UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith – ESPN prelims Breakdown and Predictions
The UFC will attempt to put the ill-fated UFC 234 card behind itself with two huge title fights Saturday, March 2, 2019, for UFC 235. Jon Jones (23-1) and Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) defend their titles against Anthony Smith (31-13) and Kamaru Usman (14-1) respectively.
ESPN will show the last four prelims on the undercard in a collection of fights that are arguably more exciting than the main card. All four fights will be quality viewing for fans with numerous big names hoping to put on a show for the crowd in the T-Mobile Arena.
Jeremy Stephens (28-15) vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov (16-1)
Zabit Magomedsharipov established himself as a top prospect in the UFC’s featherweight division with a series of brilliant performances. After impressive submissions over Mike Santiago and Sheymon Moraes, Magomedsharipov went to war with Kyle Bochniak in a ‘2018 Fight of the Year’ contender. However, it was ‘Zabeasts’ phenomenal Suloev stretch submission of Brandon Davis that caught the attention of the masses. Throughout his young UFC career, Magomedsharipov has demonstrated creative striking and innovative wrestling. In this matchup, it would serve him best to utilize his reach to achieve takedowns and search for a submission.
Jeremy Stephens made a case for himself being ‘the real hardest hitting 145-pounder’ with brutal knockouts of both Doo Ho Choi and Josh Emmett. Although, ‘Lil’ Heathen’s’ path of destruction was halted by Jose Aldo, who finished him with a ferocious body shot.
While Magomedsharipov has an exciting style, it does leave holes in his defense which a powerful striker like Stephens could exploit. Kyle Bochniak, a less proficient striker than Stephens, was able to land on Magomedsharipov due to his ‘tall man defense’. This begs the question, what sort of damage would Stephens do given the opportunity in the pocket? Moraes had great success when leg kicking Magomedsharipov, and given Stephens’ crippling of Gilbert Melendez, there is a high chance he could take advantage of this come Saturday.
Although Magomedsharipov has superior wrestling and slick submissions, Stephens has not been submitted by the likes of Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone so if he fights smart and presses Magomedsharipov to the cage he should be able to come out on top.
Prediction: Stephens via second-round TKO
Misha Cirkunov (14-4) vs. Johnny Walker (16-3)
Johnny Walker steps in for the injured Ovince Saint Preux to take on the skillful grappler Misha Cirkunov. Walker went viral for his ‘worm’ celebration next to his opponent’s lifeless body and has won huge swathes of fans with his eccentric personality. However, it is inside the octagon where Walker has been most impressive. Walker comes into this fight having won a ‘Performance of the Night’ bonus in both of his prior UFC bouts. He has only spent two minutes and twelve seconds inside of the octagon as of yet, but he faces his toughest opponent as of yet in Cirkunov.
Cirkunov was once seen as a top prospect in the UFC light heavyweight division. The Latvian exceeded already high expectations with four straight finishes. Since this excellent run, Cirkunov went on a two-fight skid before choking out Patrick Cummins October of 2018.
Cirkunov’s grappling is incomparable to Walker’s and if they hit the canvas it would likely result in Walker tapping. Although Cirkunov has shown a solid chin throughout his career, after being KO’d twice in his last three outings a powerful Walker could fancy cracking him. Although logic would favor Cirkunov, Walker’s wackiness has rubbed off on me and I see him landing another highlight reel knockout.
Prediction: Walker via first-round TKO
Cody Stamann (17-2) vs. Alejandro Perez (21-6-1)
Alejandro Perez is on a seven-fight unbeaten streak coming into this bantamweight contest. Despite this impressive statistic, he has also been on the right side of some questionable judging during this run. Fights against Andre Soukhamthath and Eddie Wineland were particularly controversial. With 14 professional finishes Perez has every chance of catching Stamann in the first round.
Cody Stamann fell victim to an exceptional Suloev stretch executed by Aljamain Sterling in his last octagon appearance. Despite this, Stamann is a strong wrestler who will test the gas tank of Perez. Stamann seemed gassed in the second against Sterling, which he partly attributes to poor discipline. Stamann claims he has made the necessary adjustments, and if so he should be able to grind out a decision victory against Perez.
Prediction: Stamann via unanimous decision
Diego Sanchez (28-11) vs. Mickey Gall (5-1)
Diego Sanchez has absorbed 1,168 head strikes in his UFC tenure, the second most in company history. Coming off two sickening knockout losses, Sanchez utilized his wrestling to beat Craig White at UFC 228.
Mickey Gall is the current holder of the ‘I beat C.M. Punk‘ belt after tapping Mike Jackson. Gall also claimed a submission win over ex-UFC golden boy Sage Northcutt, his most impressive victory to date. Gall has won all 5 of his bouts via rear-naked choke.
Sanchez could not have asked for a better matchup than Gall. Although Gall is superb at securing a takedown and slithering to his opponents back, he provides no threat to Sanchez’s chin. Sanchez will have to be intelligent and wrestle his way to a victory against Gall.
Prediction: Sanchez via unanimous decision