UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith, on March 2 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, promised to be one of the most star-studded, action packed mixed martial arts events yet, and it certainly did not disappoint. The card was stacked with top ten fighters and two world champions, and although there were only three upsets on the night, nothing could have been more shocking than the dominant performance of Kamaru Usman as he usurped Tyron Woodley’s Welterweight throne.
Diego Sanchez (29-11) vs. Mickey Gall (5-2)
The first fight of the preliminary card of UFC 235 featured on ESPN was a Welterweight matchup between Diego Sanchez and Mickey Gall. Gall came out to prove that he’s more than just a world-class grappler. Gall absolutely opened up on Diego Sanchez over the first 90 seconds of the fight, and initially things did not look good for the underdog Sanchez. But, as the fighters settled in, Sanchez got a takedown midway through the round, and although Gall managed to stand back up twice, he was ridden and driven down again and again by Sanchez. The round ended with Sanchez on top, and I scored it 10/9 Sanchez.
The second round began with a visibly exhausted Mickey Gall, having exerted so much energy in the first 90 seconds of the very first round. Diego Sanchez hurt Gall early with a knee to the solar plexus, dropping Gall to the canvas. Sanchez couldn’t immediately get the finish, however he did secure position and deliver a meticulously violent ground and pound attack, combining elbows to both the head and body of the downed Gall. Referee Marc Goddard saw enough and called the fight a TKO after 4:13 of the second round.
Victor: Diego Sanchez, 2nd round TKO 4:13
Cody Stamann (18-2) vs. Alejandro Pérez (21-7-1)
The next fight featured a Bantamweight matchup between Mexico’s Alejandro Pérez and Cody Stamann. Both fighters spent the first few minutes of the fight finding their ranges, but things started to open up a bit after that with some nice exchanges. Stamann appeared to be more of the aggressor, with Pérez displaying patience and looking for the counter. Stamann attempted a couple of takedowns, but Pérez did a great job with his defense and kept the fight off of the mat. I gave Stamann the first round 10/9.
The second round began similarly to the first, with both fighters seemingly not yet in their rhythms. Again, Pérez showed great takedown defense in not allowing Stamann to take the fight to the canvas where he wanted it. But, Pérez did not generate enough offense, throwing strikes too sparingly and not stringing together enough combinations. I gave the second round to Stamann as well, and I had the fight 20/18 Stamann going into the third.
The third round began with a new sense of urgency from Alejandro Pérez, and he immediately picked Cody Stamann up and dropped him on his head. However, Pérez couldn’t secure position and allowed Stamann back up, which is really where Pérez wanted this fight to be anyway. Stamann slowed down a bit in the third, probably aware that the fight was his to lose. I gave the third to Pérez, and I had it scored 29/28 Stamann. Two out of three of the judges agreed.
Victor: Cody Stamann, unanimous decision
Misha Cirkunov (14-5) vs. Johnny Walker (17-3)
I can’t think of a more dangerous fighter to be facing right now in the UFC Light Heavyweight division than Brazil’s Johnny Walker. Walker had won 13 of his 16 professional victories by first round knockout or TKO, and like clockwork, he added yet another tonight. Walker delivered a vicious flying knee straight up the center to Misha Cirkuov’s face, knocking Cirkunov to the canvas. Walker pursued and followed up with hammer fists, and referee Herb Dean called the TKO at only 36 seconds of the very first round.
Victor: Johnny Walker, 1st round TKO :36
Jeremy Stephens (28-16) vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov (17-1)
In the featured bout of the preliminary card of UFC 235, we had a Featherweight fight between UFC staple Jeremy Stephens and Zabit Magomedsharipov. Jeremy Stephens looked like he came out ready to throw leather, but the patient Magomedsharipov didn’t engage, and looked to counter the aggression of Stephens. Magomedsharipov appeared to be conserving himself for the later rounds, and I thought that he clearly lost the first.
Zabit Magomedsharipov came out more aggressively in the second, and seemed to be finding his range against the much shorter Jeremy Stephens. Magomedsharipov finally went for a takedown midway through the round, and dragged Stephens around hard, trying to get his back. Magomedsharipov did get Stephens’ back, and got both hooks in, but then transitioned to mount. Zabit finished the round on top and in dominant fashion, and I had it all tied up going into the final round.
Stephens constantly applied forward pressure throughout the third, apparently also feeling that the entire fight depended on the round. Even though he appeared to be conserving himself for later rounds, Magomedsharipov seemed sluggish, and took a couple of hard looks up at the clock throughout the round. Both fighters opened up with twenty seconds remaining, and I thought that Jeremy Stephens did enough to steal this one from the favorite Zabit Magomedsharipov. However, all three judges did not see it that way, and Magomedsharipov won the unanimous decision 29/28, 29/28, 29/28.
