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 fight official over the weekend, along with the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is currently a go with all the GOAT looking to defend his title in the main event.
In addition to the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other fights for UFC 235 were revealed over the weekend, and I will give my initial thoughts on these brand 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 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 from the UFC and is coming off of back-to-back choice wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it seemed like he may get cut from the UFC after enduring a three-fight losing skid, but he’s bounced back nicely 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 level of competition within the Octagon and his record doesn’t do justice to the kind 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 looking to keep this battle with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be searching for the takedown. Though Saenz is a tricky veteran and will likely make this fight more competitive than the lineup will imply, it’s hard to go from the younger Vera and I expect him to be a sizeable 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 as well. This battle is official as per the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had an excellent UFC debut last spring when he submitted John Phillips in the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a gambling favorite because of his next battle against Darren Stewart in 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 rather than a late-blooming contender that some thought he might 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 struggled in a split decision win on the above Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 must find out a lot from that fight, but he showed a lot of holes against Stewart a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I would still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just because of the age gap and the knockout energy, but I’ve a feeling this struggle will be more competitive than many want to believe.
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