With the less than surprising news that Jon Jones (23-1, 1 NC) will make his first title defense in March against top contender Anthony Smith (31-13) in the main event of UFC 235, Las Vegas MMA fans can breath a sigh of relief. The event will mark the promotion’s return to the fight capital of the world following the decision to pack up and leave days ahead of UFC 232 in December.
And while expected, the fight will also depend on the NSAC granting Jones a license to fight following the abnormal test results that forced the promotion to make their snap decision and head to California on days notice. Should Jones receive a license that would add to an already stacked card featuring two other former UFC champions.
In the fallout of UFC 233 having been postponed, and fights being added to the promotion’s other spring bookings, UFC 235 stands to impress with the bouts that have been confirmed thus far. As was mentioned, former UFC welterweight and Strikeforce middleweight champ Robbie Lawler (28-12, 1 NC) is set to welcome former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champ Ben Askren (18-0, 1 NC) in his UFC debut. Both fighters possess a wrestling base, with Askren being the more decorated fighter, having earned NCAA Division 1 All-American honours four times. Neither man has competed since the winter of 2017, and the fight is sure to result in a top five ranking for the winner.
Former UFC bantamweight champ Holly Holm (12-4) looks to earn a possible third title shot against surging prospect Aspen Ladd (7-0). Since losing her title to Miesha Tate in 2016, Holm has posted a 2-3 record with losses in title bids to Germaine de Randamie and Cris Cyborg as well as a decision loss to eventual flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko. For Ladd, this marks her second fight against a former champ, having finished the former Invicta bantamweight titleholder Tonya Evinger in the first round of their contest at UFC 229. Since turning pro in 2015 Ladd has gone on to finish 6/7 wins including both of her UFC fights being wins by TKO.
According to Ariel Helwani of ESPN, a second title fight is in the works for the card featuring welterweight champ Tyron Woodley (19-3, 1 NC) defending his belt against Hard Knocks 365’s Kamaru Usman (14-1). Another tale of wrestling based welterweights; Woodley’s main sparring partner and college teammate at the University of Missouri is Ben Askren. Should Usman have booked his ticket to a title shot, it comes on the heels of a dismantling performance against former lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos in the TUF 28 Finale. Usman has posted a nine fight win streak since joining the promotion in 2015, including seven wins by decision and landing an average of 4.47 takedowns per fight at an average of 51%.
The rest of the card is an onslaught of talent, from bookings between rising prospect and former ACB champion Zabit Magomedsharipov (16-1) and slugger Jeremy Stephens (28-15), top light heavyweights Ovince St. Preux (23-12) and Misha Cirkunov (14-4) as well as top women’s strawweights Tecia Torres (10-3) and Weili Zhang (18-1).
UFC 235 follows a busy February schedule that sees the promotion hosting four events in four different continents including main events between Marlon Moraes (21-5-1) and Raphael Assunção (27-5), Robert Whittaker (20-4) defending his belt against Kelvin Gastelum (15-2, 1 NC), (Francis N’Gannou (12-3) taking on former UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez (14-2) and top light heavyweights Jan Błachowicz (23-7) and heavy hitter Thiago Santos (20-6).