Last week, we have information that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to combat Anthony Smith. The UFC created that struggle official on 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 title in the main event.
In addition to the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other struggles for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I will give my initial thoughts on those new matchups in the current MMA odds and ends.
UFC 235 vs. Marlon Vera, frankie Saenz Because of an injury to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to resist the surging Marlon Vera in 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 decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it looked 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’s got to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is just 6-4-1 from the UFC but he’s fought a high level of competition within the Octagon and also his album doesn’t do justice to the type of fighter he is. Vera is coming from back-to-back stoppage wins Guido Cannetti and Wuliji Buren and at age 26 is beginning to really come into his own as a fighter. No doubt Vera will be seeking to keep this battle with Saenz around the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a tricky veteran and will probably make this fight more competitive than the lineup will imply, it is difficult to go against the younger Vera and I expect him to be a sizeable preferred to get the win.
Charles Byrd vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, UFC 235
Middleweights Charles Byrd and Edmen Shahbazyan are set to battle at UFC 235 as well. This fight is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had a terrific 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 fight against Darren Stewart in UFC 228, however after a solid first round that he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be a gatekeeper as opposed to 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 of his wins coming from first-round knockout, but struggled in a split decision win on the aforementioned Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 must find out a lot from that fight, but he showed a great deal of holes from Stewart a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I would still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age gap and the knockout energy, but I’ve a feeling that this fight is going to be more competitive than most want to think.
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