UFC 235: What We Learnt
With UFC 235 now one for the history books, there was a lot to take away. What was one of the biggest cards of the early part of 2019 for the UFC, saw light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones dominate Anthony Smith to a unanimous decision victory. Kamaru Usman upset Tyron Woodley in a dominant fashion to become the new welterweight champion.
From top to bottom, UFC 235 provided exciting and competitive match-ups with a number of lessons learned. What can be taken away from this event is that the future of the UFC is bright, but the experienced stars can’t be written off just yet.
The New era is exciting
With standout performances from Johnny Walker, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Weili Zhang and of course Kamaru Usman, the future of the UFC is bright.
What can be said? Johnny Walker is the quickest rising star in the UFC at the moment and it is easy to see why. As Chamatkar Sandhu (ESPN) put on Twitter in less than four months he’s picked up three first-round finishes. Not impressed? He’s achieved this in a combined 2:48. Taking this fight on short notice having only fought four weeks ago, Walker defeated #14 Misha Cirkunov with a flying knee in just 36 seconds.
Walker’s win at UFC 235 earned him his third performance of the night bonus in as many fights. The fan favorite gives life to a shallow 205lbs division with his exciting style and erratic personality. He is likely to rise up the ranks with this victory and should be given another ranked opponent next. A potential next fight could be Ilir Latifi, who is coming off a loss at UFC 232. This would test Walker’s wrestling ability (if it lasts that long). There are rumours however that Walker is interested in a fight with three-time title challenger Alexander Gustafsson. This could very well happen in Stockholm in June.
Johnny Walker just got his MRI results back. Per his manager, he has a mild shoulder injury. He’ll need four weeks of rehab. They’re shooting for a return in May or June and are interested in fighting Alexander Gustafsson in Stockholm, his manager said.
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) March 5, 2019
Zabit Magomedsharipov yet again showed how talented he is, and this time proved he can hang with the best at featherweight. Picking up the unanimous decision win over Jeremy Stephens, the Dagestani showed brilliant range management throughout. Effectively picking off Stephens as he loaded up his right hand, Magomedsharipov seemed a step ahead of Stephens over 15 minutes.
Fighting well moving backwards, ‘Zabeast’ progressed to 17-1 (MMA) and 5-0 (UFC). There are a number of options now at 145 for Magomedsharipov. On Twitter he stated that he’d like to fight either Jose Aldo or Alexander Volkanovski. There is however another fight for him at featherweight available.
Previously booked for UFC 228, Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez is still a fight fans want to see. Both have flashy, exciting styles that are almost guaranteed to provide an entertaining fight. Easily strong enough to headline a fight night card, this should be Zabit’s next fight.
Weili Zhang has one of the most impressive records in women’s professional MMA. Climbing to 19-1 with her win over Tecia Torres at UFC 235. The Chinese national was introduced on the big stage. Improving to 3-0 in the UFC, she put on a strong performance on the main card in order to defeat Torres by unanimous decision.
We know how good Torres is, having faced championship talent including former 115lbs champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and current champion Rose Namajunas, proving that Zhang is certainly one to keep an eye out for at 115lbs.
Zhang has an imposing 16 finishes in her 19 wins, all in a number of different ways. In Vegas Zhang showed a diversity of striking, and mixed this in with takedowns well throughout the fight. Outlanding Torres by over double (56-22), Zhang controlled the fight winning 30-27 X2 and 29-28. Ranked #15 before her UFC 235 bout with Torres, we can expect Zhang to rise up the rankings. If she keeps on winning, especially in the finishing manner that she has shown previously, we could see her in title contention soon.
The new era of female strawweights is definitely an exciting prospect. With Zhang, Tatiana Suarez, Nina Ansaroff, Cynthia Calvillo and Alexa Grasso all in the top 15, 115lbs is fast becoming one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC.
Kamaru Usman put on the performance of a lifetime at UFC 235. Riding a 13 fight winning streak, the TUF 21 winner dethroned Tyron Woodley to become the new welterweight king. Dominating through predominantly out wrestling Woodley, Usman cruised to a 50-44 x2 and 50-45 victory.
With this victory, Usman becomes the first African born UFC champion in history and progressed to 10-0 in the UFC. Usman’s success also injects new life into the welterweight division, with a number of fun match-ups available. The obvious next fight for the new champion is against former interim champion Colby Covington. Covington made a lot of noise during UFC 235’s fight week. Firstly he crashed Usman’s open workout and then placed himself cageside for the fight. Usman stated in his post-fight press conference that he wanted Covington next so he could ‘brutalise’ him. Usman has also gone back and forth with Ben Askren, who also picked up a win at UFC 235. The new era of the welterweight division is amongst us, and ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ is for real.
