MMA Review: #674: UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith

-This was the first ‘big’ UFC PPV of 2019, with a duo of title fights at the top of the card with a main event of Jon Jones defending his Light-Heavyweight crown against Anthony Smith, as well as the debut of Ben Askren and a generally loaded undercard.

UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith

03/02/19
Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Dominick Cruz.

Bantamweight Fight: Cody Garbrandt vs Pedro Munhoz

Garbrandt was making his return here following his two KO losses to TJ Dillashaw, and he was faced with a pretty tough opponent in Munhoz, who was 6-1 in his last 7 fights with the only loss being a contentious decision against John Dodson. I saw this as a close fight given Munhoz’s superior ground game and the fact that he was a more well-rounded striker, but due to the speed advantage of Garbrandt I thought he could catch Munhoz with a heavy shot and put him away.

First round begins and Munhoz moves around on the outside a lot before catching a kick to land a right hand. He can’t take Cody down and drops for a leglock instead, but the former champ quickly scrambles free. Combination glances for Garbrandt. Both men come up short on their strikes before Munhoz lands a clean leg kick. Brief exchange sees Cody land the better punches. He’s starting to look confident now, dancing around and firing out combinations although he’s not landing cleanly. Leg kick answers back for Munhoz. Spin kick to the body lands for Munhoz and he connects with a good right hand too before going back to the low kick. Cody’s leg looks hurt now. One minute to go and a wild exchange leads to an accidental clash of heads, and Garbrandt goes down. Munhoz looks to lock up a guillotine and then drops some punches into half-guard, and Cody is visibly furious as he suddenly leaps to his feet and throws a flying knee before going WILD with some combinations, chasing Munhoz around. He’s literally throwing HAYMAKERS with RECKLESS ABANDON here as Munhoz fires back, and despite landing a couple on the Brazilian, he eats a BIG RIGHT HAND that sends him down and Munhoz closes things out there.

Insane knockout from Munhoz but you’ve got to say that Cody brought that KO on himself; it looked like he just lost any kind of composure after taking the accidental headbutt and his anger completely clouded his judgment, leading him to throw wild haymakers with a guy who stayed calm and just fired back with a cleaner shot. Add in the fact that Cody’s chin isn’t the best and there you go. Biggest win of Munhoz’s career although he’s since lost to Aljamain Sterling to put paid to any title shot hopes, and back to the drawing board for Cody – I’m not even sure where he goes from here to be honest. Hell of an opener at any rate!

Women’s Strawweight Fight: Tecia Torres vs Weili Zhang

Some fans were talking up Zhang as potentially the first UFC titleholder – or at least contender – to come from China, as she’d gone 18-1 in her MMA career to this point including 2 UFC wins, one of which came over former top ranked fighter Jessica Aguilar. This was her toughest test to date against high-level gatekeeper Torres though, and it was a very hard fight to pick. Torres’s experience made her the favourite but I was actually leaning towards Zhang due to Tecia’s lack of punching power.

Round One begins and both women dance around the cage with Zhang throwing some kicks that glance in the early going. Zhang is throwing a lot more strikes than Torres here. Counter right hand glances for Torres in a brief trade. Zhang is ridiculously hench for this weight also, looking much bigger than Torres. Few kicks land for Zhang before Torres goes for a takedown. Zhang ends up tripping her down instead, but Torres rolls right through to her feet. Zhang keeps on throwing the spinning back kick although it’s not landing flush. Spinning backfist misses for her too. Torres tags her with a right as she lunges in, but she manages to recover to grab a bodylock. Nice takedown attempt follows and as Torres blocks, Zhang somehow snakes her way into back control with both hooks in! Torres defends the choke well, but she’s stuck with Zhang on her back here. Zhang ends up losing the hooks and they break with Torres landing a right hand on the break. Right hand from Zhang but Torres throws her down, only to get reversed herself and Zhang ends the round in side mount. Close round, probably 10-9 Zhang by a hair.

Round Two and they exchange strikes right away with both women connecting. Spinning backfist lands nicely for Zhang this time and she’s firing off some good leg kicks too. Torres seems to be finding it hard to get into range due to Zhang’s kicks. She does land a counter combo when Zhang throws a low kick, but eats a left hand in return. Nice counter left from Zhang as Torres lunges in. Zhang is putting a ton of pressure on Torres here and just not letting her settle into a rhythm. They clinch up and Zhang tries a throw, but can’t get Tecia down this time. A second attempt works though and she ends up on top in half-guard. Good punches get through for her too as she traps the arms. Reversal from Torres puts her on top in guard instead, but she can’t get a lot going from there either and the round ends with her landing an upkick before Torres drops some shots. 10-9 Zhang as she did most of the good work.

