ernesta Bukauskaite

Ernesta Bukauskaite

Guest Author

Posted on 2019-02-20

Ernesta Bukauskaite is a freelance writer specialising in Mixed Martial Arts, being herself an MMA practitioner for 22 years - including being a former semi-professional MMA fighter, competitive Kickboxer, Judoka (Brown Belt) and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner (Purple Belt), and also an MMA and BJJ instructor.

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