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UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith staff picks and predictions

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Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for Saturday’s UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith pay-per-view card in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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The Bloody Elbow team has made its picks for UFC 235, and unsurprisingly it’s a unanimous agreement that Jon Jones will successfully defend his light heavyweight title against Anthony Smith. As for the co-main event, most are going with Tyron Woodler to win against Kamaru Usman. The majority of the team is also picking Robbie Lawler to spoil Ben Askren’s UFC debut.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith

Anton Tabuena: You know how much of an underdog you are, when people keep mentioning “heart” and “toughness” as Smith’s key traits on the match up. To be honest, I’m not even sure he beats Jones in that category either. We’ve seen crazy things in MMA, but at the end of the day, Jones is just far better on every facet of the game and it wouldn’t be logical to pick against him here. Jon Jones by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Smith is aggressive almost to a fault. He will make Jones work. But his willingness to go for the finish also presents opportunities for him to get finished. He’s never had the best takedown defense in the world either, and I don’t think Jones is going to open himself up to danger by playing around in Smith’s guard. There are just too many paths to victory for Jones. I’d love for Smith to win, but it’s not happening. Jon Jones by submission, round 2.

Fraser Coffeen: This will be one of those fights were contrarians in the comments pick Smith. They shouldn’t. Jon Jones, TKO

Zane Simon: The most interesting point in Smith’s favor as a title challenger is his ability to string aggressive offense together as a long, tall striker. It’s a challenge that few, if any of Jones’ recent opponents have been all that able (or perhaps willing, due to the extreme defensive holes it opens up) to do. Smith is happy to strike for strike at range, and shells up into awkward defensive positions on the back foot. But if he has someone hurt he puts together a serious blitz of power striking. Unfortunately for Smith being tough as hell is one of Jones’ most underrated qualities, alongside his cardio and clinch fighting. Smith’s willingness to fight wild will make the bout interesting, but it also might make it a violent finish. Jon Jones via KO round 2.

Staff picking Jones: Nick, Harry, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Dayne
Staf picking Smith:

Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman

Anton Tabuena: I’ve seen some people say that Usman is the newer, better version of Woodley. I just disagree. I think they have similar strengths, but Woodley is just a tad better in a lot of things. Unless someone gets cracked, I think most of this bout will be contested on the feet, where I believe Woodley has better boxing and more power. Perhaps more importantly since they have similar traits, the more experienced fighter in Woodley has also shown to have higher fight IQ and the better ability to adjust or implement a sound game plan. Tyron Woodley by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: This is a tough matchup for Woodley. Usman has excellent cardio, and while he’s not a great striker, he’s certainly more comfortable throwing in combination than even a few fights ago. He does throw with power and phase-shifts well, but can he outwrestle Woodley? I am not sure, even acknowledging Usman’s ridiculous strength. Usman’s pressuring also opens him up to the wicked counters that Woodley is known for, and that’s a problem for Kamaru. We could see plenty of slow moments in this one, or stalemates against the fence in the clinch that have the crowd booing and Dana White turning beet red. I believe if Usman can wear Woodley out early, he has a real chance of getting the W in the later rounds. But I’m still sticking with the champ to keep his belt and add to his resume as one of the best welterweights in UFC history. Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: The biggest checkmark in Usman’s favor here is his cardio. He can push a pace that I’d be surprised if Woodley could match flat out. Especially in late rounds. Woodley’s style is built for a level of energy conservation that I’m not convinced Usman will allow. Fortunately for Woodley, Usman tends to come in on straight lines, with his head up, throwing power. He should be primed for the big counter shots Woodley bases his game around. But, it is worth asking, how would that Demian Maia fight have changed if Maia were a stronger athlete? Or would Gastelum have won if he worked at a higher rate? Woodley via TKO round 3.

Staff picking Woodley: Nick, Harry, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Zane
Staff picking Usman: Tim, Fraser, Dayne

Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren

Anton Tabuena: Lawler has done well against a lot of wrestlers, while Askren hasn’t really been tested in loooong time. Apart from obvious disadvantages with his striking, Askren will be dropping back down to 170 lbs for the first time in years and I am not that convinced about his conditioning, especially if he doesn’t easily get his takedowns and rides. That said, I also am not convinced Lawler is still the same Lawler either. Really tough pick to make, but if Lawler has enough left in the tank, I think he should be able to cause Askren a lot of problems. I understand making Askren the favorite, especially at Lawler’s stage of his career, but I think the odds should be a lot closer. Five rounds would’ve made me more confident in my pick, but f--k it, I’m going for the upset. Robbie Lawler by decision.