Round Three and Torres almost drops Zhang early with a push kick to the body. More low kicks follow for Torres as she seems determined to up her output rate in this round. Zhang tags her with a combo and backs her up, but Torres fires right back and hurts the Chinese fighter in return. Zhang shows a lot of toughness and fires back, tagging Torres again, and they clinch briefly before separating. Spin kick is caught by Torres and they clinch, but Zhang muscles her around and lands some shots from close range. Zhang begins to pressure Torres again once they break, and then she hits a great takedown into half-guard. Mount attempt follows but she can’t quite get there. Couple of short elbows get through for Zhang but she’s mainly just controlling Tecia. One minute to go and this fight could be Zhang’s to lose. Big elbows begin to land for her. Round ends with Zhang on top continually landing elbows. I’d call this 30-27 for Zhang myself.

Judges end up going 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 all for Weili Zhang. Pretty big win for her then and it’s actually been enough to net her a title shot – not that I really agree with that as it feels like the UFC have only given it to her due to the upcoming show it’s on being in China. Whatever though, she’s a pretty great fighter and she looked excellent here in shutting down a tough gatekeeper in Torres, who didn’t look past her best or anything. Fight wasn’t the best of all time but it definitely had some high points and the way Zhang kept the pace high to pressure Torres out of her comfort zone was pretty cool.

Welterweight Fight: Ben Askren vs Robbie Lawler

Talk about a long time coming; Askren should probably have been signed by the UFC way back in 2013 when he first left Bellator, but for some weird reasons (Askren would say Dana White disliked him and tried to lowball him, but it’s also been suggested that the UFC brass didn’t want to risk a Bellator champ coming in and doing well off the bat…) he ended up in ONE FC and then actually retired after picking up 6 wins there to take his record to 18-0. Eventually though, cooler heads prevailed and in one of the biggest news stories of 2018, he moved to the UFC in a “trade” of sorts that saw Demetrious Johnson go the other way.

This of course was his big debut then and the UFC didn’t exactly throw him a soft-ball in the form of former Welterweight champ and general badass Lawler, who sounded like a potential bad match for him on paper. Having said that, Lawler hadn’t fought in over a year and had looked pretty past his best last time he did, so I ended up taking Askren to grapple him to a decision.

Fight begins and Askren comes right out and shoots for a takedown. Lawler works to defend it but Askren grabs him and looks to take the back, only for Lawler to lift him up and SLAM HIM DOWN! Jesus Christ that was like a Death Valley Driver! HUGE CAVEMAN PUNCHES follow and Askren looks OUT, but somehow Herb Dean lets it continue and he manages to secure half-guard to slow Lawler down! Holy shit. He looks busted wide open though. Somehow he uses a whizzer to stand, and forces Lawler into the fence, but he eats a huge knee and he looks wobbly as they separate. Uppercut lands for Lawler as Askren tries to grab him, and he’s absolutely covered in blood now. He does manage to clinch though, and despite taking some knees to the body he manages to keep hold of him on the fence and finally manages to trip him down. Askren moves into side mount and Lawler gives his back, and from there Askren locks up a bulldog choke, and Lawler’s arm DROPS! Herb Dean steps in and calls it there…but Lawler leaps to his feet and appears to have not actually been out after all. Damn.

Post-fight the replay seems to show it wasn’t Herb’s fault as Lawler’s right arm definitely went limp, but literally a moment later he seemed to come around, but by that stage Herb had already made his decision. Askren then seems pretty happy with the fight in general in his post-fight interview which is a bit weird, but whatever. Regardless, even with a strange finish this was a low-end FOTYC for me as it went for like three minutes but it was PURE EXCITEMENT with the wild slam from Lawler and Askren somehow surviving to make a comeback, and I’d have done an immediate rematch if it were down to me. Things went another way though and obviously not so well for Askren, but we’ll get to that later on down the line!

UFC World Welterweight Title: Tyron Woodley vs Kamaru Usman

Despite all the signs pointing to Colby Covington being the man to challenge Woodley for his Welterweight crown, instead the UFC surprisingly went with Usman for the next shot after he beat Demian Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos in back-to-back fights – exactly the same as Covington had done, actually. I felt like this was a tough match to pick given how good Woodley had looked in his last fight with Darren Till, but I went with the mild upset and picked Usman, as Woodley hadn’t looked good under pressure or on his back against Rory MacDonald and I felt Usman could put him there – unless Woodley could land a bomb on him, of course.

Round One begins and right away Usman looks to back Woodley up. Takedown attempt from Usman and he gets Woodley down and moves into half-guard to avoid a possible guillotine. Usman lands some short elbows and punches to the body just to stay active basically, but Woodley works up to his knees. He works to his feet and they exchange knees from the clinch before breaking off. More pressure from Usman sets up another takedown attempt but this time Woodley defends. Usman keeps on walking him down though and he lands an overhand right into the clinch. He continues to work the body inside the clinch until the ref calls a break. Usman backs him up again and this time a strong combo forces Woodley to clinch, but Usman outmuscles him and forces him into the cage to end the round. 10-9 Usman, excellent round for him.

