Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead Jon Jones’ latest title defense as he faces Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jon Jones (Record: 23-1-1, -800 Favorite, Fighter Grade: A++)
The 31-year old Rochester, NY born fighter is the consensus number one mixed martial artist in the world. In 25 fights, his hand has been raised in all but one of those matches. The lone time it wasn’t raised was due to a disqualification in a fight he was winning decisively. Jones returns to action less than three months after finishing Alexander Gustafsson via TKO. It’s the quickest Jones has fought after the conclusion of a fight since 2011.
The long time Jackson’s MMA product is the top fighter in the world for many reasons. To start, physically he’s very gifted in that his 84.5” inch reach is right near the top of the sport. Jones uses his length very well. He lands a whopping 2.32 significant strikes a minute more than he absorbs. That puts him right near the top of the UFC in that regard. He combines that with 95% takedown defense. Jones is difficult to hit and difficult to take to the mat. He mixes that defensive prowess with a creative striking game using a lot of unorthodox kicks. On the ground, Jones has as brutal of ground and pound as anyone in MMA. He delivers vicious elbows in top control and is capable of finishing in any fight from that position. If there’s any weakness in Jones game it’s lack of big-time power. With that said, he’s put on muscle mass in his time out of the cage and it’s plausible he will move up to heavyweight in the near future to challenge for that championship as well.
Anthony Smith (Record: 31-13, +550 Underdog, Power Ranking: B)
The 30-year-old veteran has been on the best run of form of his career winning six of his last seven fights. Smith has earned consecutive victories over former UFC Light Heavyweight champions by knocking out both Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua in back to back fights. More impressively, he finished in form light heavyweight Volkan Oezdemir in the third round to earn his shot at Jones at UFC 235.
The Factory X fighter has fought in many of North America’s biggest promotions prior to joining the UFC in 2016. Smith was a massive middleweight at 6’4” with a reach of 76 inches. Smith utilized his size well to beat up on smaller fighters. He’s good on the feet with powerful hands and underrated technique. As he is a power puncher, his striking volume is around the median for light heavyweight at just 3.49 significant strikes per minute. Defensively, he is a big target and tends to get hit absorbing 4.14 significant strikes a minute. In the past, he had struggled with conditioning and tended to slow down after the opening round. He was a fighter that had a very good five minutes and regressed after that. He has shown improvements moving up to light heavyweight where he has been less drained after the weight cut. A major weakness in his game is grappling. His takedown defense is just 46% and he can be controlled there by a strong wrestler. Durability is another concern as he has been finished in 12 of his 13 losses albeit most of those losses coming early in his career.
After beating Alexander Gustafsson for the second time in one of his most decisive wins to date, Jon Jones elected for one of the quickest turnarounds in his career when he takes on Anthony Smith at UFC 235. “Lionheart” is on a terrific run of form to earn this opportunity, but on paper it is a true mismatch. Jones is the much longer fighter with a seven-inch reach advantage. Nobody uses their length more effectively in the Octagon than the light heavyweight champion and I expect Smith to struggle to get inside and land. Furthermore, Jones lands a significant strike more per minute than Smith does, but perhaps more importantly gets hit 50% less than Smith does over the course of the fight. The biggest advantage for Jones is in the grappling. Smith has poor takedown defense at just 46% which is something that the champion can exploit early and often if he decides to do so. On the ground, Jones is a brutal fighter to face. His elbow strikes from top position are right at the apex of the sport and furthermore he’s very good at advancing position and finishing fights via submissions. Smith has done a great job to get to this point, but he’s completely out matched in this fight. Jones has him beat in every statistical category. It’s one of the only title fights in recent memory where there is such a statistical edge for one competitor. After a brief feeling out process, look for Jones to completely out class Smith and earn a finish in the second or third round. Jones is a safe bet in any parlay this weekend. With the inside the distance prop currently at -400, that is the best way to utilize it as he should have no problem earning the finish.