Mookie Alexander: This could be like Martin Kampmann vs. Jake Shields for Askren. He could win but it’d be close and ugly and the crowd boos him out of the arena. There’s also the possibility that he just overpowers and outwrestles Lawler and dominates him from start to finish to get by far the biggest win of his career. I’m going with Lawler to keep the fight on the feet long enough that he’s going to tag Askren with some big shots and get the victory. This is really Robert Glenn Lawler’s last stand at the top of welterweight, and you damn well know he’ll fight his ass off to make sure he’s still at the top. Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: I guess the question here is: how much do I trust Lawler not to return to form? While his TDD improved a lot in his second run in the UFC, most opponents have taken him down at least once, and historically he’s had a tendency of getting frustrated by pure grapplers (Shields, Jacare, Miller etc) and getting too mad to calmly fight them off. I’m not really an Askren believer, I just think that Lawler is slipping back into being the fun, mid-card action fighter and back in those days, this was exactly the kind of fight he tended to lose. Ben Askren by unanimous decision.

Fraser Coffeen: I thought Lawler was done as a top level fighter when he lost to Nick Diaz. He wasn’t. I thought Lawler was done as a top level fighter when he lost to Lorenz Larkin. He wasn’t. I’m concerned that he’s done as a top level fighter now. Robbie Lawler, KO, R1

Zane Simon: I just can’t pick Askren here (mostly because I’m a diehard Robbie Lawler fan). There’s a great chance that his suffocating chain wrestling gets Lawler to the mat and sucks all the energy out of him in those early rounds where Lawler is trying to figure out what his opponent is up to. But, Askren just isn’t a dangerous enough fighter in any one moment. Even if he gets Lawler down, I’m not at all convinced he can finish him. And if he can’t finish him Lawler will have chances on his feet. If Lawler can adjust, he can absolutely work Askren standing. Robbie Lawler via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Lawler: Nick, Harry, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Askren: Shak, Phil, Tim, Fraser, Dayne

Tecia Torres vs. Weili Zhang

Anton Tabuena: This is a really close fight, and I think it boils down to Weili’s improvements. She has shown impressive growth from each fight out, but this is also a pretty big step up in competition for her. Tough pick, but I think Torres is savvy enough to beat her Chinese foe. Tecia Torres by decision.

Mookie Alexander: It’s Zhang’s physicality that basically tips the scales against Torres for me. And Torres is just not a finisher, so I’m sold on Zhang’s rise in the strawweight division and think she’ll get the W here. Weili Zhang by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Aguilar was meant to be a tough test for Zhang, and Zhang did not just pass it, she completely blew Aguilar away. This may be at least somewhat down to Aguilar’s physical decline, but she’s generally been a tough out for everyone. Notable was Zhang’s size and ability to maintain both distance and a pace, all of which have been problematic for Torres. This is another big step up for Zhang, and should be close and competitive. If it isn’t then it might be time to start thinking that we have another Suarez-level prospect in the division. Weili Zhang by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Tecia Torres is likely more technical than Weili absolutely everywhere. But, she was likely more technical than Jessica Andrade everywhere too. The thing with Torres is that she often seems like she wants to fight like a physically dominating fighter rather than a technically dominating fighter. And she’s strong for her size, but she’s also tiny. Weili is well rounded enough that she can likely meet and compete with Torres everywhere. And then she’s just bigger. If Torres isn’t willing to stick and move her way through this fight, then my guess is that Weili will just be able to be the bigger, stronger fighter when they tie up and turn that into a close win. Weili Zhang by decision.

