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 created that fight official over the weekend, along with the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is currently a go with all the GOAT seeking to defend his name in the primary event.
In addition to the affirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other fights for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I'll give my first thoughts on these brand new matchups in today's MMA odds and ends.
Frankie Saenz vs. Marlon Vera, UFC 235 Due to an accident to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to fight the surging Marlon Vera at a bantamweight bout at UFC 235. Ariel Helwani of ESPN broke the news. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall from the UFC and is coming from back-to-back decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one stage it seemed like he may get cut by the UFC after suffering a three-fight losing skid, but he's 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 just 6-4-1 from the UFC but he has fought a high level of competition within the Octagon and also his record doesn't do justice to the kind of fighter he is. Vera is coming off of 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 on the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a tricky veteran and will probably make this fight more aggressive than the lineup will suggest, it's difficult to go from the younger Vera and I expect him to be a big preferred 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 as per the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had a terrific UFC debut last spring when he submitted John Phillips at the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite because of his next fight against Darren Stewart in UFC 228, but following a strong first round he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be more of a gatekeeper as opposed to a late-blooming competition that some believed 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 from first-round knockout, but struggled in a split decision win over the above Stewart. He'd get the nod and at age 21 should learn a lot from that struggle, but he showed a great deal of holes from Stewart that a veteran like Byrd may exploit. I would still need to prefer Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age gap and the knockout power, but I have a feeling that this struggle is going to be more aggressive than many want to think.
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