The second title reign of Jon Jones begins on Saturday.
Jones, the UFC’s reigning light heavyweight champion, meets underdog challenger Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235. After destroying Alexander Gustafsson in his return this past December, Jones heads into the weekend as the biggest betting favorite of his entire career. But despite the overwhelming odds, Smith is no easy out. “Lionheart” is a perfect 3-0 since moving up to the 205-pound division and carries with him one of the most unlikely backstories of any UFC title challenger in recent memory, having strung together a remarkable career turnaround after struggling for years on the regional scene.
Will Jon Jones’ continue his pursuit of history, or will Anthony Smith pull off one of the most unexpected upsets ever witnessed in mixed martial arts? We asked the pros around UFC 235 fight week for their thoughts — and the answer was close to unanimous.
Pedro Munhoz: “Jon Jones. Domination. He’s very well-rounded, he’s very experienced. He’s in a great moment in his life. I don’t know that much about Anthony Smith, and he fought a teammate Thiago Santos, it was a great fight in Brazil. That’s the only thing that I know about Anthony Smith, but I believe Jon Jones will win by domination.”
Jeremy Stephens: “I like Anthony Smith, him being from the Midwest. I like everything he’s about. He’s a good kid. He’s came a long way. I just think Jon Jones is a different type of beast. He’s very focused going into back-to-back fights. He’s pretty much dialed in. And I can sense some things that Anthony does where maybe he’s a little more insecure about himself. No disrespect, because I think Anthony is a very talented kid and he’s a very hard-hitting motherf*cker. And he has a chance to prove me wrong Saturday. But I’ll go with Jon Jones.”
Johnny Walker: “It’s two great fighters, but Jon’s [bigger] than him, not only in the reach or the size, but with big fights. Jon Jones will beat him, I think. I hope so, because I hope Jon Jones holds the belt until I’ll be there. Of course, I hope so.”
Alejandro Pérez: “This is a really, really good fight. I think Jon Jones will win the fight, but this is a hard fight. It’s a hard fight and they’re both [tough]. But Jones.”
Mickey Gall: “I don’t know, man. I don’t know. I think it’d be cool to see those titles change hands. Let’s go ‘Lionheart.’”
Cody Stamann: “I think if Jones doesn’t win, it’s the biggest upset in MMA history. I mean, everyone here probably thinks Jon Jones is gonna win, except for maybe Smith. You never know. I’ve seen it happen before by a landslide, like when T.J. [Dillashaw] beat [Renan] Barao. I don’t know what the odds are, but I imagine they’re not great for Anthony Smith. It’s probably a huge jump. But he’s tough, man. He’s got a puncher’s chance. But I wouldn’t bet money on that fight.”
Colby Covington: “My good buddy and former roommate Jon Jones is going to knock out Anthony Smith. He’s a cheater and it’s a joke, he’s failing (drug) tests, but that’s how the UFC is today, so it is what it is. He’s still going to get his hand raised.”
Misha Cirkunov: “It’s very, very tough going against somebody who is on such a long winning streak and who kind of gets away with certain things from time to time. Jon Jones is very tough to beat, that’s why I go with the underdog. One of the biggest underdogs on this card. I go for him, because he’s an underdog and he’s a great guy. … If Anthony wins the fight, he would have to study Alexander Gustafsson’s first fight against Jon Jones. There are some things you could take from there. I mean, Jon Jones is really well-rounded, pretty much everywhere. And he’s very strong for the weight class, he has a good reach. All the good attributes. So it’s a very, very, very difficult fight for anybody, not just Anthony Smith. But I hope they find a good game plan and I hope thy execute it, because that’ll be one of the biggest upsets in the UFC’s history.”
Gina Mazany: “Man, that’s gonna be an exciting fight. Jon Jones is a savage, everyone knows. But Anthony Smith is a special creature. He can take an ass beating for a couple rounds and then he serves it back to you, which would will make that a very good fight and a special fight. So, I tend to like to go for the underdog, but I’m excited for a good fight. They’re both down to scrap and they’re both down to fight, which I think will leave the best one.”