Staff picking Torres: Shak, Anton, Tim, Dayne
Staff picking Zhang: Nick, Harry, Mookie, Stephie, Phil, Fraser, Zane

Cody Garbrandt vs. Pedro Munhoz

Anton Tabuena: This is a bout that Garbrandt should win. He’s a lot faster, and should have better technical ability too. But I’m not too confident he doesn’t just brawl a little too much, and leave his chin exposed too, so I don’t know. Cody Garbrandt by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Has anyone else seen the ads for Garbrandt on ESPN? Not even mentioning who the opponent is, and building this up as Cody’s path back to the title! They’re not even trying to hide how badly they want him to be champion again. Anyway, this is a dangerous fight for Cody. Munhoz has a lethal guillotine, serious offensive striking with a more diverse attack than Garbrandt, and a good chin to aid his otherwise porous defense. That said, he’s not faced too many super powerful punchers like Garbrandt, and that might be his undoing. There’s every reason to be concerned about Cody’s chin after the DIllashaw fights, but I think he will avoid Munhoz’s submission attempts and try and pick his shots carefully, and if the opportunity presents itself, he’ll unleash more heavy firepower to get the finish. Cody Garbrandt by TKO, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: There is a major, major chance that Garbrandt gets drawn into a brawl here and KOd. There are points in all his fights where he has been pulled into both swangin’ and also bangin’, but few could punish him for it in the way that Munhoz potentially can. However, the speed differential will be stark. Munhoz is something of a plodder, and while he’s become adept at kicking off his punches, he’s not much for actually closing the pocket down with round and low kicks as he’d need to be to cut off Garbrandt’s exits. Garbrandt hits extraordinarily hard and Munhoz is defensively porous but tough, so this may get ugly. Cody Garbrandt by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: My thought process for this fight looks something like this: I know what Pedro Munhoz can do against a Cody Garbrandt-ish level opponent. His highly competitive fights with Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson (even if he didn’t win) showed the sticktoitiveness of his pressure, volume striking style, coupled with an intensely dangerous grappling game. I honestly have no idea what Garbrandt can do against a fighter like Munhoz. I’ve seen him KO less durable men, and style on less comfortable strikers, but I’ve also seen him look uncomfortable against Henry Briones. His speed totally flummoxed Dominick Cruz, but Cruz also out-landed him in that fight. If Cruz were a harder puncher, a bigger sub threat, or just a busier striker, could he have won? I’ve also seen Garbrandt get KO’d twice, and most damnably the second time, by eating the same punch 4x in a row. I just don’t know how good you have to be to beat Cody Garbrandt. But I know that Pedro Munhoz is capable of competing at that level. Pedro Munhoz via submission, round 3.

Staff picking Garbrandt: Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Dayne
Staff picking Munhoz: Zane

Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Jeremy Stephens

Anton Tabuena: Zabit makes some mistakes on the feet, and he also constantly throws out a lot of flashy but high risk stuff as well. That could be dangerous against a guy like Stephens, but it’s not enough for me to pick against him. Zabit should have a big advantage when it comes to takedowns and grappling, and he might even be better on the feet as well. Zabit by decision.

Mookie Alexander: Stephens’ obvious chance here is his power punching, leg kicks, and the ability to capitalize on any mistakes Zabit can make on the feet. Beyond that, while Stephens has pretty good but not great takedown defense. Zabit has excellent wrestling and is way better on the ground. Therefore, Zabit Magomedsharipov by submission, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: Zabit is somewhat overplayed as a striker, but he is an excellent wrestler and submission grappler. Stephens has rarely showed any kind of ability to not walk himself directly into the clinch. So while there’s a significant chance that Zabit allows himself to get walked down and gets his leg kicked off before getting clubbed in the face, Stephens will also put himself in grappling-friendly situations over and over. Zabit Magomedsharipov by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Seeing all these picks for Zabit make me feel like I need to argue for Stephens (even though I’m picking against him). Stephens is an excellent wrestler -- when a wrestling attack is what he’s expecting. He’s rarely been submitted or finished, and forced Frankie Edgar into a pure kickboxing battle. If he can do that to Zabit, then I absolutely believe he can win that fight. Zabit is just a little too willing to trade shots in the pocket for me to feel comfortable that he wins the power battle with Stephens. And Stephens dramatically improved range jab/lowkick game give him a lot better chance of finding his way into the pocket behind those strikes. However, I’ve also seen Stephens lose too many kickboxing matches to fighters that can maintain range (including Edgar) and get out-wrestled by crafty wrestlers that he wasn’t expecting to take him down (like Oliveira). I’ve just seen Stephens lose too many fights. Zabit Magomedsharipov via decision.

Staff picking Magomedsharipov: Phil, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Stephens: Nick, Shak

Misha Cirkunov vs. Johnny Walker

Anton Tabuena: I’m unconvinced about Walker’s skillset still, and Cirkunov can expose that, but he has big power and at this weight, that matters a lot. [Insert Johnny Walker gets people unconscious joke] Johnny Walker by KO.

