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UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Jones vs. Smith for UFC 235 and everything you don’t about the dead bodies on your couch.

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Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith headlines UFC 235 this March 2, 2019 at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada.

One sentence summary

David: Week Ends at Bernies

Phil: Lionheart sent into the den of the Christian (Philippean 4:13) to be sacrificed


Record: Jon Jones 23-1-1 NC | Anthony Smith 31-13

Odds: Jon Jones -840 | Anthony Smith +660

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: I’m actually kind of surprised we’re at a point where Jones has successfully entered the cage (consecutively!). Where he’s successfully avoided the wrath of whatever governing organization wants him to pee in a cup (sort of). Where he’s paying Dana White’s blackjack bills. It’s all kind of exciting, in a perverse UFC kind of way. Jones has successfully, effectively, and often effortlessly dealt with every octagon obstacle in his path. Anthony Smith feels like less of an obstacle than what Jones is used to. What that means for us in the long run is what makes this matchup kind of fun.

Phil: The most bizarre thing about Jones is his transformation into the face of stability in the modern UFC. With almost every men’s division tied up with (largely dumb) superfights, or injuries, or champions sitting out, the onus is on Tyron Woodley and Jones to be the steady company men. I think that post-suspension Jones is finding a new enjoyment in the punch in, punch out reliability of defending his belt against all comers. Sure, he failed another couple tests for turinabol metabolites, but at this moment it’s just part of the faintly corrupt routine.

David: There aren’t many stories like Smith. He’s someone who had a journeyman’s credentials, but suddenly he has the contender passport. There’s a little bit of luck at play here. I know some people have issues with “luck” — I don’t. Like anything else, there are varieties of luck just like there are varieties of freedom. Smith wasn’t lucky to destroy and dispatch Shogun. He was lucky that the division was in a state where beating Shogun put him into meaningful contention. That’s typically the way it goes with the laws of physics: whatever goes up past 205 tends to come back down — even when it’s just a gnat that’s dragging you down.

Phil: Anthony Smith has a record which is studded with bumps and low points. Not only did he have his own substance abuse and driving issues (something which has allowed him to take a sanguine view on Jones’ own mishaps), but his professional career has been much rockier than Jones’ ever was. Smith fought in racetracks, and strip bars, and on dirt floors, and it’s notable that all that happened because he wasn’t winning all that many fights. Jones, comparatively, was fast-tracked to the UFC and subsequently title contention because he won and won big right from the beginning. Over time Smith has hacked and clawed his way to light heavyweight, and to his own title shot. It’s worth remembering how many of history’s great combat sports upsets have been in the heavier divisions: Douglas over Tyson, Braddock over Baer, Wepner-Ali (sort of). This is not only an inspiring example for people like Smith, but a reminder: those upsets were enabled because the big boy divisions are just historically not very good.

What’s at stake?

David: Is there a higher stakes fighter in the UFC than Jon Bones Jones? Not only do the stakes seem high with ever punch, kick, takedown, or elbow that lands on him — because people badly want to see if losing might humanize him. But you also have the non-shadow of Daniel Cormier. Then there’s whatever whacky news that inevitably occurs after a Jones fight.

Phil: Assuming he passes all his tests, and that he doesn’t implode in any way afterwards (those who think that Jones has somehow sorted himself out in some more long-term way in this latest run are, to my money, completely insane) this is just another marker on the wiki entry for Jones, and a chance to author a historic upset for Smith.

Where do they want it?

David: As we’ve said before, Jones is not a philosopher. There’s no theory or posturing at work. That doesn’t mean he’s unthinking: just that there’s no identity or pattern from fight to fight in Jones’ game. A less pompous analogy is poker. Matt Damon taught me that you can either play the cards, or play the man. Jones plays the man. He’s constantly either bluffing or calling his opponent’s bluff. That’s not even much of an analogy. Remember when he fooled Cormier into thinking that the fight was over? I say all of this to not only avoid describing Jones’ habits, but because I think he’s just a natural born killer. A lot of fighters get into the sport for various reasons: pushing yourself to the limit, teaching yourself discipline, making money, etc. There’s another category: people who just like hurting others. If that sounds unfair, creepy, or hyperbolic — keep in mind that Jones injured a pregnant woman in a hit and run accident, and recalls the incident by saying “LOL, even a garbage man criticized me, but I humbly take it, but I’m not the villain, haters gonna hate Rogan!” more or less. Jones just loves to hurt people for money. There’s no sympathy switch. He’s actually Clubber Lang.

