The UFC has been promoting the two title fights as the highlights of the UFC 235 card and they can’t be faulted for that. Jon Jones could very well be the most dominant fighter in MMA history. He defends against ultimate underdog Anthony Smith. Tyron Woodley looks to further his legacy in hopes of overtaking Georges St-Pierre as the most dominant welterweight in MMA history. His task won’t be easy as many see Kamaru Usman as a new and improved version of Woodley. The UFC has good reason to promote these contests. However, it’s Ben Askren and Robbie Lawler who seem to be stealing the spotlight, Askren in particular. I haven’t even mentioned that former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt is on the card either. After bombing on UFC 234, the UFC is rebounding strongly with UFC 235.
The main card begins at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT on Saturday.
Robbie Lawler (28-12) vs. Ben Askren (18-0, 1 NC), Welterweight
It’s funny. Lawler is the former UFC champion with a string of fights that ranks among the most epic stretches of battles in the annals of the sport of MMA. And yet… the fighter who has yet to accumulate a single second of cage time in the Octagon and is known for his “boring” style that seems to have captured the fans attention. Huh….
On the surface, Lawler and Askren represents a modern striker vs. grappler contest. Lawler isn’t helpless on the ground and Askren isn’t useless on his feet, though it’s clear they are at a disadvantage in those areas. In the classic sense of this style of matchup, the grappler typically emerged victorious as it is easier to hold someone down over the course of 15 minutes than it is to land a killshot on someone looking to avoid such a strike. Does that still hold today?
Given the legendary battles Lawler has been in and the brutal KO’s on his record, it’s easy to forget Lawler’s base is that of a wrestler. True, he was never the NCAA champion or an Olympian like Askren, but Lawler wasn’t a slouch either. In fact, Lawler’s brand of wrestling may be better evolved for MMA on the whole as he tends to use it to stay standing. Given the idea of this contest being a striker vs. grappler, let’s call it wrestling in reverse, for old time’s sake. If Lawler can keep the fight standing, he’s sure to outstrike Askren.
The problem for Lawler is Askren is a different beast. The only person over the course of Askren’s career who had decent success standing was Jay Hieron… back in 2011. Askren was less than three years into his professional career at that point and still figuring things out. It could be argued Askren is at his best while Lawler doesn’t appear to be at the peak of his powers any longer. I’m as big of a fan of Brutal Bob Lawler as anyone. However, his loss to Rafael dos Anjos has me convinced Lawler’s days as an elite welterweight have come and gone. Lawler will stuff some takedowns and have a few bright moments, but Askren should score a comfortable decision. Lawler via decision
Tecia Torres (10-3) vs. Weili Zhang (18-1), Women’s Strawweight
At first glance, this is a lopsided contest. Torres has only lost to the best in the division. Why the hell is she facing an opponent whom nobody has heard of? Well, that’s only because Zhang hasn’t been elevated to a stage of this level to show what she can do. The Chinese representative is the best prospect to come from the world’s most populous country. Granted, Chinese MMA has only recently been coming into its own, but that compliment does mean something it wouldn’t have meant just a few years ago.
A well-rounded 29-year old, Zhang has had zero issues in running past Danielle Taylor and Jessica Aguilar. She picked apart the smaller Taylor on the feet while brutalizing a sturdy Aguilar on the ground. Torres is of similar size to Taylor – Torres may be the smallest fighter on the roster – but to expect Zhang to piece her up in a similar manner would be ludicrous. Torres is one of the most technically sound strikers on the roster, expertly using angles to make up for her lack of size. It won’t be easy for Zhang to get her down either. Torres should secure a competitive decision, though Zhang will certainly have flashes of brilliance. Torres via decision
Cody Garbrandt (11-2) vs. Pedro Munhoz (17-3), Bantamweight
Nobody knows what to make of Garbrandt at this point. The former bantamweight champion has only fought twice in in the last two years, the two KO losses to Dillashaw. Prior to those losses, there had been reports of concussions suffered by Garbrandt in sparring sessions. There are serious concerns Garbrandt’s once-promising career could be headed on a quick and sudden decline. Given Munhoz has some nice pop in his fists, it isn’t inconceivable to believe he’s headed for a third straight loss following 11 straight wins to open his professional career.
Despite the potentially grim narrative, there are several reasons to believe Garbrandt can right the course of his career. First, there is no shame in losing to the likes of Dillashaw. He is a two-time champion for a reason. Second, Munhoz is far more hittable than the shifty Dillashaw. In fact, Munhoz, for all of his plentiful positives, is one of the most hittable fighters populating the top ten of any division. Garbrandt’s natural power is accentuated by his supreme boxing technique and accuracy. Given Munhoz’s tendency to spend a lot of time in the pocket – largely because he doesn’t have much of a choice due to his short reach – it’s hard to believe Munhoz won’t get rocked at some point.
Some believe Munhoz has a clear-cut advantage on the mat as he’s one of the best fundamental grapplers in the division, if not the best. However, Garbrandt has yet to be taken down in his UFC career. It’s not like Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz are exactly poor wrestlers. I might be willing to pick Munhoz for the upset if I felt confident in his ability to get the contest to the ground, but that doesn’t seem like a strong likelihood. Munhoz has one of the best chins out there, so it’s hard to decide if the contest goes the distance or not. I’m picking Garbrandt, but I’m flipping a coin to decide how it ends. Garbrandt via TKO of RD2