Anthony Smith will be looking to shock the world as he takes on pound-for-pound great Jon Jones in the main event of UFC 235.
Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones claims he’s singularly focused on cleaning out the division. But how can he focus on 205 when it feels more and more like the only challenges left for him are north in the heavyweight division? Anthony Smith will be looking to prove that’s not the case as he tries to upset one of the greatest champions the sport has ever seen at UFC 235.
The saga of Jon Jones has had several acts, and it is not quite clear which one we are in. After Saturday, one could argue that the division has officially been swept and that no contender feels as legitimate as a move up to heavyweight does at this stage of his career. What else is left after all? He was the youngest champion to ever win a UFC title. He has broken the record for title defenses in the division and in December regained the championship with another emphatic performance against an elite rival. Names like Thiago Santos and Johnny Walker are on the horizon at 205. But how can one clamor for those fights when the lure of matches with Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, and Stipe Miocic are at heavyweight?
Questions about his ability to stay out of trouble will continue to follow him, and it is on him to avoid further controversy. But he also can not be disparaged for things he has not done. No matter the talk of picograms, his victory over Alexander Gustafsson stands after the ruling of several different authorities. As of this writing, there is no issue going into the fight with Smith on Saturday. He is doing exactly what fans hoped he would do: he is back in action, avoiding trouble, and staying active like he’s making up for lost time. So far in 2019, he is taking the right steps to show he is serious about coming back and resuming what many thought would be one of the greatest MMA careers ever seen.
I’m just getting started!!! Thank you to everyone who has supported me this past year. Special thanks to @espn and @arielhelwani for the platform you provide. I have something special in store for you all in 2019!!! #Lionheart pic.twitter.com/6KAl5Zj3kW
— Anthony Smith (@lionheartasmith) January 3, 2019
The man who can put an end to any talk about the future is the powerful Anthony Smith. Fans who are surprised by Smith’s most recent run are likely unfamiliar with his work before entering the UFC. Far from a young upstart, “Lionheart” is among the most battle-tested veterans in the UFC who by the numbers carried more experience than even Pride legend Mauricio “Shogun” Rua when they met. Let it be predicted here, if he shocks the world on Saturday, the story will be how the experiences of his entire career prepared him to pull off the feat.
Most impressively, Saturday night will be close to one year since arguably one of his most disappointing losses to date. On a three-fight win streak, he looked poised to have his breakthrough at 185 prior to encountering fellow knockout machine Thiago Santos. It prompted the move up to light heavyweight where he has easily enjoyed the best streak of his career. He quickly dispatched former champion Rashad Evans and just over a month later did the same to another former champion in “Shogun” Rua. He finished his 2018 campaign by overcoming former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in a bout where he survived a great effort from one of the division’s most dangerous strikers.
The key to a Smith victory will be to use his formidable weapons to full effect. If Jones is looking to keep him at a distance, then he should look to chop away at his mobility with powerful leg kicks. Conversely, he should learn from Jones’ fight with Gustafsson and check kicks early as that is how the champion hampered the last challenger. Smith is the most powerful striker Jones has faced in many years and he should look to get into the pocket where he is at his most dangerous and “Bones'” ridiculous reach is nullified.
Jones’ wrestling figures to be the difference-maker in the fight should he find himself in trouble on the feet against Smith. Though not often utilized, his ground-and-pound from the top is among the most dangerous and being able to time Smith on entry for a takedown will take away the challenger’s biggest threat. While Smith has never gone beyond the third, Jones should not rely on taking him into deep water as the challenger figures to be in better physical condition as he does not have to cut the extra weight to 185.
An Anthony Smith upset virtually guarantees a rematch with Jon Jones later this year. For Jones, it is hard to imagine fighting top contender Thiago Santos next when a move up to heavyweight for a fight with Daniel Cormier could be the biggest event of 2019.