Victor: Zabit Magomedsharipov, unanimous decision
Cody Garbrandt (11-3) vs. Pedro Munhoz (18-3,1)
The first fight of the main card of UFC 235 was a Bantamweight bout between Cody Garbrandt and Pedro Munhoz. Both fighters had a difficult time finding their ranges midway through the first round, but Munhoz landed several low kicks to the lead leg of Garbrandt, causing a visible limp early on. With the leg kick clearly bothering Garbrandt, Munhoz set up the high kick perfectly, rocking Garbrandt, and followed it up with a heavy punch that dropped him. Munhoz pursued, but Garbrandt got back up to his feet.
It seemed that Cody Garbrandt knew that it was now or never, and he opened up on Pedro Munhoz. He caught Munhoz with a heavy combination of punches, and Munhoz was visibly rocked. But, Munhoz hung in and showed an iron chin, returning a flurry of punches of his own, and caught Garbrandt on one of the exchanges, dropping Garbrandt again to the mat. Referee Marc Goddard was close by, and he called the knockout with only eight seconds left in the round.
Victor: Pedro Munhoz, first round knockout 4:52
Tecia Torres (10-4) vs. Weili Zhang (19-1)
The first and only women’s fight on the main card of UFC 235 featured a Strawweight matchup between China’s Weili Zhang and Tecia Torres. Both women had a hard time connecting in the first round, throwing punches and kicks from too far outside. Zhang did get Torres’ back after an exchange, but couldn’t capitalize on the position. In the final seconds of the round, Zhang secured a takedown and finished the round on top. I scored it 10/9 Zhang.
Weili Zhang had thrown several spinning attacks throughout the first round, but couldn’t really connect. She finally landed a spinning back fist on Tecia Torres early in the second, but Torres took it well and continued on. Both fighters seemed to have found their ranges in the second round, and Zhang really began to work her kicks, attacking Torres’ lead leg. Torres matched up well with Zhang in the round, but couldn’t keep up with Zhang’s volume of strikes. With ninety seconds remaining in the round, Zhang secured another takedown, but Torres reversed it and found herself in Zhang’s guard. Even though Torres ended the round on top, I still gave it to Zhang. I had the fight 20/18 Zhang going into the third.
Tecia Torres opened up the third round having found her rhythm, and having found a counter to the constant forward pressure by Weili Zhang. However, Torres’ sidekicks weren’t enough to stifle the Zhang’s aggression, and Zhang got another takedown midway through the round. Zhang couldn’t pass Torres’ half guard, and although she didn’t deliver a ton of damage from the top, she did more than enough to win the round and the fight.
Victor: Weili Zhang, unanimous decision
Robbie Lawler (28-12,1) vs. Ben Askren (18-0,1)
Ben Askren’s much anticipated UFC debut certainly did not begin the way that he expected it to. As the first round started, Askren did what we all knew he would and went for the takedown. But, Robbie Lawler reversed it, picked Askren up, and slammed him into the canvas. Askren hit his head hard and was in more trouble than he’d ever been before in his illustrious MMA career. Lawler delivered heavy punches from the top and opened up a big cut on Askren’s head with a heavy elbow.
Ben Askren managed to stand back up, but he was visibly weak, and it looked like the end was near. It seemed like Robbie Lawler was showing great patience in not putting himself into danger trying to get the finish too early, but he let Askren hang in for too long. Askren, the well-decorated collegiate wrestler, went for a takedown in desperation and managed to get Lawler to the canvas. During the scramble, he got his hands around Lawler’s neck in a bulldog choke.
It looked like it was tight, and that Lawler might have been in trouble. Referee Herb Dean was close by, and he not only tried speaking with Lawler, but also lifted Lawler’s arm to see if he was still conscious. Lawler didn’t respond, and his arm seemed to go limp by his side. Herb Dean called the fight, and Lawler hopped up in immediate protest, with Ben Askren limping away with his first UFC victory.
Victor: Ben Askren, first round submission 3:20, bulldog choke
Tyron Woodley (19-4-1) vs. Kamaru Usman (15-1)
In the first of two title fights of the night, Tyron Woodley defended his Welterweight throne against the challenger Kamaru Usman. Whether it was just an off night for Tyron Woodley, or if it was a perfect demonstration of the immense heart and prowess of Kamaru Usman, this was one of the most dominant usurpations of a champion in the history of mixed martial arts.
As the first round began, Kamaru Usman locked up with Tyron Woodley, and Woodley pulled guard and tried to lock up a guillotine choke. The guillotine wasn’t secure, and Usman found himself in great position against the reigning champion. Although Usman couldn’t capitalize much from the position, it was a good showing to have him presumably up on the scorecards so early in the fight. Usman controlled the remainder of the round, constantly pressuring Woodley, and it was 10/9 for the underdog going into the second.
Round two began with the same forward pressure from Kamaru Usman. Usman pressed Woodley against the cage and caught him with a heavy elbow on the break. Usman then got the chance to show his wrestling pedigree against the Division I NCAA standout Tyron Woodley. Usman took Woodley to the canvas, secured mount, and rode him for the remainder of the round, delivering a nasty array of short punches and heavy elbows from the top. If this wasn’t a 10/8 round, then I don’t know what is. I had the fight 20/17 going into the third.