Round Two and Usman again backs Woodley up into the fence using his long strikes before grabbing the clinch. He continues to dig at the body with knees and punches, and then he separates with an elbow that has Woodley stunned. Clinch and a BIG SLAM follow for Usman, wow. He lands in full mount too and Woodley might be in trouble. Usman doesn’t do a lot from the mount but he’s in firm control and he is landing short strikes. Woodley’s right eye is busted open. Big elbows begin to land for Usman now. Seconds to go and he looks for a possible arm triangle, but Woodley defends and takes a bunch of punches to the body instead. Round ends with Usman in mount. 10-8 round for Usman as Woodley got absolutely dominated.

Round Three and Woodley throws the big right hand when Usman backs him up, but it misses. Again Usman uses his long punches to back Tyron up towards the fence, and he quickly clinches and goes right back to working the body with punches. Woodley is taking a beatdown here. Ref calls a break when things slow down, but Usman keeps on backing the champ up and he lands a left hook before clinching again. More body work follows for Usman before the ref separates them again. Just over a minute to go and Usman’s walking Woodley down again, even through a glancing right hook. Clinch again from Usman and he works Woodley there to end the round. 10-9 Usman.

Round Four and Usman easily forces Woodley backwards again before clinching. Guillotine attempt from Woodley fails and he winds up on his back, and that’s not good at all for him. Usman keeps him grounded with some fantastic wrestling skill, but the crowd boo a little as he continues to work the body. Full guard now for Woodley but he takes some elbows from the challenger. Shoulder strikes also land for Usman with Woodley stuck against the fence. Woodley is just offering nothing here. Ref calls the restart with 1:45 to go and Usman wades into the clinch with knees as Woodley tries to fire back with some dirty boxing. Elbow breaks for Usman and then he lands a BIG UPPERCUT and Woodley is in trouble! Big combo has Woodley wobbled, but he manages to slow Usman down slightly with a knee of his own. It doesn’t stop him though as Usman continues to pour it on with some heavy punches, but Woodley survives the clinch to end the round. 10-8 round again for Usman in my opinion and Woodley is nearly done.

Round Five and Usman again uses his jab to close the distance. He ducks for a takedown but Woodley goes for a guillotine, just holding the position as Usman knees his legs. Slam follows for the challenger and he moves into half-guard to alleviate any pressure from the guillotine. More shots to the body follow and time is running out quickly for Woodley here. Crowd are booing but shit, Usman’s completely dominating the champ here, that’s ridiculous. More elbows land for Usman and he comfortably keeps Woodley down until the round ends. 10-9 Usman and I’d go 50-43 overall. Amazing performance from Kamaru Usman.

Judges have it 50-44, 50-44 and 50-45 for Kamaru Usman. Well, it might not have been the most entertaining fight of all time but that was a genuinely phenomenal performance from Usman, as he took the blueprint for how to beat Woodley made by Rory MacDonald in 2014 and took it to another level, using his long strikes to easily force the champion onto his back foot to set up his superior wrestling. The body work seemed to sap any kind of energy from Woodley and off his back, Woodley just had little no nothing to offer. Incredible showing from the guy and I don’t see anyone dethroning him for some time, especially not Colby Covington who I don’t think is close to his level in any area. I can see a long reign ahead for this guy, for sure. He’s a fucking monster.

UFC World Light-Heavyweight Title: Jon Jones vs Anthony Smith

Surprisingly quick turnaround for Jones then as he’d only fought in December, but I guess he wants to be active now after all of his suspensions and controversy and stuff, so fair play. Smith felt like a ‘challenger of the month’ type deal too – he had 3 wins at LHW over Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua and Volkan Oezdemir, and while they were all impressive, those kind of wins don’t get you ready for Jon Jones. I saw this as a likely one-sided beatdown in favour of Jones.

Round One begins and they circle with Smith landing a good leg kick. Jones isn’t doing a lot early on here. Spin kick to the body connects for Jones and he follows with a low kick. Couple more leg kicks land for Smith. This is a super-slow pace from Jones. He does close in again and land with the spinning back kick though. Big head kick glances for Smith but Jones grabs the leg and forces him into the fence. Shoulder-butts land for Jones inside the clinch before Smith breaks. Couple of strikes land for Jones from distance and then he lands a superkick to the body to shove Smith backwards. Big head kick glances for Jones. Front kick to the body follows as Jones is keeping Smith at the end of his strikes now. Round ends with more offense from Jones. 10-9 Jones but it wasn’t a horrible round for Smith either.

