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Alright then, I know this is a little bit away and, given who’s on the card, could well not turn out the way it stands currently. But sod it. This is a tremendous card (for now) and we should probably get talking about it. March 2nd in Vegas. Well, it’s supposed to be in Vegas but, y’know... PPV MAIN CARD Jon Jones vs Anthony Smith - Light Heavyweight Title Tyron Woodley vs Kamaru Usman - Welterweight Title Robbie Lawler vs Ben Askren Tecia Torres vs Weili Zhang Cody Garbrandt vs Pedro Munhoz ESPN PRELIMS Jeremy Stephens vs Zabit Magomedsharipov Johnny Walker vs Misha Cirkunov Alejandro Perez vs Cody Stamann Diego Sanchez vs Mickey Gall FIGHT PASS PRELIMS Edmen Shahbazyan vs Charles Byrd Macy Chiasson vs Gina Mazany Polyana Viana vs Hannah Cifers As the great Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan once said, ”look at them!” I remembered the two title fights and Lawler/Askren but it’s even more stacked than I thought. Going off MMAJunkie’s bout order there. I’ll change it if it changes. It’s a Jon Jones card so this will probably be edited more times than a Tinder selfie. Jon Jones vs Anthony Smith tops the bill. For now. Like with Cain vs Ngannou thread, let’s try to be as positive as a Jon Jones USADA test here. This is going ahead. Like a few of us have said elsewhere, this is almost certainly going to be a total squash but what can you do? Jones has wiped out all the interesting challengers who, on paper, could threaten him. And Smith is a worthy contender. Just because people don’t like his chances doesn’t mean he shouldn’t get a shot if he’s earned it. And few in the division deserve the chance more right now. So here we are. We all know the Jon Jones story. I won’t go into great detail on his history, it’s been done to death. His last two fights have really seen him vanquish his two biggest rivals though. Jones vs Cormier 2 was probably the biggest fight the UFC put on in 2017. A huge rivalry, a rematch well over 2 years in the making and there was all manner of controversy and bad blood going in. Cormier was thought to be one of the few men who could possibly end Jones’ reign and in the first two rounds he did well. All went to shit in the third round though. A huge Jones headkick shook DC down to his toes, then Jones swarmed him for the finish. Leaving Cormier a blubbering wreck. Of course, Jones then got popped for turinabol and that was that. He got suspended and didn’t fight for nearly 18 months after that. In Jones’ absence the division rolled on. And one man was starting to make a climb. As of July 2017, when Jones was kicking DC’s head in, Anthony Smith wasn’t even in the 205lb division. He was slugging away on the prelims at 185. He had a record of 27-12. Had some decent wins, some bad losses. He’d turned pro in 2008 and fought pretty much everywhere from Strikeforce to Bellator to RFA right down to fleabag, shitly named promotions like Disorderly Conduct and Crowbar MMA. I don’t think it’s an insult to say he was a bit of a journeyman. He returned to the UFC in 2016, after an unsuccessful previous stint a few years earlier. He did better this time, going 3-1 in his first 4 fights. Most notably an impressive come from behind headkick finish against Andrew Sanchez in April 2017 on FOX. I vaguely knew of him before this but that was the fight where he first really got on my radar. In September 2017, he took on Hector Lombard. Once again, Smith had to live up to his ‘Lionheart’ nickname and come back from a right beating to stop Lombard in the third. He was catching a right arse kicking early on. My main memory of this fight is that Lombard must have been talking some shit going in because Smith was pissed at him between rounds and post-fight, and kept saying ”Hey Hector, do you know me now? Do you know my name now?” and stuff like that. Whatever the case it was the biggest name win of Smith’s career to date. He lost his next fight to Thiago Santos in February 2018. I remember it being a really exciting bombfest but Smith just came off worse and Santos got the TKO in the second. That’s when Smith decided to move up to 205. And so began the 3 fight streak that landed him the title shot. In June, on the UFC 225 prelims, Smith threw a brutal knee which knocked out the shell of Rashad Evans in just 53 seconds. Turned out to be Rashad’s last fight as he’s since retired. In July, Smith went