Phil: Jones was already the best light heavyweight to ever step into the ring or cage in MMA, and so the recent improvements we’ve seen from him have to be leaving the rest of the division with a sinking feeling. Over the course of his last two fights he’s evolved from an accurate if somewhat gawky range striker into someone who actually watches punches coming back at him, responds calmly, and circles away from pressure. He’s not a devastatingly skilled striker, but seeing as this is 205 he doesn’t need to be, and more to the point it’s probably the worst part of his skillset. From top position and the clinch Jones remains virtually unparalleled.

David: I’m still not sure who Smith is. If you watched his fight against Shogun, you’d think he was confident, surgical striker, who can switch between sweeping pressure and counter intelligence. If you watched him fight Andrew Sanchez, you would think he’s a gangly gun slinger with minimal technique, and wild impulses. The fact that Smith even falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum doesn’t bode well for his chances. To his credit, Smith is still a ‘Vanilla Dangerous’ fighter. As in, his punches are hard, and he can sequence his right hand and left hook with urgency. He’s also skilled enough on the ground to be able to capitalize on opportunities that he gets. What he isn’t is consistent in any one phase, and that’s what makes him the rightful underdog.

Phil: Anthony Smith is a man defined by inconsistency. Sometimes he can look like a crafty striker, lining up a clean jab, sneaky overhand and check hook. At other points he’s just a defensive void who soaks up damage and gets mad. At least on the surface, Smith is going to get chances to operate at the range he likes. He does like to fight long, and has the frame to contest the champion. However, his chances beyond that tend to dissipate. He’s historically poor at checking leg kicks, and Jones liberally attacks every available target. More than this, he tends to head-hunt, especially in recent fights, and while Jones remains open to the body and legs, most opponents become obsessed with stepping in to land their shots. Most concerning is the fact that Smith was taken down and controlled by Volkan Oezdemir, and Jones showed a long-dormant offensive wrestling game in his last fight. While Smith has been dangerous from his back, it’s just not somewhere you want to be against Jonathan Dwight Jones.

Insight from past fights

David: I want to shoehorn a Anthony Johnson comparison just because Johnson is the one fighter I feel would truly threaten Jones on the feet, but I can’t because Smith is nothing alike. What I’ll say is that Smith’s best chance is to vary his attack up as quickly as possible before getting taken down. He has an arsenal that’s solid. Jones is only ever disrupted by single moves: not a sequence of them. In other words, Smith needs to pull off the vaunted Superman Jab Axe Kick Flying Kesa Basama into an Inverted Heel Hook.

Phil: Against Gustafsson, Jones was able to circle away from the Swede’s jab, in part because Gustafsson had no real change-up to chase him down with- he doesn’t have much of a cross or overhand in his arsenal. While Smith is less durable and physically gifted than Gustafsson, he does at least have an overhand that could potentially catch Jones off-guard.


David: Will they find the dead body on Smith’s couch before fight time?

Phil: Smith is a weird dude. I’m not sure how he reacts under pressure- he could come out and synthesize the pieces of what looks like it could be a reasonably cohesive technical game in a career-best performance, or he could just disintegrate while shouting at himself.


David: Smith’s best chance is that Jones breaks his toe again, or something. Jon Jones by D’Arce, Round 2.

Phil: No real surprises- this is a nightmare matchup for Smith where Jones is better in almost every conceivable area. When not fighting against old dudes, Smith has largely won through durability and cardio, and even there Jones is clearly a class ahead. Smith was exhausted at the end of three rounds with Volkan Oezdemir, while Jones clearly outlasted both Gustafsson and Cormier. Jon Jones by TKO, round 2.

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