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 made that struggle official over the weekend, and the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with all the GOAT seeking to defend his name in the main event.
In addition to the affirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other struggles for UFC 235 were revealed over the weekend, and I’ll give my first thoughts on these brand 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 fight the surging Marlon Vera in a bantamweight bout at UFC 235. Ariel Helwani of ESPN broke the news. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall in the UFC and is coming off of back-end choice wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it seemed like he may get cut by the UFC after suffering a three-fight losing skid, but he has bounced back nicely since then. At age 38, this can be the last chance he has to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is only 6-4-1 in the UFC but he’s fought a high level of competition inside the Octagon and also his record doesn’t do justice to the type of fighter he is. Vera is coming from 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 fight with Saenz around the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this fight more aggressive than the line will imply, it’s 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 clash at UFC 235 too. This fight is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had an excellent UFC debut last spring when he filed 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, but following a strong first round that he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be more of a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming competition that some thought he might be after 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 over the above Stewart. He did 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 may exploit. I’d still need to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just because of the age difference and the knockout power, but I have a feeling this struggle is going to be more aggressive than many want to believe.
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