Last week, we 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 struggle official over the weekend, and the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with all the GOAT looking to defend his name in the primary event.
In addition to the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other struggles for UFC 235 were revealed over the weekend, and I’ll give my first thoughts on these brand new matchups in the current MMA odds and ends.
Frankie Saenz vs. Marlon Vera, UFC 235 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 information. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall in the UFC and is coming off of back-end choice wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it seemed like he can get cut by the UFC after suffering a three-fight losing skid, but he has bounced back well since then. At age 38, this can be the last opportunity he has to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is just 6-4-1 in the UFC but he has fought a high amount of competition inside the Octagon and his album doesn’t do justice to the kind of fighter he is. Vera is coming from 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 looking to keep this battle with Saenz around the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a crafty veteran and will likely make this battle more aggressive than the lineup will suggest, it is hard to go against the younger Vera and I expect him to be a big favorite to get the win.
Charles Byrd vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, UFC 235
Middleweights Charles Byrd and Edmen Shahbazyan are set to clash at UFC 235 too. This fight is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had an excellent UFC debut last spring when he submitted John Phillips at the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a gambling favorite because of his next battle against Darren Stewart at UFC 228, however following a strong first round he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd seems to be more of a gatekeeper as opposed to a late-blooming contender that some thought he may be after his successful stint on the Contender Series.
Shahbazyan (8-0) was undefeated heading into his UFC debut with all his wins coming by first-round knockout, but struggled in a split decision win over the aforementioned Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 should learn a lot from that struggle, but he showed a lot of holes against Stewart that a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I would still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age difference and the knockout power, but I’ve a feeling this struggle will be more competitive than many want to think.
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