Tyron Woodley started the third round with more of a sense of urgency, throwing heavy punches and beginning to work his kicks. But, Usman closed the distance quickly and again pushed Woodley back into the cage, working continuous short punches to the body. Usman was absolutely relentless from this position, delivering body punches, short and heavy knees, and foot stomps. Referee Marc Goodard separated the fighters in a somewhat questionable call, but Usman quickly secured the position again, providing the same punishment for Woodley.
Marc Goddard separated the fighters again, and with as much respect as I have for Goddard and his officiating experience, I would have to say that I strongly disagreed with both of these separations. Woodley did catch Usman with a heavy right hand shortly thereafter, but Usman again pushed Woodley back against the cage, and ended the round in dominant position. Woodley seemed to have no answer to the constant forward pressure of Usman, and I had the fight 30/26 going into championship rounds.
As the fourth round began, it became clear that even though Tyron Woodley is usually the bigger and stronger fighter at Welterweight, Kamaru Usman was the bigger and stronger fighter here, and that he was using that size and strength to dominate Woodley in every way. Woodley came into the fight with the more prestigious wrestling credentials, however Usman outwrestled Woodley at every opportunity. The fight really opened up near the end of the fourth, and Usman hurt Woodley with a flurry of heavy punches. It looked like Usman was going to get the finish, but Woodley hung on to limp into the fifth. I could have seen the fourth round being another 10/8, and the fight being 40/34 entering the fifth and final round.
The fifth round began with a desperate and outmatched Tyron Woodley attempt another poor try at a guillotine, only to have Kamaru Usman lift him and slam him into the mat. Usman found himself on top and in Woodley’s half guard, and Usman continued the same relentless punishment that he had been delivering throughout the first four rounds. Usman spent the remainder of the fifth round on top of a mentally and physically broken Tyron Woodley, and as the final horn blew, Kamaru Usman became the new UFC Welterweight champion of the world.
Victor: Kamaru Usman, unanimous decision
Jon Jones (24-1,1) vs. Anthony Smith (31-14)
In the second title defense of the night, Anthony Smith looked to provide an even greater upset than Kamaru Usman, with a win over reigning Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Unfortunately, that is something much easier said than done.
The fight began as a very technical kickboxing match, with both fighters looking calm and delivering methodical kicks. Anthony Smith landed a huge head kick early, and Jon Jones quickly closed the distance and pushed Smith against the cage. Much like Tyron Woodley, Smith would spend a significant portion of the fight in this idnadventageous position. While Smith did a decent job matching up with Jones throughout the first round, Jones threw more strikes overall and landed them with more accuracy. Unfortunately, compliments would be hard to come by for Smith from this point on.
Jon Jones really began controlling the pace in the second round, displaying a beautifully technical array of kicks to the legs, head and body of Anthony Smith. Smith did seem to find a bit of his own rhythm midway through the round, landing a couple of nice punches. But, again Smith could not match the volume and creativity of Jones’ striking. I had it 20/18 Jones going into the third.
The third round began with an intense forward pressure put on by Jon Jones, backing Anthony Smith into the cage, delivering short punishing knees and punches. After several minutes of this, Jones lifted Smith up and threw him to the canvas. From there, Jones maintained a dominant position, keeping his weight heavy on Smith while delivering damage any way that he could. Jones took the third, and it was easily 30/27.
The fourth round opened with Jon Jones becoming more and more creative with his kicks and elbows. Anthony Smith seemed demoralized as Jones effortlessly tossed him to the canvas. Jones continued battering Smith in the form of short punches and knees to the head and body. However, as the round was coming to a close, Jones clearly hit Smith with an illegal knee to the head, as Smith was a downed opponent. Referee Herb Dean called timeout, and went to replay to confirm the transgression.
This could have been an easy out for Anthony Smith. He could have told Herb Dean that he could no longer continue, and he could have gotten not only the victory, but also the Light Heavyweight belt, by disqualification. But, displaying a true “Lionheart” in every sense of the word, Smith told referee Herb Dean that he could go on, and the fight continued. And, in an extraordinarily rare turn of events, Dean took not one, but two points from Jon Jones for the infraction.
Anthony Smith began the fifth and final round with the highest sense of urgency that he had showed since the very first round. Unfortunately, it was short lived, and Jon Jones quickly regained control. Jones spent the round doing exactly what worked so well for him during the third and fourth, applying pressure to Smith against the cage, and perpetually pounding him with punches, knees and elbows.
I expected Jon Jones to win this fight. But, I also expected a better performance from Anthony Smith. Did Smith crumble under the pressure of finally standing across the cage from arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, or does Jon Jones just make his opponents look that bad?
Victor: Jon Jones, unanimous decision