UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones wasn’t feeling well during Thursday’s news conference to promote tickets for his UFC 235 title defense going on sale, but he was feeling great overall.
“I feel like right now, I’m at my absolute best,” he said through a strained voice because of a minor illness during the event at the MGM Grand. “Fighting against (Alexander) Gustafsson just a few weeks ago and being able to piggyback off that win and go into another camp. Starting camp already in shape. Coaches, the vibe amongst the team already strong. I feel great.”
Jones will put the belt on the line against Anthony Smith on March 2 at T-Mobile Arena two months after he defeated Gustafsson at UFC 232 in Inglewood, California.
It will be the quickest turnaround he’s had since 2011 when he first won the belt from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua five weeks after earning the shot with a quick submission of Ryan Bader. Since then, he’s battled a series of suspensions and periods of inactivity that have kept him from settling into a regular schedule. He fought just one time in each of the last five years and has had the belt stripped twice.
It hasn’t stopped Jones from firmly establishing himself as one of the most dominant fighters in the history of the UFC. He’s been so good when he actually does get in the cage that there are questions about whether he has run out of competition.
Smith will be the next challenger to step up and he faces long odds as more than a 10-to-1 underdog.
“It’s flattering,” Jones said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a very dangerous position to be in when you’re fighting a guy who no one expects to do well.
“I take Anthony Smith extremely serious. He has 40 fights, he has double the experience I have and we’re going to treat him like that type of person despite how other people feel about it. He’ll get my undivided, full attention.”
There is little reason on paper to believe Smith can be the one to dethrone Jones. Smith moved up to light heavyweight less than a year ago after a moderately successful run at middleweight and immediately made a splash with knockouts of former champs Rua and Rashad Evans. He then rallied for a late submission comeback victory over contender Volkan Oezdemir in October to stake a claim on a potential title shot.
Now he’s got a chance to shock the world in March.
“I’ve been doubted my entire career,” Smith said. “I’m a small town kid from Nebraska, I’m not supposed to be here anyway, so we strip the name and face and get down to the problem ahead of us. No one’s ever counted on me to win.”
The event will also include a welterweight title bout between Kamaru Usman and champion Tyron Woodley, who had a spirited exchange at Thursday’s news conference.
Former women’s bantamweight champion Holly Holm won’t be in action at UFC 235 as originally announced against Aspen Ladd. The organization may have bigger plans for Holm.
A report in Brazil over the weekend suggested Holm will instead challenge Amanda Nunes for the women’s bantamweight title in May on the UFC 237 card in Curitaba. UFC officials would not confirm the report, but Nunes didn’t deny it when asked by reporters backstage at the UFC Fight Night 144 event on Saturday.
“She’s the only former (bantamweight) champion I haven’t fought yet,” Nunes said. “That would be very interesting to me.”
The octagon moves down under this week with UFC 234 scheduled for Melbourne, Australia, on Saturday night.
A pair of middleweight bouts will headline the pay-per-view event as champion Robert Whittaker puts his belt on the line against Kelvin Gastelum in the main event.
Former champ Anderson Silva also will be in action against rising star Israel Adesanya on the card that will take place on Sunday in Australia in order to air in the UFC’s usual Saturday night timeslot in the U.S.
The pay-per-view broadcast will start at 7 p.m. with four fights from the preliminary card airing on ESPN at 5.
■ Saturday: Bellator 215 (Paramount), Newcastle, England
■ Saturday: UFC 234 (PPV), Melbourne, Australia
■ Feb. 15: Invicta FC 34 (Fight Pass), Kansas City, Kan.
■ Feb. 15: Bellator 216 (Paramount), Uncasville, Conn.
■ Feb. 16: Bellator 217 (Paramount), Uncasville, Conn.
■ Feb. 17: UFC on ESPN 1 (ESPN), Phoenix