Jon Jones v Anthony Smith
If Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith wins the UFC light-heavyweight title at UFC 235 on Saturday night, it might just be the biggest title fight shock in UFC history. Smith arrived in the UFC three years ago with a 25-10 record after a journeyman-like existence on the American regional scene that eventually resulted in some title wins.
And, after a 4-2 run at middleweight, Smith took the decision to move up to light-heavyweight, where he has turned into a legit contender for the title. Stoppage wins over Rashad Evans, Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Volkan Oezdemir put him at the front of the line to fight for the title.
But despite his impressive run to Vegas this weekend, barely a soul is giving Smith a chance. Smith is an 11/2 outsider to dethrone the great Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, who is an incredible 1/12 to win the fight on Saturday night. If Smith is going to get it done, it’s almost certainly going to be by knockout (9/1). ‘Lionheart’ has a puncher’s chance if he can catch Jones early, but ‘Bones’ is a colossal favourite for a reason.
He is, without doubt, the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC, and looks as relaxed as we’ve ever seen heading into this weekend’s fight, but he also made clear that he’s taking Smith very seriously. Victory for Smith would be the greatest Rocky story we’ve seen in the UFC since Matt Serra stunned Georges St-Pierre back in 2007, but against Jones? I just can’t see it.
Bet: Jones to win via submission @ 17/10
Tyron Woodley v Kamaru Usman
The UFC welterweight class is a pretty busy place to be right now, and all eyes are on the top of the 170lb division as reigning champ Tyron Woodley looks to cement his greatness with victory over a Kamaru Usman, a challenger who possesses many of the same qualities he has. Both men have excellent wrestling, superb conditioning and bona-fide punch power.
The one difference between the pair is Woodley has operated at a much higher level of the sport than Usman so far.
The fight has had an unwanted third wheel, with the wild card arrival of former interim champ Colby Covington showing up in Vegas during fight week. Covington crashed Usman’s open workout at the MGM Grand, armed with his old belt and a battery-powered megaphone, but Usman took it all in his stride and seems in relaxed mood ahead of the biggest fight of his career.
Usman has the tools to make that leap from contender to champion, but against Woodley his best chance is to outpace the champ over five rounds. Usman’s one advantage may well be his gas tank, and if he can push the pace on Woodley early on and keep it going, he could nab a decision victory.
But I suspect we’ll see Woodley look to put on another dominant display to follow up on his submission win over Darren Till. But rather than pursue the sub, I think we may see him look to uncork a huge right hand and end it early.
Bet: Woodley to win by KO @ 21/10
Ben Askren v Robbie Lawler
Former US Olympic wrestler Ben Askren is a familiar name to longtime MMA fans, but Saturday night will see the multiple world champion set foot inside the UFC octagon for the very first time. The confident former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champ will make his debut against former UFC world champion Robbie Lawler in a matchup that has captured the imagination of the hardcore fight fans Stateside.
Lawler is an animal. He’ll stand and trade with anyone in the world, and is one of the toughest 170-pounders on the planet. But while Lawler has shown his proficiency as a heavy-handed striker with excellent defensive wrestling, Askren is a specialist.
His wrestling is as good as it gets in the welterweight division, and his ability to control opponents on the mat is matched only by Russian lightweight champ Khabib Nurmagomedov.
But we’ve not seen Askren face real adversity inside the cage, and Lawler may well be the man to bring him a dose of that. Can Askren weather the storm, take Lawler down and finish him? If he can, he’ll be right up there in the championship conversation – even though he and former collegiate wrestling teammate Woodley have vowed never to fight each other. And the two good friends have had great fun together during fight week as they’ve prepared together for their respective bouts in Vegas on Saturday night.
Bet: Askren to win via decision @ 5/6
Johnny Walker v Misha Cirkunov
The latest stop in the Johnny Walker hype train takes sees the spectacular Brazilian knockout artist make a swift turnaround to take on Canadian contender Misha Cirkunov, and there’s a fair chance another knockout could be on the horizon.
Cirkunov is big, strong and an excellent grappler, but he has been clipped and stopped before. And against Walker, who throws with phenomenal explosive power, Cirkunov will need to get his hands on the Brazilian and drag him to the mat early. How early? Well, just three fights ago, Cirkunov was knocked out by Volkan Oezdemir in 28 seconds in Stockholm. In his last outing, Walker dusted his last opponent Justin Ledet in just 15 seconds.
I’ll leave that with you.
Jon Jones to beat Anthony Smith via submission @ 17/10
Tyron Woodley to beat Kamaru Usman via KO @ 21/10
Askren to beat Lawler via decision @ 5/6
Walker to beat Cirkunov via KO @ 5/6