There are levels to this game
Two men, in particular, that proved that there are levels to MMA at UFC 235 were ‘Jackson-Wink’ teammates Jon Jones and Diego Sanchez.
Jon Jones, the light heavyweight champion, put on a clinic against Anthony Smith in the main event. Landing 238 total strikes, of which 125 were significant. Jones picked off Smith both at range and in the pocket. On display in this fight was Jones’ superior boxing, which he stated he had been focussing on. This, however, didn’t mean that he discriminated against using kicks. He was able to hurt Smith to the body early with an array of spinning back kicks, and teaps. He also kept Smith at a distance where he could land on him but was safe from counters.
In the championship rounds Jones, having worn the challenger out changed gameplan and went to a grappling offense. Although he had much success with his striking, he was able to show that he was also the superior grappler. ‘Bones’ clearly had the bigger arsenal of strikes and tricks in order to out-gun the durable Anthony Smith.
What’s next for Jones?
Although Smith was a worthy competitor (despite what some thought) Jones once again showed why he sits on top of the light heavyweight mountain. Naturally following the fight, the questions were asked ‘What’s next’? UFC president Dana White seemed extremely interested in a title fight between Jones and rising star Thiago Santos. Coming off the biggest win of his light heavyweight career at UFC Fight Night 145, the hard-hitting Brazilian could make for an interesting match-up for Jones in the future. This would provide yet another challenge for the champion Jones, one which fans will certainly look out for.
Diego Sanchez was a handy 25-7 when his UFC 235 opponent Mickey Gall made his debut. Gall was just six fights into his MMA career (including facing three fighters who were 0-0 at the time) when he faced Sanchez in Vegas and it showed. Having worked with former Glory kickboxing star Joe Schilling, Gall showed some improved striking at the beginning of the fight but ultimately was outclassed by Sanchez.
How the fight went
Sanchez was able to weather the early storm and get Gall to the matt and dominate. Known for his grinding style, Sanchez landed ferocious ground and pound on Gall, sending him exhausted to his stool after the first.
The second round started and you could tell that Gall was tired. The shots he did throw didn’t have the same ‘pop’ on them as in the first, and Sanchez was able to get the fight to the ground yet again. Referee Marc Goddard stepped in and stopped the fight 4:13 into the second round, saving Gall from any more punishment.
One of the main things learnt from this fight is not to rush your career. Although Mickey Gall did show improved striking, and he has slick Jiu-Jitsu calling out Sanchez after his win at UFC Fight Night 135 was a mistake. ‘There are levels to this game’ and it was blindingly obvious in this fight that the experience of Diego Sanchez was too much for Gall. That being said, had Gall won this fight we’d be raving about a changing of the guard.
Gall definitely has a future in the sport but needs to manage his career with more consideration. Sanchez, now on his first two-fight win streak since 2010/2011 will look forward to entertaining fans once again in the future.
Cody Garbrandt learnt nothing from his previous two losses
Cody Garbrandt’s rise to the bantamweight crown was without comparison one of the most impressive rises in UFC history. To go from unranked to world champion in 2016 is an impressive achievement, and it shot him to stardom almost overnight. ‘No love’ went 10-0 with 9 KO’s before dominating former bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz at UFC 207. Following this impressive win, Garbrandt called out former teammate TJ Dillashaw, which ignited a bitter rivalry lasting just shy of two years. The Team Alpha Male fighter was to go 0-2 against his bitter rival Dillashaw, losing both fights by KO. It was clear to see that both KO losses came as a result of Cody tending to stick his feet, set himself and stand and bang. Dillashaw’s superior movement made it easy for him to counter this, and it twice led to the KO. We know Cody has dynamite in his hands, which is what has led to him having so many KO victories but is it time to mix it up?
What did we see at UFC 235?
Cody Garbrandt was rocked by Pedro Munhoz and instead of attempting to clinch, or move and regain his composure, he chose to stand and bang. This ultimately led to him coming off worse, and suffering his third KO loss in a row. Garbrandt has an enormous amount of skill and the ‘touch of death’ down at 135 lbs. What’s important for Garbrandt now, however, is that he gets out of the mindset of ‘stand and trade’ with everyone. The movement he showed in his title fight with Cruz was done with great effect. He should go back to fighting with that tactic.
Garbrandt did take to Twitter and stated that he was head butted and went into ‘autopilot’. This again highlights the importance of a change in mindset in order to achieve success in the future.
‘No Love’ will undoubtedly drop down the rankings following this loss, but he will remain an exciting fighter. Receiving FOTN honours at UFC 235 along with Munhoz, Garbrandt always comes to entertain. It is also worth remembering that he is only 27 years old, and has many years left to make changes.