Last weekwe got information that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to combat Anthony Smith. The UFC made that fight 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 looking to defend his title in the primary event.
Besides the affirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other fights for UFC 235 were revealed over the weekend, and I’ll give my initial thoughts on these new matchups in today’s MMA odds and ends.
Frankie Saenz vs. Marlon Vera, UFC 235 Due to an injury to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to resist 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-end decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one stage it seemed like he can get cut from the UFC after suffering a three-fight losing skid, but he’s bounced back well since then. At age 38, this is the last chance he has 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 inside the Octagon and also his record doesn’t do justice to the type of fighter he is. Vera is coming off of back-to-back stoppage wins Guido Cannetti and Wuliji Buren and at age 26 is starting to really come into his own as a fighter. No doubt Vera is going to be looking to keep this battle with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be searching for the takedown. Although Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this fight more competitive than the lineup will suggest, it is difficult to go from the younger Vera and I expect him to be a big favorite for the win.
Charles Byrd vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, UFC 235
Middleweights Charles Byrd and Edmen Shahbazyan are set to battle at UFC 235 as well. This fight is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had a terrific UFC debut last spring when he filed John Phillips in the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite for his next battle against Darren Stewart at UFC 228, however after a strong first round he faded badly and has been pumped out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be more of a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming competition that some believed he might be after his successful stint on the Contender Series.
Shahbazyan (8-0) was undefeated heading to his UFC debut with all his wins coming from first-round knockout, but fought in a split decision win over the above Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 must find out a lot from that struggle, but he showed a lot of holes against Stewart a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I’d still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just because of the age difference and the knockout power, but I have a feeling this struggle will be more aggressive than most want to believe.
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