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 fight official over the weekend, and the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with the GOAT looking to defend his title in the main event.
In addition to the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other fights for UFC 235 were also 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 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-to-back decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it looked 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 is the last chance he has to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is just 6-4-1 in the UFC but he has fought a high level of competition inside the Octagon and 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 starting to really come into his own as a fighter. No doubt Vera is going to be looking to keep this fight with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Although Saenz is a crafty veteran and will likely make this fight more competitive than the line will suggest, it’s hard to go against the younger Vera and I expect him to be a sizeable favorite to get the win.
Charles Byrd vs. Edmen Shahbazyan, UFC 235
Middleweights Charles Byrd and Edmen Shahbazyan are set to clash 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 in the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite for his next fight against Darren Stewart at UFC 228, but after a strong first round he faded badly and was brutally knocked out. At age 35, Byrd looks to be more of a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming contender that some thought he may 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 struggled in a split decision win over the aforementioned 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 that 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 fight is going to be more competitive than many want to believe.