Last week, we have news that UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was cleared by the Nevada State Athletic Commission to fight Anthony Smith. The UFC created that struggle official over the weekend, along with the March 2 event at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada is now a go with the GOAT seeking to defend his title in the primary event.
Besides the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a couple other fights for UFC 235 were revealed over the weekend, and I’ll give my initial thoughts on those new matchups in today’s MMA odds and ends.
Frankie Saenz vs. Marlon Vera Because of an injury to Thomas Almeida, veteran Frankie Saenz is stepping up on short notice to fight 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 from back-end decision wins over Henry Briones and Merab Dvalishvili. At one point it seemed like he may get cut by the UFC after enduring a three-fight losing skid, but he’s bounced back nicely since then. At age 38, this is the last opportunity he has to make a title run.
Vera (12-5-1) is just 6-4-1 in the UFC but he’s 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 will be looking to keep this fight with Saenz around the feet while Saenz will be looking for the takedown. Though Saenz is a crafty veteran and will probably make this fight more competitive than the line will suggest, it is hard to go against the younger Vera and I expect him to be a sizeable 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 battle is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had an excellent UFC debut last spring when he submitted John Phillips in the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite because of his next fight against Darren Stewart in UFC 228, however following a solid first round he faded badly and has been pumped out. At age 35, Byrd seems to be more of a gatekeeper rather than a late-blooming competition that some thought he may be following his successful stint on the Contender Series.
Shahbazyan (8-0) was undefeated heading to his UFC debut with all his wins coming by first-round knockout, but fought in a split decision win on the above Stewart. He did get the nod and at age 21 should learn a lot from that fight, but he showed a great deal of holes against Stewart a veteran like Byrd may exploit. I would still have to prefer Shahbazyan somewhat just due to the age difference and the knockout power, but I have a feeling that this struggle will be more competitive than most want to believe.
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