UFC 235, on Saturday night in Las Vegas, has a stacked card. But controversy looms over the event -- from Jon Jones’ ongoing pattern of failed drug tests and Kamaru Usman unabashedly jumping the line to face welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Jones, whom many consider the greatest mixed martial artist in history, returned to the Octagon in late December at UFC 232 and dismantled Alexander Gustafsson in a controversial light heavyweight rematch.
On the week of UFC 232, it was revealed Jones had tested positive for Oral Turinabol in a drug test conducted earlier in the month. Nevada's athletic commission would not sanction the fight, but California's -- buying the explanation that the metabolite found in Jones’ system was from an old ingestion (which led to a suspension following UFC 214) -- would. To keep Jones on the bill, the entire event was moved from Las Vegas to the The Forum outside Los Angeles on just six days' notice.
Jones ended up beating Gustafsson via third-round TKO, more decisively than he did when they first met in 2013 and the fight went to the scorecards. Following the victory, Jones promised to be more active in 2019 and is making a quick turnaround to face the fast-rising Anthony Smith.
Then the same this happened this week: Drug tests from mid-February came back positive for trace amount of the same metabolite, according to MMA Fighting. This time, the Nevada Athletic Commission rubber-stamped Jones' license to fight.
UFC talks a big game about having a clean sport, then continues to cater to Jones and book him to headline major events, even as he flunks pre-fight drug tests. UFC has and will continue to cover for Jones, as long as the dollars keep rolling in.
Jon Jones (23-1, 1 NC) vs. Anthony Smith (31-13), light heavyweight title
Smith, a 30-year-old veteran of more than 40 professional fights, earned this shot at the belt by racking up three consecutive stoppages in 2018. Smith is a lanky fighter who possesses heavy hands and the will to march forward. Jones will try to avoid a brawl and use his world-class wrestling and ground-and-pound.
Prediction: Jones, via second-round TKO
Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) vs. Kamaru Usman (14-1), welterweight title
The co-main event is a phenomenal matchup of high-level MMA strategists. But that's not the biggest story here. Instead, it's No. 1 ranked welterweight Colby Covington getting skipped over for the title shot due to a contract dispute. The trash-talk master is one of the most despised fighters in UFC.
MMA fans and pundits are prone to complaining that UFC pushes for the "money fight" over sticking to a pecking order of contenders. But Covington is not only the most deserving welterweight, he is the biggest-money matchup UFC could make for Woodley. The welterweight title is being devalued here, and it will end up being a huge misplay if Usman, a relentless, pace-pushing wrestler, takes out Woodley before we get to the Covington title fight.
Expect the 36-year-old Woodley, the undisputed champion since UFC 201 in 2016, to lean on his experience and unmatched patience. Woodley has a cannon for a right hand and waits to unload it. A prestigious collegiate wrestler himself, Woodley also has the ability to cancel out Usman’s biggest weapon.
Prediction: Woodley, via second-round KO
Ben Askren (18-0, 1 NC) vs. Robbie Lawler (28-12, 1 NC), welterweight
Askren, who finished sixth in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Olympics, is making his highly anticipated UFC debut after years of playing his trade in Bellator and ONE Championship. He draws Lawler, a former welterweight champion, with the winner moving one step closer to the title. Expect Askren to be methodical in using his world-class grappling to earn an uneventful victory.
Prediction: Askren, via decision
Cody Garbrandt (11-2) vs. Pedro Munhoz (17-3, 1 NC), bantamweight
If the versatile Munhoz can pull off a victory, it would shock the MMA community and skyrocket him up the division rankings. Expect Garbrandt, coming off back-to-back knockout losses, to be less reckless and show why he once wore the UFC gold.
Prediction: Garbrandt, via first-round KO
Zabit Magomedsharipov (16-1) vs. Jeremy Stephens (28-15), featherweight
The charismatic Magomedsharipov will try to prove he’s not a flash in the pan when he faces the battle-tested Stephens. Magomedsharipov is the full package: wide array of strikes combined with elite grappling skills. But he never has faced an opponent as experienced as Stephens.
Prediction: Stephens, via decision