to Germany for his first UFC main event. And battered another legend. It took him just 1:29 of the first round to have Shogun slumped against the fence in the arms of Marc Goddard. Then in October, Smith headlined again in Canada. This time he took on dangerous Swiss KO artist Volkan Oezdemir. It turned out to be nowhere near as easy a night’s work as the Rashad and Shogun fights. Volkan gave Smith all he could handle. Both took some heavy shots and Volkan had Smith in some bother on the feet and on the ground. The comeback kid struck again though. In the third round again (Smith loves that 3, eh?) he managed to catch Oezdemir in a rear naked choke for the tap. With this win, Smith was 3-0 with 3 finishes at light heavyweight, and had improved his overall record to 31-13. And Volkan was ranked #2 in the division going in. Smith made his intentions clear with a pretty great post-fight interview. ”Listen guys, I’ve been fighting since I was 17 years old. I’ve been chasing this dream, my career’s been up and down. I’ve just gone through so much adversity. And all I wanted was to stand here in this Octagon after a win, and to feel confident enough to ask Dana, Hunter Campbell and Mick Maynard one question: My name’s Anthony Smith and I want a title shot.” - Anthony Smith OK, his one question wasn’t actually a question. He fucked up there. He had just been clattered in the head a bunch by ‘No Time’ though. It was a really good little promo though and made you want to see him go all the way. Who doesn’t love an underdog story? It was right around this time that Jones’ suspension was up. The announcement was made. With Cormier now up at heavyweight, the 205 title was vacated. Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson 2, to crown a new champion, was booked as December’s UFC 232 main event. It was a rematch of their 2013 epic. One of the greatest fights in UFC history. A rematch people were waiting to see for 5 years. What could possibly fuck this up? Yep. Jones got USADA’d again. Pictograms. Grains of salt in Olympic sized swimming pools. Can’t be arsed going into it all again because what’s the point? It’s all so recent and I’m done with it. Fuck it. The crux of it was that the Nevada commission wouldn’t give the go-ahead for Jones to fight so the whole event had to be moved to California just days out. Never seen anything like it. The saving grace was that at least the fights still happened. And despite all the controversy and upheaval, 232 was one of the best shows of 2018 when the credits rolled. And Big Bad Jon schooled Gustafsson. It was nothing like the first fight. This was a total Jones showcase. He shut Gus down and never let him get anything going at all. Took him down then battered him for the third round TKO. Rivalry done. It’s mad because everyone sees Jones’ two biggest rivalries as Cormier and Gustafsson but you look back now in the record books and he’s 2-0 over both. I know the second DC fight is officially down as a No Contest because of the test failure but it’s really 2-0. We all saw him knock DC out. They were his two big rivals yet neither got a win on him. Frazier got a win on Ali, Marquez got a win over Pacquiao, Ward got a win against Gatti, fuck even Tito eventually got a win over Chuck in the end. Nobody beats Bones though. After the fight, the questions naturally are always ‘what’s next?’ And this is where Jones and Smith had their first little interaction. It’s nothing much but it planted the seed... There’ll probably be criticism for this fight being made but what can you do? Do you just never give Smith a crack because Jones is going to wreck him? Plus it’s probably better if Jones stays busy. You get the feeling the more time Jones has on his hands the more likely he is to get himself in the shit again. Keep him busy. Even if they’re just feeding him bodies to devour once every 3-5 months, it’s surely better than having a prime Jon Jones sitting on the bench. I’m actually looking forward to it. Tyron Woodley vs Kamaru Usman came a bit out of left-field. The fight everyone was expecting was obviously Woodley vs Covington. Fuck knows what’s gone on there. Covington was the interim champ so you’d have thought that he was the logical fight to make. Yet Dana claims Colby’s been offered the fight and turned it down. Colby’s saying he was never offered it and has been giving Dana both barrels the last week or two. I don’t know what’s