By Hal Estep
Ahead of Saturday’s UFC 235, Columnist Hal Estep gives his takes and preview the fights before the action gets underway.
Cody Garbrandt vs Pedro Munhoz
Former UFC Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt is fighting for the first time since his second loss to current Bantamweight champ, TJ Dillashaw. Garbrandt is 11-2, and has not won a fight since December of 2016, when he beat Dominick Cruz for the title. At UFC 235, he goes up against Brazil’s Pedro Munhoz, who has fought 5 times since Garbrandt’s last victory with a record of 4-1.
Munhoz has the edge in momentum, but Garbrandt’s edge lies with the quality of his defeats. Garbrandt has only ever lost to the current champion, while Munhoz has lost to the likes of John Dodson, Raphael Assunção and Jimmie Rivera. Those are solid fighters, but they aren’t on the same level as TJ Dillashaw. However, Dillashaw exposed an element in Garbrandt’s style in their last fight that Munhoz may be able to exploit.
“Every time he (Garbrandt) throws a right hand, he drops his left,” Dillashaw told (ATTRIBUTE). “He’s looking to throw a left hook. He throws a big right, left hand. But he drops it to his pocket.”
Dillashaw rocked Garbrandt by using that timing to his advantage. It will be interesting to see if Munhoz can take notes from the champ, or if Garbrandt has fixed that weakness. Another factor to consider is that Cody Garbrandt has knocked down every opponent he has faced. With all of this in mind, Cody Garbrandt should be the favorite to bounce back and win.
Prediction: Garbrandt by 2nd Round TKO
Tecia Torres vs Weili Zhang
The second fight on UFC 235’s main card is the only women’s bout of the evening in the strawweight division. Like Cody Garbrandt, Tecia Torres is looking to bounce back from two straight defeats. She’s lost to three top fighters in Jessica Andrade, former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk and current strawweight champion Rose Namajunes. Torres has never been finished in her career, as all three of her defeats have come via decision. Torres will be facing Weili Zhang, who has only fought twice in the UFC. This will be Zhang’s first major test in the UFC, as she has faced gatekeepers in Jessica Aguilar and Danielle Taylor and defeated both. Zhang has an overall record of 18-1 with that one loss coming in her debut in 2013. Zhang is riding a lot of momentum, and Torres is sliding downwards. Don’t expect a barnburner of a fight where it could end at any moment, Torres has gone to a decision in all but one of her fights. If this fight is the same, Torres should win it, but Zhang’s future looks bright.
Prediction: Tecia Torres by Unanimous Decision
Ben Askren vs Robbie Lawler
This will be a tough one to predict. Missouri wrestler and ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren will be making his UFC debut against former UFC welterweight champion, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. It’s hard to gauge just how good Askren is, because he’s fought for the majority of his career in Bellator and ONE Championship.
While he is undefeated, he hasn’t faced the level of competition that Robbie Lawler has for the majority of his career. Askren is renowned for his wrestling ability and for dominating on the ground. Lawler is noted for his knockout power, so this is a good style contrast.
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Askren due to his Chael Sonnen-esque ability to talk trash and stir things up. Lawler has been through a number of wars in the octagon, and it seems the mileage is starting to catch up with him. Lawler has lost 2 out of his last 3 fights, including being brutally knocked out by Askren’s close friend, Tyron Woodley.
Expect Askren to come away with the victory, or Dana White will lose his mind since he essentially traded the flyweight GOAT Demetrius Johnson for Askren. Askren definitely won’t win via knockout, it will probably resemble those technical wrestling contests that MMA purists adore and casual fans despise.
Prediction: Ben Askren via unanimous decision.
Welterweight Championship Fight: Tyron Woodley © vs Kamaru Usman
Woodley has become one of the more polarizing fighters in the UFC, due to the perception of him being a “boring” champion. This has been exacerbated by his contentious relationship with Dana White, and it’s made people forget something. Tyron Woodley is an excellent wrestler with superb knockout power. That’s a lethal combination, as Darren Till found out months ago.
He’ll be facing top contender Kamaru Usman, who has only lost once in his career. The fact that Woodley is facing Usman itself is controversial, as many would say that former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington deserved this shot. Nonetheless, Usman is a deserving contender himself, as he’s defeated some of the more respected welterweights on the roster in Rafael Dos Anjos and Demien Maia in his last two fights. Usman’s issue will be the striking of Tyron Woodley. Woodley’s string of less than thrilling fights has made people forget that he is one of the most ferocious strikers in the welterweight division. He knocked Robbie Lawler out to win the title, after Lawler had gone through many wars. Woodley is arguably the most explosive fighter in the UFC, and he’s going against a fellow wrestler. He has the track record to defeat Usman, and he doesn’t seem to have a distinct advantage over the champ.
Prediction: Tyron Woodley retains the welterweight title via knockout in the 2nd round.
Light Heavyweight Championship Fight: Jon Jones vs Anthony Smith
After defeating Volkan Odezimir, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith decided to call out the light heavyweight champion Jon “Bones” Jones. Be careful what you wish for, Lionheart.
Anthony Smith is a solid fighter, but this is only his 4th fight at light heavyweight. Yes, he’s 3-0 in the division, but two of those wins were against past-their-prime fighters in Rashad Evans and Maricio “Shogun” Rua. Sure, one could argue that you can only fight who they put in front of you, but his resume isn’t very impressive. Not only that, but he’s going up against Jon Jones, who has only lost a single fight. And that loss was a disqualification. Jon Jones is arguably the biggest villain in the UFC. His controversies are well documented and somehow he has maintained a fiercely loyal fanbase. They’ve stuck with him because he’s just that dominant. If you’re coming in looking for an underdog to get behind, Anthony Smith is your guy. He’s a pretty well spoken, nice person with lots of heart. It’s going to take more than heart to beat Jon Jones. Jones outclasses Anthony Smith in almost every way, and this one is probably not going to be competitive. If Anthony Smith somehow defeats Jon Jones, it will easily be the greatest upset in UFC history, even greater than Matt Serra defeating Georges St. Pierre. Don’t count on it.
Prediction: Jon Jones retains the light heavyweight title via TKO in the second round.
Edited by Garrett Jones | email@example.com