Now this is more like it. After a couple of lacklustre cards and a cancelled main event for UFC 234, UFC 235 is back with two title fights and host of juicy match-ups (at least, it is at time of writing on Tuesday – the MMA gods are capricious and cruel). Everyone’s favourite villain, Jon Jones faces Light Heavyweight contender Anthony Smith in the main event, with Tyron Woodley facing off against Kamaru Usman in the co-main. Ben Askren makes his long-awaited debut at the same time as Robbie Lawler makes his long-awaited return, and a host of fresh, exciting fighters will be taking to the Octagon in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Jon Jones (C) vs Anthony Smith (3)
“No man can hit me as hard as life has hit me,” said Jon Jones recently, apparently with a straight face (although he did temper this by noting “I’ve definitely made things harder on myself.” You think, Jon?). Love him or hate him, Jon Jones remains one of the most controversial and dominant figures in MMA, a walking PED exemption who caused the last card he fought on to be moved from Vegas to LA on 6 days’ notice because he was once again flagged for irregularities in his testing. Were it not for all the dubious moments in his past, we would be considering Jones as one of the – if not, the – greatest of all time. As it is, he is currently under a huge amount of scrutiny from USADA who are testing him twice a week at the moment.
This time he faces Anthony Smith, number 3 in the rankings behind DC and Gustafsson. A seasoned fighter, he’s fought for 10 years as a middleweight and moved up to light heavyweight last year. A Muay Thai fighter with 31 wins in 44 fights (17 by KO), Smith has a fine arsenal of kicks, knees, punches and elbows and has starched opponents such as Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua. But he’s no Jones and when the fight was announced, he opened as a 10-1 underdog that no one expects to win.
Jon Jones to win – 2/25
Anthony Smith to win – 19/4
Tyron Woodley (C) vs Kamaru Usman (2)
The second title fight of the night is in the Welterweight division, and it’s all getting a bit confusing. Colby Covington, the former interim belt-holder, has been passed over after refusing to take a fight with Woodley at UFC 223. Covington has responded by threatening to sue the UFC and bizarrely, has engaged in a war of words with Anthony Smith (who is not even in the same weight class). On the other side, you would have thought Kamara Usman would be more focussed on his title fight with Woodley, but has instead been trying to pick a fight with Ben Askren. MMA fighters are just so wacky.
Usman is a high-level wrestler with a style reminiscent of Daniel Cormier. He bullies people up against the cage, then picks them up and drops them on his head (Emil Meek probably earned himself quite a few air miles the amount of time he spent off the floor during their fight). Coincidentally, Woodley has the same style, along with a low right leg kick that makes his opponents look stupid. He also has the best takedown defence in the entire UFC, so it should be an interesting fight. Woodley will be hoping for an exciting match for once; if he gets that, he may end up headlining for the first time since he won his title.
Tyron Woodley to win – 20/14
Kamaru Usman to win – 7/5
Robbie Lawler (5) vs Ben Askren
It’s been over a year since Robbie Lawler tore his ACL in a bout against Rafael Dos Anjos. A fan favourite due to his epic wars against Rory MacDonald and Jonny Hendricks, Lawler is not being given an easy fight to welcome him back. Instead, he will be fighting the man many believe to the best fighter never to appear in the UFC.
Ben Askren has had a love/hate relationship with Dana White and the UFC for 7 years. When he finally signed with the UFC, he went on a Twitter call-out spree, from Darren Till (who really hates him) to Conor McGregor (and everyone in between). Now he has to put his money where his mouth is against one of the most dangerous men in his weight class. He has a grinding, wrestler’s style, similar to Khabib and it may be a surprise to many that he is coming in as a big favourite against Lawler. Come Sunday morning, you’ll have your reasons why.
Robbie Lawler to win – 41/20
Ben Askren to win – 4/13
Rest of the Card
The remainder of UFC 235 is just as good as the headline fights. Veteran Tecia Torres takes on UFC newcomer Weili Zhang in what is sure to be a scrappy Strawweight encounter, while Cody Garbrandt will be hoping to rebuild some momentum after two clear losses to TJ Dillashaw; he’ll take on Pedro Munhoz.
In the preliminary cards, the man who I believe will one day become as big a legend as GSP (you heard it here first), Zabit Magomedsharipov will face Jeremy “Who da f**k is dat guy?” Stephens at featherweight. Stephens hits hard, but Zabit is on another level, so expect him to win by literally tying Stephens’ arms and legs together. Dance fans can rejoice because the silken-hipped Johnny Walker will be grooving his way to the Octagon just a few weeks after his last appearance in Brazil. And finally everyone’s favourite lunatic, Diego Sanchez returns to bite down on his mouthpiece and keep stalking Mickey Gall to get things started. It should make for a great night of fights.