Last week, we got news that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to combat Anthony Smith. The UFC made that fight official over the weekend, and the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is currently a go with all the GOAT seeking to defend his name in the primary event.
Besides the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other fights for UFC 235 were also 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 Due to an injury to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to resist the slumping Marlon Vera in a bantamweight bout at UFC 235. Ariel Helwani of ESPN broke the news. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall from the UFC and is coming off of back-end choice wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one stage it seemed like he may get cut from the UFC after enduring a three-fight losing skid, but he has bounced back well since then. At age 38, this is the last opportunity he has to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is just 6-4-1 from the UFC but he has fought a high level of competition inside the Octagon and his album does not do justice to the type 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 is going to be looking to keep this battle with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be searching for the takedown. Although Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this battle 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 fight is official as per 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, but after a solid first round he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd seems to be more of a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming competition that some thought he may be following his successful stint on the Contender Series.
Shahbazyan (8-0) was undefeated heading to his UFC debut with all his wins coming by first-round knockout, but fought in a split decision win over the above 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’d still need to prefer Shahbazyan somewhat just because of the age difference and the knockout power, but I have a feeling that this fight is going to be more competitive than many want to think.
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