Mookie Alexander: Walker has devastating striking and it’s not like Cirkunov hasn’t been smoked early before. On the other hand… light heavyweight is the prime division for people we’re interested in watching getting a harsh reality check on the way to the top. Cirkunov’s wrestling and top control grappling will be the test for Walker to pass, and I’m skeptical that he can do so. Misha Cirkunov by submission, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: There is no reason to think that Johnny Walker is any good at all, as opposed to just being large and athletic. Perhaps he gives us a reason here? Misha Cirkunov by submission, round 1.

Zane Simon: Outside of those huge, flashy early KO’s Walker’s game is kind of a mess. He has moments of big dynamic offense from range, but those are followed by long clinch exchanges (where it’s clear he’s most comfortable). His wrestling and grappling games are largely built on his elite level speed and power rather than technique, and he’s fully capable of getting completely swamped on the mat for a round. On the flip side, Cirkunov is an exceptional grappler and wrestler as long as he’s the one in dominant positions. But I do worry intensely about his willingness to be overly relaxed in defensive spots (the clinch KO to Oezdemir and clinch takedown to Glover he gave up both suggest slightly that he’s not minding himself there). I’m picking Cirkunov to get Walker down, and find the early sub. But if he plays around at range or lets Walker off the hook for a second in the clinch, he could absolutely get slept in an instant. Misha Cirkunov via submission, Round 1.

Staff picking Cirkunov: Phil, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Walker: Nick, Shak, Anton, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Dayne

Cody Stamann vs. Alejandro Perez

Mookie Alexander: Does Perez have the quietest seven-fight unbeaten run in the UFC? Seriously, he’s not lost in his last seven! He’s admittedly not been overwhelming during this streak, as he was fortunate to beat Andre Soukhamthath and the Eddie Wineland fight was lackluster. That said, he’s improved leaps and bounds since TUF Latin America. Stamann is a workmanlike fighter who seems good everywhere but not great in any one specific area. I feel like Stamann could win this volume, but I get the sense that Perez could spring a surprise here. His takedown defense has been sturdy and I think he will edge out Stamann in what will mostly be a kickboxing match. Alejandro Perez by split decision.

Phil Mackenzie: A fight that should be very interesting if not all that exciting, just because both have well-defined tools for tackling the other at the area of their strength. Perez is a low to medium-pace kickboxer who is very hard to take down. Stamann is conversely at his most comfortable with a passive opponent where he can set up phase-shifts and kicking from range. While Perez should be able to fend Stamann off, he’s just not active enough for my liking, “turbo” nickname be damned, and given room to work Stamann is too diverse to not be able to pick up a few round-winning moments. Cody Stamann by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Perez is as fascinating to watch as he is boring. In any one instant he seems like a fighter eminently capable of losing to anyone. But his back-foot counter-punching and range kicking game, and the consistency with which he leans on both make him a constant challenge and solid round winner. Stamann is a much more diverse talent. A creative kicker, a reasonable counter-puncher, and a blitzing combination puncher. All melded with a pretty strong wrestler. But he’s not dominant in any one of those areas. He may have to show something like dominance in this fight to get a good win. But, I think his ability to get Perez down against the cage, along with his ability to trade equally in pocket exchanges (where Perez still gets hit a lot) should be enough to give him rounds. Cody Stamann by decision.

Staff picking Stamann: Nick, Shak, Phil, Anton, Stephie, Tim, Fraser, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Perez: Mookie

Diego Sanchez vs. Mickey Gall

Anton Tabuena: I haven’t been impressed with Gall’s UFC run at all. But I guess he has power despite not being the most technical striker out there, and Sanchez is better off retiring at this point. Mickey Gall by depressing KO.

Mookie Alexander: Sanchez has the cardio, wrestling, and grappling to beat someone like Gall. On the other hand, Gall is more athletic, and his striking might not be great but he does have power, and Sanchez’s chin is long gone. So as long as Gall plays it smart, I’ll go with him. Mickey Gall by KO, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Sanchez has retained enough durability and cardio that he can still outlast easy style matchups. Gall isn’t unwinnable from that angle- an awkward striker who has primarily gotten his wins via grappling. However, while he’s not a great striker, he’s a willing one who has power and he’s had a decent amount of time to develop some modicum of takedown defense since the Randy Brown loss. Honestly I’m just not willing to pick Diego any more. Mickey Gall by KO, round 1.

