mma / Columns

Breaking Down Jon Jones Beating Anthony Smith and the Rest of UFC 235

March 4, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett
Jon Jones

No, the biggest upset in UFC history did not occur on Saturday night, but the night will still be remembered for two bouts outside of the main event.

Predictably, Jon Jones successfully defended his light heavyweight title against Anthony Smith in the main event. Jones put on a workmanlike performance, winning all five rounds to take home a clear unanimous decision victory, but wasn’t able to switch it to the next gear and get a finish.

Smith did a good job of surviving in the fight, particularly on the ground when he had Jones above him, but he didn’t do much else. This was simply a case of him running into a fighter several levels above his ability. His chance at winning the fight was to catch Jones on the feet, but he did nothing to trouble Jones there. For most of the fight, Smith sat back as Jones picked him apart. The only time Smith showed a sense of urgency was with a short outburst early in the fifth round, but by that point he didn’t have the stamina to keep a high pace.

Jones did some incredible things, but that is typical for him. It will go down as one of his more unmemorable title fights.

It appears that Thiago Santos is next for Jones. Santos fought most of his career at middleweight before moving up to 205 last September. He has won all three of his light heavyweight fights by stoppage, but he isn’t much more of a threat to Jones than Smith was. Unless Johnny Walker keeps progressing like he has been, Jones will have to move up to heavyweight if he wants a stiff challenge.

The evening’s other title fight was just as one-sided as the main event, but much more memorable. Kamaru Usman left no doubt in taking the welterweight title from Tyron Woodley. He pressured the entire fight, regularly took Woodley down, controlled him, and never allowed Woodley to find any sort of rhythm in any aspect of the fight.

The fight might have been a sign of Woodley’s decline, as he turns 37 next month. Or, perhaps this was simply a matter of him having no answer for this opponent on this one night. A firm answer will only come after Woodley’s next fight or two.

Usman’s win shakes up a welterweight division that Woodley had stood at the top of for two-and-a-half years. It suddenly gives past Woodley opponents like Stephen Thompson and Darren Till a more immediate path to a title shot due to the promise of a fresh matchup. But first, Usman will defend against Colby Covington, which should be a heated—if borderline unbearable—title fight build.

The wildest fight of the night went to Robbie Lawler and Ben Askren. It took five years longer than it should have for the UFC to secure Askren’s services, and the first fight was just as weird as you would expect for someone whose nickname is “Funky.”

Askren came out immediately looking for a takedown, but Lawler picked him up, slammed him, got on top, and started dropping bombs on Askren’s head. Miraculously, Askren survived and got back to his feet soon after. Askren has never been beaten, but he can have moments in fights that look ugly. What keeps his record perfect is that he keeps moving forward and looking to impose his game even when the going gets tough. That’s what he did against Lawler and eventually, he got the takedown, took the back, Lawler looked to escape, and Askren locked in a bulldog choke.

Watching in real time, it did appear that Lawler went out from the choke, but it was quickly made clear that that was not the case. Referee Herb Dean thought Lawler went out, stopped the fight, and Lawler immediately sprang up to protest. It was the wrong call and really, the fight should be declared a no contest. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to happen as Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett stated after the fight that he believed Lawler went out.

The question becomes whether the UFC should put together an immediate rematch or let Askren and Lawler go on separate paths for now. If Lawler can’t get the loss erased from his record, it would only be fair for him to get an immediate rematch. Every win and loss at this high of a level matters to a fighter’s legacy. We can try to contextualize each fight as much as possible when discussing a fighter’s legacy, but ultimately the Ws and the Ls carry significant weight. For every story about Georges St-Pierre’s career in the past few weeks that mentioned his nine successful title defenses, most probably didn’t mention it should have been eight. Few stories on B.J. Penn’s career will remember that really should have won the decision in his first fight against Frankie Edgar. Penn got the chance to right that wrong. Lawler deserves the same chance.

On the other hand, the best use of Ben Askren was not pitting him against Robbie Lawler. Sure, it was an excellent proving ground, but Askren can trade barbs and build hype with someone willing to verbally engage with him, and Lawler is not that guy. After the fight, Askren stated he wanted to fight the winner of March 16’s Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal bout. The Till fight in particular would see some good promotional banter. If Askren makes good on his word to travel to London for the fight, perhaps he can create a groundswell that will force the UFC’s hand in making that fight rather than the Lawler rematch.

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.

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article topics :

Jon Jones, UFC 235, Dan Plunkett