UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was never really challenged by Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
But Jones was briefly in danger of losing his belt.
In the end, Jones retained his title with a one-sided 48-44 unanimous decision on all three scorecards after delivering a workmanlike performance.
In the co-main event, Kamaru Usman dominated Tyron Woodley for five rounds to win the welterweight title by unanimous decision.
Jones was in control when he landed an illegal knee to a downed Smith in the closing seconds of the fourth round.
He was docked two points, but Smith elected to continue after he was checked by the cageside doctor.
“I know as well as anyone I could have sat there and taken the DQ win, but I wanted to win the belt,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to steal it.”
Jones cruised to the finish line in the fifth round with an even more cautious approach then he employed earlier in the fight.
“This (MMA) thing is really hard,” said Jones, whose only career loss was by disqualification to Matt Hamill in 2009. “Some days you will look amazing, and some days you won’t perform at the level you hold yourself to. That being said, hat’s off to Anthony Smith. Now I know why they call him ‘Lionheart.’
“It was a different style for me, but I felt it was necessary. My strikes weren’t affecting him at all.”
Smith said during the buildup that his advantage was in having nothing to lose as a massive underdog and he planned to throw caution to the wind.
Instead, he was hesitant to attack and appeared confounded by Jones’ style, much like most of his previous opponents.
“I did exactly what I said in all the interviews I couldn’t do,” Smith said. “I sat back and let Jon Jones be Jon Jones.”
Usman won the welterweight belt by employing the same smothering style he has in every other bout during the nine-fight winning streak that earned him a title shot.
Only this time, he did it to a high-level wrestler in Woodley who has been the champion since 2016.
“When it comes to mixing it up, I can do it better than anyone,” Usman said. “You think I’m going to wrestle and then I strike you, you think I’m going to strike and I grapple you. I confuse them, and I break them.
“It feels amazing to be the first Nigerian champion, I’m putting my country on the map, and I can’t wait to bring the UFC back to my home.”
Usman set the tone in the first round when he wound up in top position and made Woodley pay for a guillotine attempt. He never let him get an inch of space the rest of the way despite Woodley backing up and searching for room to operate.
Usman did damage in tight spaces in the striking exchanges, particularly working Woodley’s body, but the real dominance came on the mat as he controlled the two-time All-America wrestler.
It was a better night for Woodley’s close friend and teammate.
Undefeated former ONE Championship and Bellator MMA welterweight champ Ben Askren made a successful UFC debut, but it was not without controversy.
After enduring an onslaught of punches on the mat after a slam, Askren rallied to secure a bulldog choke on former champ Robbie Lawler.
Referee Herb Dean thought Lawler was out as his arm momentarily appeared limp and stepped in to end the fight. Lawler immediately began protesting the ruling.
“I had it under his chin, and I thought it was tight, but I also thought there’s no way I’m getting this thing, but I was bleeding all over the place so I just squeezed as hard as I could,” a bloody Askren said. “Everyone is upset with Herb, but he came in and checked on Robbie, and Robbie gave him nothing, as a veteran that’s on Robbie, that’s not on Herb or me.”
Weili Zhang got the biggest win of her career by outmuscling Tecia Torres in a women’s strawweight bout.
Zhang picked her spots in the standup and then consistently overpowered Torres in the clinch and grappling exchanges on her way to her 19th straight win since losing her professional debut.
“I knew the fight could go anywhere, the grappling just happened.,” said Zhang, now 3-0 in the UFC. “It was no problem, I can wrestle or do jiu jitsu with anyone. I’m so pleased that I get to represent China. Hopefully I can be a better fighter and set an example for all of the up-and-coming fighters there.”
Bantamweight contender Pedro Munhoz got the best of a wild exchange in the final minute of the first round and stopped former champion Cody Garbrandt with eight seconds remaining in the round.
The victory was the seventh in eight fights for Munhoz. Garbrandt has lost three straight, all by knockout, after starting his career 11-0.
“I’ve never been dropped in a fight or in practice, I believe in my chin more than anything,” Munhoz said of abandoning any semblance of a traditional game plan and trading haymakers. “I knew I was capable of taking his shots and then giving my shots back. I was 100 percent sure that if I could connect with his chin that I could knock him out.”
Two rising stars remained unbeaten in their UFC careers with victories on the preliminary card.
Featherweight Zabit Magomedsharipov improved to 5-0 in the organization and won his 13th straight overall by winning the first two rounds and holding on for a unanimous decision over veteran Jeremy Stephens.
Light heavyweight Jonny Walker needed 36 seconds to knock out Misha Cirkunov and improve to 3-0 in the UFC with his three finishes coming in a total of 2:48, though he suffered a shoulder injury during a postfight celebration.
Another potential future contender, middleweight Edmen Shahbazyan, improved to 2-0 in the UFC and 9-0 overall with a 38-second knockout of Charles Byrd. Shahbazyan, a 21-year-old product of Ronda Rousey’s gym in Glendale, California, was more pleased with his second appearance in the octagon.
Welterweight veteran Diego Sanchez won his second straight fight by knocking out Mickey Gall with ground strikes late in the second round.
Also on the card, Cody Stamann won a unanimous decision over bantamweight Alejandro Perez, and Hannah Cifers took a split decision over Polyana Viana in a women’s strawweight bout.
Macy Chiasson knocked out Las Vegan Gina Mazany in the first round of a women’s bantamweight fight.
Main card results:
Jon Jones def. Anthony Smith, unanimous decision (48-44, 48-44, 48-44), to retain light heavyweight title.
Kamaru Usman def. Tyron Woodley, unanimous decision (50-44, 50-44, 50-45), to take Woodley’s welterweight title.
Ben Askren def. Robbie Lawler, welterweights, submission, first round (3:20).
Weili Zhang def. Tecia Torres, women’s strawweights, unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28).
Pedro Munhoz def. Cody Garbrandt, bantamweights, KO, first round (4:52).