Zane Simon: Could Gall work himself into the exact same kind of loss that Marcin Held and Craig White picked up? Easily. Gall has, to date, been a porous defensive fighter in all areas, and has leaned heavily on his aggressive grappling skills. Sanchez, for all that his durability has faded, is still a very persistent, technical wrestle-grappler. But, that durability has faded a TON. Every shot seems to hurt Sanchez these days. And Gall is much bigger than Held and a much better athlete than White. All of which leads me to feel that he can probably find that one shot needed to hurt Sanchez bad enough to finish him. Mickey Gall via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Sanchez:
Staff picking Gall: Nick, Shak, Phil, Mookie, Anton, Stephie, tim, Fraser, Zane, Dayne

Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Charles Byrd

Mookie Alexander: Head movement! Charles Byrd by unanimous decision.

Phil Mackenzie: Hm. Shahbazyan is another of the Gunnar Nelson school of bouncy karate-esque wrestleboxers. He packs some good pop in his hands and fought through some tough spots against Darren Stewart, despite getting tired in the third. I was actually fairly impressed with Byrd in his own losing effort against Stewart- he showed good strategy and pressure, and constantly kept Stewart off-balance. In both cases, Shahbazyan and Byrd came with functional games but struggled with Stewart’s sheer power. Shahbazyan is younger and more durable, whereas Byrd trains with a better camp (Dallas-based Fortis MMA as opposed to Glendale). I’m going to take a flyer on Byrd, I think he’s just a bit more functional and I don’t trust Shahbazyan’s striking if he can’t get his somewhat messy takedown game rolling Charles Byrd by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: If this is a tale of two Stewart fights. Then it seems notable to me that Shahbazyan controlled the clinch a whole lot more. He may not have done much damage, but he was the one slowing the fight to a crawl. Byrd is more particularly dangerous, but I’m not at all convinced that if this becomes a grind, he can stay composed enough to win. Edmen Shahbazyan by decision.

Staff picking Shahbazyan: Nick, Anton, Tim, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Byrd: Phil, Mookie, Stephie, Fraser

Macy Chiasson vs. Gina Mazany

Mookie Alexander: I’m just glad Chiasson made weight, because that was my only real concern. Macy Chiasson by submission, round 1.

Phil Mackenzie: Chiasson looks like that most improbable of things: an actually decent pick-up from TUF, at women’s featherweight no less. I have a lot of time for Pannie Kianzad’s functional game, even if she has historically had a bit of a tendency to get overwhelmed at bantamweight, so I give a good deal of credit to that win. Macy Chiasson by submission, round 2.

Zane Simon: Both women end up clinch fighting a lot. For Chiasson, it’s clear that’s where she’s most comfortable creating powerful offense. For Mazany it seems like it’s where she gets stuck because she’s not strong enough to hit the takedowns she’s going for. That seems tailor made for Chiasson to bully her way to a win inside. Macy Chiasson via TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Chiasson: Nick, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Fraser, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Mazany: Tim

Polyana Viana vs. Hannah Cifers

Phil Mackenzie: Viana does not have much to her game beyond aggressive sub hunting, but it’s not entirely clear that Cifers even has any strengths as pronounced as that. Polyana Viana by submission, round 1.

Mookie Alexander: Big question here is whether or not Hannah Cifers also doubles as a potential mugger. If so, she’s screwed. If not… I still think Viana wins anyway. Polyana Viana by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Neither of these women have very complete games. And I like the style that Cifers is trying to put together a lot more in terms of building off solid fundamentals. But, those fundamentals aren’t that strong yet, especially not on defense. Viana is funkier and less composed, but she’s also more capable of wild aggression everywhere. My guess is that sooner or later she pulls guard and Cifers chases her and gets subbed. Polyana Viana via submission, round 2.

Staff picking Viana: Nick, Anton, Stephie, Mookie, Tim, Fraser, Zane
Staff picking Cifers: Dayne

Poll

Who wins the UFC 235 title fights?

This poll is closed

  • 56%
    Jones and Woodley
    (719 votes)
  • 14%
    Jones and Usman
    (184 votes)
  • 10%
    Smith and Woodley
    (135 votes)
  • 3%
    Smith and Usman
    (46 votes)
  • 14%
    Covington steals both belts, declares self champ-champ
    (191 votes)
1275 votes total Vote Now