Round Two and Smith pushes forward, but Jones catches him with some nice early strikes. Clean counter right hand lands for Smith but Jones takes it well. High kick from Jones has Smith backpedalling and he might be hurt. More kicks force Smith backwards and then Jones nails him with a beautiful spinning elbow into the clinch. They break off and Smith lands with a decent right hand, but Jones uses some nasty kicks to the legs and body to back him up again. Body kick fires back for Smith. Jones keeps on landing the front kick to the body. Big left hand connects for Jones. Smith just seems to be too wary to really open up with his attacks. Big overhand right lands for Jones but Smith comes back with one of his own, and they trade off with low kicks. More kicks from Jones and he throws in a right to the body for good measure. He’s really got Smith retreating into his shell now. Round ends in the clinch. 10-9 Jones.

Round Three and Jones stings Smith with a right hand in the early seconds. More kicks land for Jones and then he shoots, but Smith does well to block it. Jones forces him into the fence anyway and knees the legs, and the crowd begin to boo a bit as things slow down. More good clinch work follows for Jones and then he scoops Smith up and slams him down. Scramble from Smith sees him give up a front headlock, and surprisingly Jones doesn’t go for a choke. Instead he just makes Smith carry his weight and covers the mouth for good measure. Big knees to the legs from Jones and I’ve got no idea what Smith is trying to accomplish here. He just looks totally stuck. Round ends with Smith finally trying to stand. 10-9 Jones and this is a shut-out at the minute.

Round Four and Jones misses with some kind of jumping attack. Head kick and a spin kick to the body land for Jones. He’s just backing Smith up too easily now. Big elbow attack lands for Jones in a big sequence of them. He’s looking really chilled now as Smith just isn’t offering anything in attack. More pot-shotting from Jones leads into the clinch and Smith’s nose is bleeding. Easy trip sends Smith down and then Jones inexplicably lands a kick to the face as he’s down. Stomp to the leg follows as Jones casually bends the rules but ref Herb Dean seemingly ignores it as Jones drops into side mount and then just kneels in front of him to punch him some more in a weird spot. Announcers claim the earlier shot was legal as it hit Smith’s arm so there you go. Smith turtles up and takes some more shots from the champ as he snakes around to control the back. There’s a lot of blood coming from Smith’s nose now. He works to his feet but Jones still has a rear waistlock and he forces him back down with a suplex. Smith’s just totally defensive now but he’s still taking big shots. Herb could probably even stop this as Smith looks so submissive. Huge knees land to the body for Jones and then Smith ends up seated against the fence, with Jones landing knees to the body. BRUTAL illegal knee does land for Jones now and Herb has to call time. Replay confirms it was illegal which would mean Smith would win the title on a DQ hilariously enough, but thankfully he doesn’t take the easy way out and decides to continue, with Jones being deducted TWO POINTS. Crowd are absolutely furious with this. Round ends literally as they restart. 8-8 round somehow!

Round Five and Smith does come out swinging, but he eats just as many shots from Jones. Good sprawl allows him to avoid a takedown, but he eats a couple of really nasty low kicks. He’s missing on his big punches too. Jones backs him up into his defensive shell again and casually pot-shots him to take the clinch. This is just too easy for Jones now. He continues to abuse Smith from the clinch but can’t get him down and the crowd again seem annoyed. One minute to go and it does look like Smith’s going to last the distance. Round ends to a chorus of boos as Jones glances on a flying knee. 10-9 Jones, so overall it’s what, 48-44?

Official scores are 48-44 all round for Jon Jones. Not the best performance from him, but to be fair I’m putting that on Smith as much as I am on Jones because it felt like about halfway through the second round as Jones was really finding his rhythm, Smith just decided he was going to try to survive rather than win, and so he never really gave Jones an opening to finish. Of course that meant that he never had any genuine offense himself which was a bit disappointing, but I mean, Jones is a great, great fighter so to even go the distance with him is an achievement. Bit of a disappointing main event as it was just an extended squash, but such is Jon Jones at 205lbs right now.

-Announcers wrap up the night’s action and the show ends there.

Final Thoughts….

Tricky show to rate really; on one hand Askren/Lawler was far beyond anything anyone could’ve expected, Garbrandt/Munhoz was awesome and I enjoyed Usman/Woodley a lot even if it wasn’t a true barnburner. The main event was disappointing though and while Torres/Zhang was fine, it also wasn’t that exciting either. Overall it’s worth a thumbs up but it didn’t quite live up to the hype I don’t think and probably won’t end up as one of the best shows of the year.

Best Fight: Askren vs. Lawler
Worst Fight: Jones vs. Smith

Overall Rating: ***

Until next time,

Scott Newman:
NewmanMMA@gmail.com