Last weekwe have information that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to fight Anthony Smith. The UFC made that fight official on the weekend, along with the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with all the GOAT seeking to defend his name in the primary event.
Besides the affirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other struggles for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I’ll give my first thoughts on those new matchups in today’s MMA odds and ends.
UFC 235 vs. Marlon Vera, frankie Saenz Because of an accident to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to fight the slumping Marlon Vera at a bantamweight bout at UFC 235. Ariel Helwani of ESPN broke the news. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall in the UFC and is coming off of back-to-back decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one stage it looked like he may get cut from the UFC after suffering a three-fight losing skid, but he’s bounced back well since then. At age 38, this can be the last chance he’s got to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is only 6-4-1 from the UFC but he has fought a high amount of competition within the Octagon and his record does not do justice to the type of fighter he is. Vera is coming off of back-to-back stoppage wins over Guido Cannetti and Wuliji Buren and at age 26 is starting to really come into his own as a fighter. No doubt Vera will be seeking to keep this battle with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a tricky veteran and will likely make this fight more competitive than the line will suggest, it’s hard to go against the younger Vera and I expect him to be a sizeable favorite for the win.
Charles Byrd vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, UFC 235
Middleweights Charles Byrd and Edmen Shahbazyan are set to battle at UFC 235 too. This battle is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had a terrific UFC debut last spring when he filed John Phillips at the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite because of his next fight against Darren Stewart in UFC 228, but following a strong first round that he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be more of a gatekeeper as opposed to a late-blooming contender that some believed he might be following his successful stint on the Contender Series.
Shahbazyan (8-0) was undefeated heading into his UFC debut with all of his wins coming by first-round knockout, but fought in a split decision win over the aforementioned Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 must find out a lot from that struggle, but he showed a lot of holes against Stewart that a veteran like Byrd may exploit. I’d still need to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age gap and the knockout power, but I’ve a feeling this struggle will be more competitive than most want to believe.
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