UFC 235 Preview: Jones vs Smith
By Alex Conway
If it feels like we just have watched Jon Jones compete inside the UFC’s Octagon that’s because, well, it wasn’t that long ago.
This Saturday the UFC has two titles on the line and the debut of one of it’s biggest incoming fighters in recent years.
Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith
The reigning defending UFC light heavyweight king is back in action less than three months after his title victory over Alexander Gustafsson. Jon Jones will take on the huge underdog Anthony Smith in the main event.
Smith got here by making one of the better career moves of 2018 when he decided he’d had enough of starving himself inside the middleweight division, and moved up to eat at the light heavyweight weight class.
He’s rattled off 3 straight finishes taking out Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua inside of one round and in his last outing, submitted former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir.
If you’re a Smith fan it’s unfortunate that this ride might be coming to an end against Jones. Smith is a long, rangy fighter, but Jones is a longer and rangier fighter. Smith has toughness and grit, but Jones has that on top of otherworldly skills and physical gifts.
Jones is more athletic, has faced higher levels of competition, he’s got better wrestling and submission skills, he’s also a superior striker and he has probably one of the highest, if not the highest Fight IQ in the game.
The one path to victory I could have seen from Smith is if Jones took him lightly, but Jones has made it clear that his first fight with Gustafsson taught him a lesson he’ll never forget about underestimating his competition. After so much time away and that lesson from Gustafsson, I don’t see Jones taking Smith lightly. Maybe he’ll be a little fatigued after going straight into back-to-back camps, but I think he’ll actually be as sharp as he’s ever been.
I see Jones taking out Smith inside two rounds. Look for Jones to clinch Smith, use trips to get him to the ground and then unleash his ‘hellbows’ to either get the TKO win or submit the former middleweight.
Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman
This fight is as good as it gets. Unlike the main event where the outcome seems like a foregone conclusion, knowing who is going to win this one is pure speculation.
Woodley might be the best welterweight not named Georges St-Pierre to ever grace the UFC cage, but Usman might be the most underrated talent the weight class has known.
Usman is the guy nobody asks to fight until he wins the belt, a role Woodley occupied not to long ago. Usman has a gas tank for days and is relentless in pursuit of his takedowns and ground control.
But he’ll be fighting one of the most credentialed wrestlers in the game. An All-American at Missouri, Woodley won’t be easy to takedown and on the feet I think he’s a far superior striker. Woodley gets labelled as a power puncher but his distance management and shot selection are pretty good too.
I’ll be curious to see if an old habit of Woodley’s comes back to get hurt him though. Woodley likes to set traps by allowing himself to get pushed up against the cage in striking exchanges. He likes to use the cage as distance indicator and then explode into his opponent with big punches.
That worked well against Stephen Thompson and Woodley was too technically proficient and athletic to allow Demian Maia to make him pay for having his back against the cage in grappling exchanges.
But if he spends too much time against the fence against Usman, “The Nigerian Nightmare” will make him work and has the ability to gas out Woodley. We haven’t seen Woodley get tired often, but Usman had a historic output in production against Rafael dos Anjos in his last fight.
Usman does have one highlight reel knockout win against Sergio Moraes and the one time Woodley got put on a poster was when Nate Marquardt unleashed a wicked combination of strikes in Strikeforce when Woodley got too close to the cage.
That’s where I could see Usman winning it, but I’m not picking him.
Woodley, like Jones and GSP, is as smart as they come. I think he’ll have an excellent game plan to outclass Usman in many areas, most likely in areas we don’t even see coming.
I’m picking Woodley to take a unanimous decision, one where he wears down and frustrates Usman with technical proficiency as the fight moves along. I see Woodley being one step ahead of Usman at every turn after the first round and he gets his fifth title defense victory.
Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren
Two other welterweights will make anticipated walks to the ring Saturday.
For Robbie Lawler, it’ll be his first time in action since a December 2017 loss to Rafael dos Anjos where he tore ligaments in his knee. For Askren, it’s a long-awaited debut that many thought personal differences between Askren and UFC president Dana White would never happen.
I like Askren to get the win here but I expect some ring rust. Despite a popular claim that Askren hasn’t fought anybody, he does hold wins in Bellator over Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov, albeit a little off-prime for both fighters.
But this will be the best fighter in the best version that Askren has fought and it’s been a little while since Askren has competed.
Askren’s chain wrestling is the best in the game, in my opinion, even better than Khabib Nurmagomedov’s. That’s the style that will give Lawler trouble. Lawler can get his hips out of the way of a double leg attempt, but those second and third waves are what Askren is going to hit Lawler with over and over again.
Lawler is a brawler and hits hard but he won’t have a lot of space to operate. He’ll be on defense all fight and even if he doesn’t get roughed up, it will be a long night.
I’ve got Askren for the win.