happened but Covington’s loss is Kamaru Usman’s gain. Woodley has been the champ now since July 2016. He ended Robbie Lawler’s wildly entertaining title reign by knocking him out in a minute. After that he got the better of Wonderboy Thompson over two fights and beat Demian Maia in a 5 round dud. A funny old reign. All good wins but unfortunately for Woodley, after KOing Lawler so impressively, he was unlucky that the next two challengers in line were Thompson and Maia - two of the most awkward guys and trickiest styles to look good against on the roster. Didn’t help that he also had a bad shoulder injury and Dana White shitting on him in the media during this time either. He was good to go by September though. He defended his title against Liverpool’s Darren Till at UFC 228. Till came in undefeated and with massive confidence, self belief and momentum. He was also a fucking giant welterweight and a way bigger man than Woodley, as you can see there. Woodley put on an absolute masterclass though. For me this was probably his best all-round performance to date. He dropped Till with a big right hand and submitted him with a beautiful D’Arce choke in the second round. And still... Woodley took Till’s 0 and solidified himself as a great champion. During his reign so far he’s 1) knocked out the hardened warrior in Lawler. 2) dropped and outpointed the technical and tricky Karate master in Wonderboy. 3) nullified and shut down maybe the best pure grappler in all of MMA in Maia. And 4) dropped and submitted the undefeated, younger, much bigger, confident up and comer in Till. The fights themselves might not all have been the most exciting to watch but you look at what Woodley was able to do against 4 very different styles and it’s mega impressive. Speaking of impressive. Kamaru Usman. The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’. He’s been on quite a run himself. An imposing grappler, constant pressure, relentless pace, a suffocating top game, improving striking. He’s a handful for anyone. I don’t think he’s unbeatable but at the same time I don’t think anyone has an easy night with him. He’s 14-1 now. The loss was just his second pro fight so he’s on a 13 fight winning streak now. In his first 7 fights in the UFC he beat Hayder Hassan, Leon Edwards, Alexander Yakovlev, Warlley Alves, Sean Strickland, Sergio Moraes and Emil Meek. In May 2018 he beat Demian Maia by decision over 5 rounds. Easily his biggest win at that stage but, like Woodley vs Maia, it was a crap fight to watch so while it was a great win for Usman, it didn’t feel like the shot in the arm he needed. The talk after wasn’t ‘great win’ it was ‘shit fight’. It just put a negative feel on it. In November though, Usman headlined the TUF finale and beat Rafael Dos Anjos. Now this was more like it. Usman put on a really strong performance, outpointing RDA with a high pace attack of wrestling with some striking mixed in. So Woodley vs Usman then. This is a bit of a tough one to call. I’m definitely leaning towards Woodley. I can see their wrestling maybe cancelling each other out and it becoming mostly a standup battle. And, although Usman is getting better on the feet, Woodley wins that all day for me. But we haven’t seen Woodley face a wrestler like Usman before so it’ll be interesting to see what that looks like. Flipside to that though, Usman hasn’t come up against a wrestler like Woodley either. And if he can’t take Woodley down I think he’s in trouble. Robbie Lawler vs Ben Askren is 235’s ***WAND’S ONE TO WATCH*** easy. I can’t fucking wait for this. How many years have we all been saying that we need to see Ben Askren in the UFC because that’s where the tests and interesting matchups are? The day has finally arrived. And they’re not exactly laying out the Welcome mat. Robbie Lawler awaits. Lawler is by far one of my all time favourite fighters. He was one of the big names I’d commonly hear when I first got into MMA. Once I saw his fights with Nick Diaz and Chris Lytle I was in the bag as a fan for life. And over the years that followed his fights with Scott Smith, Melvin Manhoef, Matt Lindland and Ninja Rua just strengthened my love for the madman. He’s had a proper up and down career but his unexpected UFC return and subsequent title run made all the losses and lacklustre performances earlier in his career worth it. That run was magic. Battering twatty Koscheck, the great fight with Matt Brown, taking