Fight of the Night, or as it’s most commonly referred “FOTN”, is an added incentive created in 2006 by the UFC to reward the most impressive bout on a particular card. Melvin Guillard and Josh Neer were the first honorees, and since then it’s been Nate Diaz who’s gone on to rack up eight FOTN awards in his 23-fight UFC career.
Looking ahead to UFC 235, it’s hard to think of a better lineup of fights in recent memory. With two title fights hanging over a stacked card full of ranked talent, the promotion is packing a punch in its return to Nevada. Predicting a FOTN contender is a difficult task, so let’s have a look at three distinct possibilities where participants could walk away an extra $50,000 in their pockets.
Edmen “The Golden Boy” Shahbazyan (8-0) vs. Charles “Dynamite Kid” Byrd (10-5)
With a finish rate among the two at just under 84%, when these two middleweights step into the cage hold onto your popcorn. The 21-year old Shahbazyan punched his ticket with a first round knockout win over Antonio Jones on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series this past summer, adding to a seven fight finish streak. His second fight was against Darren Stewart (9-4, 1 NC) at The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale which saw the Ronda Rousey protege go on to a split decision victory. “The Golden Boy” relied on his wrestling, hitting 8/21 at times lazy takedown attempts on Stewart while being out struck 46-27.
Byrd had to prove himself twice on DWTNCS, earning a contract with submission wins over Jamie Pickett (9-3) and Randall Wallace (15-7-1) before finally facing off with Darren Stewart at UFC 228. Stewart came away with a second round, come-from-behind elbow knockout finish and Byrd hasn’t been in the Octagon since.
Shahbazyan fought four times in 2017, another four times in 2018 and this will be his first in 2019 while Byrd fought in half as many fights in the same amount of time. He’ll have a height and reach advantage on Byrd, with Shahbazyan pegged as a slight favourite according to BestFightOdds at -125 and Byrd trending at a +105.
2️⃣0️⃣ years old.— UFC (@ufc) August 20, 2018
Be on the look out for Edmen Shahbazyan. pic.twitter.com/91U6Dq61c6
Jeremy “Lil’ Heathen” Stephens (28-15) vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov (16-1)
Combined 34 finishes between the pair including 25 wins by knockout (19 of which belong to Stephens). This tilt pits #6 ranked Stephens and #13 ranked Magomedsharipov in a battle of top featherweight contenders and the featured prelim ahead of the pay-per-view portion of the card.
Stephens went through an up-and-down stretch between 2014 and 2017, going 2-5 but losing to top talent the likes of Cub Swanson, Charles Olivera, Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar and Renato Moicano and all by decision. He then went on to beat Gilbert Melendez (22-7) and finished Doo Ho Choi (14-3) and Josh Emmett (13-2) before dropping his last bout in July 2018 to pound-for-pound great José Aldo (28-4). The Lil’ Heathen can finish opponents at any point in the fight along with output that’s seen him nearly double his strikes from round to round, landing 26/92 and 51/101 strikes in rounds two and three against Gilbert Melendez at UFC 215.
Magomedsharipov is as dangerous as any player at 145 lbs, riding a 12-fight win streak going back to 2013 that also featured a run as the ACB featherweight champ. In four appearances the Russian has finished three opponents and used the rarely seen (twice in one night at UFC 228) Suloev Stretch kneebar to submit Brandon Davis in September.
Magomedsharipov has faded in fights, as evidence in the closing minute against Kyle Bochniak where Bochniak was able to land at will into the dying seconds. With excellent cardio and a record that hasn’t seen Stephens drop a contest by submission as far back as 2009, fans should be in for a treat on the feet. Odds currently sit at -250 Magomedsharipov, +200 Stephens.
Jon “Bones” Jones (23-1, 1 NC) vs. Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (31-13)
The main event of a packed card might seem like an easy pick for some, and in this case it is. The two combined for 27 wins by KO/TKO and a respective 16/23 and 28/31 finish rate. Both fighters are seemingly at the top of their games with Smith stringing together a three fight finish streak over former champs Rashad Evans (19-8, 1 NC), Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (26-11) and Volkan Oezdemir (15-3) since hopping up to 205 lbs from middleweight. Jones popped back from a lenghty USADA suspension by finishing perennial contender Alexander Gustafsson (18-5) at UFC 232 in December.
Odds will tell a straightforward tale, as oddsmakers and gamblers alike are heavily choosing to side with Jones who’s commanding a -850 to -1000 lead over the underdog Smith coming in at +575 to +600. Odds have been closing in over the span of the past few weeks, but the overwhelming favourite has been the three-time UFC lightweight champ Jones.
In all, Jones has landed 4.43 significant strikes per minute compared to Smith’s 3.49 according to UFCStats while Jones absorbs 2.13 less than Smith in the same timeframe on average. In terms of takedown metrics, Jones roughly doubles Smith in nearly every category but one opposing stat is that Smith averages submissions per 15 minutes compared to Jones’ 0.57.
All in all expect an entertaining main event, and UFC 235 card which on paper is set to deliver one of the most action packed nights of the year this coming Saturday! Be sure to stay tuned with Fight Night Picks on YouTube and SportsBooth for our UFC 235 fight companion!