Preview and picks for UFC 235 in Las Vegas

Updated March 1, 2019 - 5:55 pm

A breakdown of the fights on the main card of UFC 235 on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:

Jon Jones (23-1, 1 No Contest) vs. Anthony Smith (31-13)

Class: For Jones’ light heavyweight title

Line: Jones -900

Storyline: Jones probably has the best resume in UFC history despite the chaos and controversy that have followed him. He has answered every challenge, solved every style and remained focused inside the cage regardless of what’s going on around him. Now, he’s dealing with a largely drama-free buildup to a fight against an opponent who is woefully overmatched. That might not be as easy as it sounds, as it represents a major deviation from the norm. Will Jones find motivation somewhere? He insists he’s taking Smith seriously, but he also might be trying to talk himself into it. Smith has plenty of ability and will fight with nothing to lose, making his aggressive style even more dangerous. Smith also is the first opponent that Jones has faced in his UFC career who is younger than he is. Smith said he thinks other opponents have been too caught up in Jones’ mystique and personal flaws, causing them to lose before the bell rings. Smith also stipulates Jones is a better martial artist but hasn’t been forced into a fight. All those things sound good until Jones is in the cage staring you down.

Hill’s pick: Jones by third-round submission

Fang’s pick: Jones by fourth-round knockout

———

Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) vs. Kamaru Usman (14-1)

Class: For Woodley’s welterweight title

Line: Woodley -160

Storyline: This is a fascinating matchup on paper that has just as good a chance of being a dud as it does of being wildly entertaining. Usman has steamrolled his most recent competition by using his smothering takedowns and top control in winning nine straight since capturing “The Ultimate Fighter” championship. But Woodley is an elite wrestler who mostly uses that base to keep opponents on their feet so he can land his lethal right hand. That probably will be his plan Saturday. Usman appears to be developing a striking game, but he hasn’t shown much finishing ability. If Woodley neutralizes the takedowns, it will be a major challenge for Usman. Woodley’s championship run hasn’t been tested by someone who might be able to take him down.

Hill’s pick: Woodley by decision

Fang’s pick: Woodley by second-round knockout

———

Ben Askren (18-0, 1 No Contest) vs. Robbie Lawler (28-12)

Class: Welterweight

Line: Askren -280

Storyline: Askren, a former Olympian, has used his wrestling to dominate all comers in winning championships in Bellator and ONE Championship, but his level of competition always been been questioned. Now that the contractual issues and personality conflicts have been settled enough to bring him into the UFC, he’s not exactly getting a soft landing spot. Lawler is a former champion and less than optimal matchup stylistically for Askren. Lawler has enough wrestling skills to make things difficult for Askren to get the fight to his comfort zone. Lawler has 20 wins by knockout, many the result of one big shot. If he can stay on his feet and has room to operate, he could spoil Askren’s debut.

Hill’s pick: Askren by third-round submission.

Fang’s pick: Askren by decision.

———

Tecia Torres (10-3) vs. Weili Zhang (18-1)

Class: Women’s strawweight

Line: Zhang -125

Storyline: Torres has faced the higher level of competition, as her dominant run at 115 pounds was interrupted by consecutive losses to top contenders Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2018. Zhang is largely unknown, but what she has shown has been impressive. Torres has started to get away from the style that earned her the “Tiny Tornado” moniker, as her recent efforts have been more measured. Zhang has heavier hands and is stronger on the mat, but Torres has experience in big fights.

Hill’s pick: Zhang by decision

Fang’s pick: Torres by decision

———

Cody Garbrandt (11-2) vs. Pedro Munhoz (17-3, 1 No Contest)

Class: Bantamweight

Line: Garbrandt -145

Storyline: Garbrandt was a one-man wrecking ball in the bantamweight division, winning the title before suffering the first two losses of his career in his last two fights against current champ T.J. Dillashaw. Garbrandt is athletic and has rare power for the 135-pound division. The biggest question seems to be whether he can recover mentally from the two losses. Garbrandt has a lot of speed and uses it effectively, and Munhoz likes to stand and trade shots for the opportunity to land a big one, but he’s also skilled with his feet.

Hill’s pick: Munhoz by third-round submission

Fang’s pick: Garbrandt by first-round knockout

More MMA: Follow at CoveringTheCage.com and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

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