the title off Hendricks the prick then those back-to-back all time classic FOTY candidates against Rory and Condit. Lawler’s 2013 to 2016 might be my favourite run of any fighter in MMA history. Sadly it all came to an end when Woodley flattened him. He’s gone 1-1 since losing the title. A win over Cerrone in a cracking fight and a loss to Dos Anjos in another pretty good scrap. He’s far from shot but it does appear all the wars are finally starting to catch up to him. But yeah, Sideshow Ben is finally here! In all seriousness, Askren is a bad man. You’d have to be to rock that hairdo, wouldn’t you? Askren is a NCAA Division I wrestler, an absolute terror on the mats. Won a bunch of medals and different accolades as a collegiate wrestler and competed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. He holds the record for the most pins in a single NCAA season and is third on the all-time pins list. His final collegiate record was 153-8 with 91 of his wins by pin. He got the nickname ‘Funky’ during his wrestling days due to his unorthodox style of wrestling. After the Olympics, Askren decided to persue a career in MMA. He joined American Top Team in Florida and made his MMA debut in February 2009. He went 3-0 in 2009 with 3 first round finishes. From there Bellator signed him and by the end of 2010 he’d won 4 fights in Bellator, was 7-0 overall and had won the Bellator welterweight title beating Lyman Good by decision. Over the next couple of years Askren racked up wins over Jay Hieron (barely), Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov. But he’d got himself a reputation, rightly or wrongly, as a boring fighter. ”Ben Askren makes Jon Fitch look like Wanderlei Silva.” - Dana White in 2013 Regardless, by the summer of 2013 he was 12-0 and had successfully defended the title 4 times. Oddly, in November 2013, Bellator suddenly announced that they’d come to terms to release Ben Askren from his contract. This was weird because Askren was still their welterweight champion. It didn’t make much sense. It was expected that Askren would be UFC-bound but this is when Dana started spewing all that silly bollocks about Askren not being worthy and needing to prove himself. While bums like Royston Wee were on the card and CM bastard Punk was about to be singed for $500,000 a fight. I get why, but fuck me. Askren ended up going over to ONE FC in Asia for a bit. Askren won ONE’s belt, adding it to his mantle along with the Bellator strap he never lost. He won 7 fights in ONE, finished 5 of them. In November 2017 he stopped Shinya Aoki in 57 seconds and then retired. Nothing happened for a year, but Askren did pop up on Rogan’s podcast giving his version of why Dana didn’t let him in the UFC. Then in October 2018 it was announced that hell had frozen over and Askren had actually signed with the UFC in a trade for ONE getting Demetrious Johnson. Almost immediately, Askren took to Twitter and started trolling and calling out everyone from the Diaz brothers to Khabib to GSP to Darren Till, the lot. There were all kinds of names being thrown around as potential opponents. One name that wasn’t really coming up was Robbie Lawler, but ex UFC fighter Aaron Simpson chucked this out there on Twitter... Askren wasn’t having it... Wasn’t too long after that the fight was made official. I really love this matchup. I was actually the one who suggested Lawler vs Askren in the Askren thread on here when he signed, so I’ll take full credit for this. It’s a great fight and a real legit test that should show us where Askren stands. Lawler has the KO power to hurt Askren plus he’s got solid defensive wrestling. I still expect Askren to be able to take him down of course, but I like that on paper Lawler has the tools to make it a proper fight. Cody Garbrandt vs Pedro Munhoz should be a good one. Garbrandt is in a tough spot here. He’s coming off back-to-back KO losses to Dillashaw. He’s in no mans land at 135 really, isn’t he? He’s not likely getting another title shot as long as TJ is champion. If he loses this then it’s really hard to see where he goes. I’m guessing he’d change weight class. Even if he wins this fight it’s hard to say what’s next. And Munhoz is no joke. This is a hard fight for someone coming off 2 bad knockouts who needs to rebound. You don’t typically fight a guy like Munhoz on the rebound. Munhoz has won 6 of his last 7 fights. The only loss being a split to John