Last week, we got information 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 title in the primary event.
Besides the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other fights for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I will give my first thoughts on those 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 information. Saenz (13-5) is 5-2 overall from the UFC and is coming off of back-end choice wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one stage it looked like he can get cut by the UFC after enduring a three-fight losing skid, but he has bounced back well since then. At age 38, this is the last chance he’s got to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is only 6-4-1 from the UFC but he has fought a high amount of competition within the Octagon and also his album doesn’t do justice to the kind 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 will be seeking to keep this fight with Saenz on the feet while Saenz will be searching for the takedown. Though Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this battle more aggressive than the line will imply, it’s 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 battle 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 gambling favorite because of his next fight against Darren Stewart at UFC 228, but after a solid first round that he faded badly and was pumped out. At age 35, Byrd seems to be a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming contender 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 struggled in a split decision win on the above Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 must learn a lot from that struggle, but he showed a lot of holes from Stewart a veteran like Byrd may exploit. I’d still need to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age difference and the knockout energy, but I have a feeling this fight will be more aggressive than most want to think.
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