411's Dan Plunkett takes a look at UFC 235!

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Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith: UFC 235 Takes Shape

January 7, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Jon Jones

With less than two months to fight time, UFC 235 has taken shape in short order.

A couple of months ago, it appeared that the card was in position to feature Daniel Cormier’s potential retirement fight, coming just a few weeks before Cormier’s 40th birthday. But nagging injuries have held off Cormier’s return, and so the UFC looked in other directions.

Late Saturday night, TMZ reported that the UFC has set its sights on Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith headlining the card in a UFC light heavyweight championship fight. The caveat is that Jones will need to receive a license from the Nevada Athletic Commission in order to fight. Typically, that would be a mere formality, but with recent drug tests showing a long-term metabolite of turinabol in Jones’s system, it’s not quite 100% he’ll be licensed. Still, it would be a surprise if Nevada didn’t license him; the UFC wouldn’t book the fight in the first place unless they were reasonably confident he’d be licensed.

A year ago, it would have been impossible to envision Jones vs. Smith taking place in March 2019. At the time, Jones was provisionally suspended stemming from a July 2017 drug test failure for a long-term metabolite of turinabol. With that being his second drug test failure, it seemed unlikely Jones would be back before the end of the year. Of course, following arbitration he would end up receiving a reduced fifteen-month suspension, allowing him to return in December to fight Alexander Gustafsson. Jones dominated Gustafsson, won the light heavyweight title back, and now aims to make a quick turnaround.

If Jones fighting before the end of the year seemed unlikely, Anthony Smith competing for the light heavyweight title seemed like a pipe dream. Competing at middleweight, Smith was stopped in February 2018 by Thiago Santos. The difficult weight cut for that fight, just the most recent one in a string of them for Smith, caused Smith to move up to light heavyweight.

Smith’s first light heavyweight bout was in June against Rashad Evans, the aging former light heavyweight champion that had last his previous four fights. He knocked Evans out within one minute and emerged healthy enough to replace Volkan Oezdemir in a main event fight against Shogun Rua the following month. Rua didn’t fair much better than Evans, falling before the 90 second mark. With the light heavyweight division short on contenders, Smith’s performance put him near a title shot.

Then Smith went against the man he replaced against Rua. His fight against Volkan Oezdemir will be closely examined leading into his fight with Jones because of how Smith seemed so far from ready for a title shot. He tired before the second round was over, and Oezdemir, who isn’t known for his grappling, out-grappled Smith (until the closing portion of the fight, when Oezdemir had reached the point of exhaustion).

It would appear that Smith has little chance against Jones. His best chance is on the feet where he might be able to tag Jones, but we’ve never seen Jones in significant danger on the feet before. On the ground, Jones’s top game is murderous, and he should have few issues taking Smith to the floor.

Hours after TMZ reported Jones vs. Smith, ESPN reported that UFC 235’s co-main event had been finalized.

Last June, the UFC promoted an interim welterweight title fight between Colby Covington and Rafael dos Anjos. This despite the fact that champion Tyron Woodley would be ready to fight within a few months. Covington captured the interim title, but his reign lasted only until September, when Woodley returned to fight Darren Till. Now stripped of the belt, Covington remained the logical choice as Woodley’s next opponent, but then Kumaru Usman stole his thunder.

Usman defeated Rafael dos Anjos in November, and per ESPN’s report, did a better job than Covington at keeping himself in UFC’s good graces. And thus, Covington was out, and Usman was in. Usman is set to challenge Woodley for the welterweight title at UFC 235.

A smothering and athletic wrestler, Usman has only lost once, in his second career fight. He’s rattled off nine consecutive victories in the UFC, most of which were dominant wins.

Woodley is looking to become the third welterweight champion in UFC history to reach the five title defense mark. The first two, Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre, are considered all-time greats.

The championship double-header is joined by a third major fight, a welterweight bout between Robbie Lawler and Ben Askren, which has been set for the card since the cancellation of UFC 233 last month. Askren, 34, hasn’t fought since November 2017, when he went into semi-retirement, but he has a chance to emerge as a real star with his willingness to engage in trash talk.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.