UFC 235: Previewing the Biggest and Best Fights Set for Las Vegas
The UFC returns to T-Mobile Arena, we hope, on March 2 with another Jon Jones-led event. UFC 235 brings a deep card full of action, with two title fights leading the charge.
With those two championship fights, interesting debuts, exciting veterans and a lot of the unknown, this card should have a little something for everyone.
It could end up being a contender for Card of the Year given its variety and high-stakes action.
Here, we take a look at the biggest and best fights coming to the fight capital of the world in less than a month at UFC 235.
- Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith
- Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman
- Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren
- Tecia Torres vs. Weili Zhang
- Cody Garbrandt vs. Pedro Munhoz
ESPN Preliminary Card
- Jeremy Stephens vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov
- TBD vs. Misha Cirkunov
- Diego Sanchez vs. Mickey Gall
Fight Pass Preliminary Card
- Marlon Vera vs. Frankie Saenz
- Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Charles Byrd
- Gina Mazany vs. Macy Chiasson
The Main Event: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith
The King is back. Jon Jones returned and reclaimed his UFC light heavyweight crown in December at UFC 232, and he is already set to get back in the cage to prove he's the greatest fighter on the planet.
After a failure to gain a Nevada license for that UFC 232 fight, Jones was granted permission to fight in Las Vegas after agreeing to terms with the Nevada State Athletic Commission (h/t AP's Danny Webster).
With most of the bureaucratic stuff now behind him, Jones can get back to focusing solely on his work inside the Octagon.
The first test for the 31-year-old is fast-rising Anthony Smith.
Smith was a solid middleweight but never a true contender. He moved up to light heavyweight at UFC 225, and leaving the weight cutting behind turned him into a scary knockout threat at his new weight class.
His first two fights at 205 pounds were swift knockouts over former UFC champions Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua. He submitted Volkan Oezdemir for his third-straight win in a bout that got him this title opportunity.
The 30-year-old is not expected to win this fight. On the surface, this is another bout where Jones should cruise. But perhaps that is one of the most intriguing things about it.
In a sport where anything can happen, Smith has already defied the odds to reach this point. He has well-rounded skills and fight-altering power in his strikes. There is the chance he could stun the world and shake up the entire light heavyweight division with just one punch.
The UFC has to be thrilled to get Jones back as a champion. He is one of their most bankable stars.
On paper, this is a one-sided affair and a showcase for Jones' talents, but Smith will pose danger which makes the main event an interesting fight that will almost assuredly reach a violent end.
The Co-Main Event: Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman
While the main event may turn into a showcase for Jones' skills, the co-main event to UFC 235 is a stellar meeting between the two top welterweights in the world.
Heavy-handed grapplers Tyron Woodley, the champion, and Kamaru Usman, the challenger, will step into the cage to assert their dominance.
The fight will mark Woodley's sixth UFC title fight and fifth title defense inside the Octagon. Many expected a long-awaited showdown between Woodley and Colby Covington, but in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, UFC President Dana White confirmed the latter is no longer the interim champion after turning down a fight.
Make no mistake, this contest is not second-rate. In fact, Woodley vs. Usman could well be the best welterweight fight to make in this talent-rich division.
Usman is on a 13-fight win streak and is undefeated in the UFC. Perhaps more impressive is that he has not really been threatened in his tenure. He has largely dominated his opposition. The champion will push him to be his best.
The American has a better wrestling pedigree, but few have adapted their skills better into MMA than Usman. Woodley has better one-shot power, but the Nigerian has developed perhaps a deeper striking game overall. This fight will feel like a powder keg ready to explode.
Neither fighter rushes out to the center and starts throwing haymakers. But there will be a tension to this fight as they look for opportunities. The anticipation should have fight fans on the edge of their seat.
The tentativeness of each fighter could make portions of this bout a bore, but it will only take a spark to ignite the action.
Woodley vs. Usman could be a fight we look back on by year's end as an example of what a true elite contest looks like.
Fight to Keep an Eye On: Jeremy Stephens vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov
Few fighters have been as heralded as No. 14-ranked contender Zabit Magomedsharipov, but few fighters have backed up that talk with incredible performances. Now is the time to see how good he really is as he battles No. 6-ranked contender Jeremy Stephens.
This fight was chosen as the featured ESPN preliminary contest for a reason. Before heading off to pay-per-view, on ESPN's massive platform, the UFC is giving fans arguably the Fight of the Night for free.
Stephens is coming off a crushing body-shot KO loss to Jose Aldo, but losing to the former champ hardly takes the shine off of his recent run up the ranks. His berserker style makes him incredibly fun to watch, and he has put on fan-pleasing brawls throughout his UFC career.
Magomedsharipov will force him to be more tactical, though, and is 4-0 in the UFC with three submission victories. If he continues that streak against a talented star like Stephens, he could be looking at a run toward the title by year's end. The UFC is giving the Russian a chance to grab the attention in this spot.
And don't think this is the UFC relegating Stephens to gatekeeper status. No, they are giving him a chance to rebound in the best way possible.
The only thing guaranteed in this fight is that fans won't be disappointed. Both Stephens and Magomedsharipov will bring the heat.
Jon Jones may be the best fighter on the card, and Woodley vs. Usman may be the best high-level bout on the bill, but this is the single fight any fan simply cannot miss. It's pure action.
The Best of the Rest
Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren
He's finally here. Ben Askren is a UFC fighter. Robbie Lawler is your welcoming committee.
The UFC is wasting no time in putting Askren in a primetime position. He is on the undercard of the welterweight title tilt against a former champion. A win over Lawler would almost assure him a title shot later in 2019, and Lawler is unquestionably the best fighter he has ever fought.
Lawler took all of 2018 off after his loss to Rafael dos Anjos, and this fight may offer him the chance to make another run toward the title. He was one of the UFC's most exciting champions, and he will bring that mindset into this fight where he must stay upright and let his hands go.
With Askren in the UFC, we are finally going to find out how good he is. That is stupidly exciting.
Cody Garbrandt vs. Pedro Munhoz
The world hasn't seen Cody Garbrandt since his second consecutive loss to T.J. Dillashaw last August. Returning to face-off against Pedro Munhoz will let fans and the UFC know how those losses have affected him as a fighter.
Munhoz is one of the toughest outs in the bantamweight division. If Garbrandt comes out flat, he will lose. He is forced into being at the top of his game. If the American comes out and takes care of business with a vintage performance, he will immediately thrust himself back into the title picture.
The UFC had invested a lot into Garbrandt being the potential face of the division. Here is a chance for him to recapture some of that shine against one of the more underrated fighters on the UFC roster.
TBD vs. Misha Cirkunov
Yes, it is odd to have a TBD fight listed in the "Best of the Rest" category, but there are two key reasons why it finds itself here.
The first is that with Misha Cirkunov involved, fans are in store for an action-packed and meaningful fight. He is the No. 14-ranked contender in the light heavyweight division, and no matter who he faces, this fight will have implications in the division.
The second is who may come in to salvage the fight. It could well be Johnny Walker. The incredible sensation took to Twitter during UFC 234 to pitch his involvement in the card. His coming in to face Cirkunov is perfect for the UFC and a great way to keep this fight's significance intact.
But should the UFC shun the perfect opportunity to put Walker back on a card, this fight is still going to be a must-watch.