Last week, we got news that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to fight Anthony Smith. The UFC created that struggle official on the weekend, along with the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with the GOAT seeking to defend his name in the primary event.
In addition to the affirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other struggles for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I will give my first thoughts on these 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 resist 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 decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it seemed like he can get cut from 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 chance 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 within the Octagon and also his record doesn’t do justice to the kind 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 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. Although Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this fight more competitive than the line will imply, it is hard to go from 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 clash at UFC 235 too. This battle is official as per 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 gambling favorite for his next fight against Darren Stewart at UFC 228, but after a strong 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 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 on the aforementioned Stewart. He’d get the nod and at age 21 should learn a lot from that fight, but he showed a lot of holes against Stewart a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I’d still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just because of 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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