Dodson. He’s 17-3-1, never been finished and has beat some decent opposition like Caraway, Font, Johns and Scoggins. It’s definitely doable for Cody but Munhoz is probably not the kind of guy Cody is going to just knock over easily. And that’s probably what he needed at the moment. Who knows where he is mentally after the TJ losses. Jeremy Stephens vs Zabit Magomedsharipov is a hell of a fight. Lawler vs Askren was my one to watch but this is probably going to be the FOTN. Stephens is a cock but he’s got such a fun style to watch. Probably the hardest raw power puncher in the 145 division and he fucking goes for it. And Zabit is a maniac. If it wasn’t for Israel Adesanya then Zabit would have been nailed on for that Rising Star award on here. Really creative with his striking and his submissions and was a highlight of 2018 for me. I hope he smashes Stephens. Johnny Walker vs Misha Cirkunov was a late addition to the card. Was originally Ovince Saint Preux vs Cirkunov but OSP dropped out with an injury. Johnny Walker only made his UFC debut in November but he’s already 2-0 with 2 first round knockouts in just over 2 minutes combined. He wiped out Khalil Rountree in his debut with a brutal elbow, then took out Justin Ledet just a couple of weeks ago in 15 seconds. He immediately said he wanted back in there and when OSP got hurt, he didn’t waste any time making himself available. On paper it’s a tough test for Walker. Cirkunov is a fireplug brick shithouse of a man. He’s lost when he’s stepped up a level but he has beat, and finished, Patrick Cummins, Nikita Krylov and Ion Cutelaba. Good fight. Hopefully the Johnny Walker streak continues. Love the nutter already. Tecia Torres vs Weili Zhang could be worth keeping an eye on. I can take or leave Torres myself. She had a fucking tremendous fight with Rose Namajunas in Invicta years ago but I’ve found her mostly dull to watch since then. It’s Zhang who’s piqued my interest here. She’s 29 years old, Chinese, 18-1 record with 16 finishes, hasn’t lost since her MMA debut so a 18 fight win streak. And she submitted Jessica Aguilar in a round in her last fight in November. There seems to be zero hype on her but if she keeps this up it won’t be long before she’s making some noise in the title picture. Diego Sanchez vs Mickey Gall could be awesome or really sad. Haven’t decided yet. Sanchez is clearly far past his best. He has been for some time. It’s a shame. He’s given us so many amazing fights over the years, maybe more than any other fighter when you really stop and think about it. I mean the Melendez fight in 2013, the Guida fight in 2009, the Parisyan fight in 2006, the Diaz fight in 2005. The list goes on. The Kampmann fight, the Paulo Thiago fight, Ellenberger, fuck me! There’s so many. But he’s clearly declined big time now. He was always known for his crazy chin and durability. He’d never been knocked out for the longest time. There was the doctor stoppage against BJ Penn where Diego’s head was cut right down to the skull, but he’d never actually been knocked out. He had 34 fights before he got put out. Now he’s been KO’d in 3 of his last 5 fights, all in the first round not good. Gall’s best known as the man who crushed CM Punk in his UFC debut. He’s still quite green at just 5-1 but he’s a real talent and is probably going to bash Sanchez up here, I reckon. Macy Chiasson vs Gina Mazany doesn’t really interest me. Chiasson won the TUF featherweight tournament in November. But here she is, immediately dropping to 135. Great. 145 is crying out for more depth, they do TUF to find more fighters for the division, Chiasson wins then fucks off to 135. I remember her looking decent at the finale in fairness. Mazany has fought 3 times in the UFC and I don’t remember her at all. I probably saw at least one of the fights as well, just no recollection. She’s 5-2 with losses to Sara McMann and Lina Lansberg. Polyana Viana vs Hannah Cifers would’ve gone under my radar if not for Viana and her recent headlines... Love that. I’m a fan of Viana on the strength of this story alone now. Can’t recall if I’ve actually seen her fight. She’s 26, 10-2 record. 1-1 in the UFC, beat Maia Stevenson in her debut but lost to JJ Aldrich in her next fight. She’s coming off a big TKO win over that mugger though! Cifers is 8-3 and I know her only as the woman who got royally fucked up by Maycee Barber in Barber’s UFC debut recently. And that’s 235.