UFC 235 Preview: Jones vs Smith
The UFC’s upcoming PPV event on Saturday, UFC 235, is easily the most stacked card of the year thus far. The headline fight features a Light Heavyweight title fight between defending champion Jon Jones and challenger Anthony Smith, in what appears, on paper at least, to be a David and Goliath matchup between one of the sport’s greatest fighters in Jon Jones and an unlikely contender in Anthony Smith. The card also features a Welterweight title fight between champion Tyron Woodley and challenger Kamaru Usman, as well as many other exciting and divisionally relevant matchups on the undercard.
Jon Jones: A Most Polarising Figure
Jon Jones is arguably the most polarising figure in the sport, even more so than Irish superstar Conor McGregor. On the one hand, he is among the most skilled athletes to ever step into the Octagon. In his title fights, he has routinely outstruck champion kickboxers, outwrestled Olympians such as Daniel Cormier and outgrappled jiu-jitsu champions. His ability to seamlessly combine the many different fighting disciplines is among the best the sport has ever seen. He has the record for title defences in the division by far and has beaten just about everyone in the division. In the eyes of many, Jones is the greatest MMA fighter of all time. Many fans are anticipating a move to the Heavyweight division for Jones in the not-too-distant future should he win against Smith on Saturday.
On the flipside, Jones’ career has been significantly tarnished by his actions outside the Octagon. He has been stripped of the title on three occasions for various misdemeanours as well as repeated violations of the UFC’s anti-doping policy. The last four years of his career, after his suspension and being stripped of the Light Heavyweight title in April 2015 following a hit-and-run incident have been particularly tumultuous. He would return 12 months later, defeating Ovince Saint-Preux for the Interim Light Heavyweight Championship, only to be stripped once again just days before the landmark UFC 200 event in July 2016 for a doping violation. Following his suspension, Jones won the title outright against bitter rival Daniel Cormier in July 2017, only to be stripped a record third time for another doping violation a month later. Following a 15-month suspension, Jones returned in December 2018 to fight and defeat Alexander Gustafsson for the vacated Light Heavyweight title. Even this victory was without controversy, as just days before the fight at UFC 232, a trace amount of the anabolic steroid Jones was banned for using the previous year was found. Though USADA found Jones to be ‘not at fault’ for the violation, the entire card had to be moved from Las Vegas to California on short notice, as Jones could not get granted a license to fight in Nevada in time.
Anthony Smith: The Classic Underdog
His opponent Anthony Smith, by contrast, is the classic underdog figure. He has, until his recent run of victories, been a journeyman fighter within the UFC, trading wins and losses, and even getting cut from the organisation at one point. After making the switch from the Middleweight division to Light Heavyweight last year, he has been on the best run of his career, culminating in a stoppage victory over former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir back in October. In contrast to Jones’ eye-catching, fluid style, Smith is much more workmanlike. This is not to say he is unskilled or not a dangerous and very capable fighter in his own right. His recent winning streak at Light Heavyweight in particular shows his versatility as a fighter.
What Smith does have in spades, however, is experience. A veteran of over 40 MMA fights, he is by far the most experienced fighter that Jones has faced. While the odds are certainly against him, no fighter can ever be counted out, especially in the sport of MMA. He is also a gritty fighter, able to repeatedly come back from significant adversity to finish opponents. He is unlikely to match Jones skill-for-skill, so this attribute in particular will be important. How well Smith rallies from the inevitable adversity that a fight with Jones presents is key to his chances of success in this fight.
Co-Main Event: Woodley v Usman
Aside from the Light Heavyweight main event, there is another title fight in the co-main event, between champion Tyron Woodley and surging contender Kamaru Usman, who boasts an undefeated 9-0 record in the UFC. This will be the fifth title defense for Tyron Woodley, who is the longest reigning current champion.
Woodley and Usman are stylistically similar. Both have strong wrestling backgrounds, relying on their grappling prowess primarily to win fights. The way which they grapple, however, is quite different. Respected MMA analyst Jack Slack has a detailed breakdown of these differences in his latest article on the fight. Similarly, both fighters are also powerful punchers when they choose to strike so they also carry a knockout threat.
When two expert grapplers such as Woodley and Usman fight, there is a tendency for their respective skillsets to cancel each other out. Do not be surprised if the majority of the fight results in a tentative kickboxing battle, with neither fighter wanting to commit offensively, each trying to avoid being taken down by the other.
Aside from the title fights, there are a few other bouts on the undercard to tune in for. The Welterweight feature bout between Robbie Lawler and Ben Askren promises to be an intriguing stylistic matchup between striker and wrestler. Lawler, a former champion, welcomes the highly decorated and undefeated wrestler Askren to the UFC promotion.
Opening up the main card is a bout between former Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt and Pedro Munhoz, in a matchup that could easily be the fight of the night. Both men have an exciting, striking-based style. Garbrandt, having lost his last two fights to current champion and bitter rival TJ Dillashaw, will be itching to prove he is still among the elite in the division. Munhoz, meanwhile, faces by far his toughest test in his UFC tenure and will find himself right in title contention if he can pull off an upset over Garbrandt.
Finally, the headline preliminary fight on features an intriguing bout between heavy-handed veteran Jeremy Stephens and the much-hyped prospect Zabit Magomedsharipov. This card promises plenty of excitement and intrigue for both hardcore and casual fans alike. If you are new to the sport of MMA, this card – at least on paper – is an ideal one to start watching.