Last week, we have news 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 on 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.
In addition to the confirmation of Jones vs. Smith, a few other struggles for UFC 235 were also revealed over the weekend, and I will give my first thoughts on these brand new matchups in the current 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 resist 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 from the UFC and is coming from back-end choice 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 has bounced back well 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 amount of competition within the Octagon and also his record doesn’t do justice to the kind of fighter he is. Vera is coming from 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 looking to keep this fight with Saenz around the feet while Saenz will be searching for the takedown. Although Saenz is a tricky veteran and will likely make this fight more competitive than the line will suggest, it’s hard to go from the younger Vera and I expect him to be a big 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 too. This fight is official according to the UFC. Byrd (10-5) had a terrific UFC debut last spring when he filed John Phillips at the first round at UFC Fight Night 127. He was a betting favorite for his next fight against Darren Stewart in UFC 228, but following a solid first round he faded badly and has been pumped out. At age 35, Byrd seems to be a gatekeeper as opposed to a late-blooming competition 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 his wins coming by first-round knockout, but fought in a split decision win on the aforementioned 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 a veteran like Byrd could exploit. I would still have to favor Shahbazyan somewhat just because of the age gap and the knockout energy, but I’ve a feeling that this struggle will be more competitive than many want to think.
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