The time is here and the biggest and best UFC event of the year so far will go down with tonight’s (Sat., March 2, 2019) UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Decorated-but-troubled light heavyweight champ Jones recently returned to MMA after yet another brush with performance-enhancing drug-related trouble. “Bones” showed no signs of rust, however. He easily reassumed his title by stopping rival Alexander Gustafsson in the headliner of December 29’s UFC 232.

Now, he’s looking to make up for the lost time of his many extracurricular transgressions that have bombarded his career. On the other side of the cage, longtime veteran Anthony Smith will stand as an unlikely contender. He brings the momentum of a dominant three-fight streak of finishes of Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Volkan Oezdemir. He also brings one of the most unorthodox, feel-good backstories in fighting if you take the time to read of it.

Instead of Jones’ elite trajectory, “Lionheart” fought his way up in the smoky backrooms of the Midwest MMA culture, fighting at strip clubs, rodeos and racetracks. Smith never stopped believing. He’s in the big leagues now and has a fight against the one athlete who probably should be the GOAT. Maybe he still is despite all the troubles.

Regardless, Smith is an almost historic underdog on most betting sites tonight. He’s more than +1000 on some, meaning a $100 bet will net you a cool $1000 payday. Buyer beware, however, as most are predicting Smith to just be the latest victim on “Bones'” comeback tour of demolishing. Does “Lionheart” have a chance to shock the world with the biggest upset in UFC history. Find out in our final UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith preview, prediction, and analysis below.

Striking:

This aspect of the fight is a different discussion on each respective side. “Bones” brings a more technical striking game to the fight. He uses his record reach as his greatest edge, feeling his opponents out while keeping them at bay with his accurate jab and impeding low kicks. He’s far from a knockout striker. The champ likes to wear his opponents down with a varied attack of Muay Thai‘s eight limbs. He mixes it up like few others ever have. It’s simply a beauty to watch, and Jones is currently in his prime despite his many layoffs.

As for Smith, he’s not terrible in terms of technicality, but he doesn’t come close to Jones. Few do at light heavyweight. No, “Lionheart” is more of a slugger with 17 knockouts in 31 overall wins. Jones has never been knocked out and has rarely been hit cleanly with much power. The belief that Smith can only win with a lucky knockout shot isn’t completely true, but it would definitely help the cause. That’s not anything to depend on, so Smith has to control the action and pressure Jones, no easy job. He does have the height to nearly match the 6’4″ Jones. In the end, ‘Lionheart’ is simply outclassed due to Jones’ more diverse bag of tricks, reach, and accuracy.

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Edge: 65-35 Jones

Wrestling:

Jones will secure another glaring strength here. He’s an NJCAA national champ who uses several effective takedowns to ground and control his rivals. Few have been able to stop him from securing one over the course of a full fight. When he’s able to get it, he often controls his opponents with a smothering, technically efficient top game. He’s also known for his clinch skills, using dirty boxing to score close-up.

Smith isn’t exactly a terrible wrestler, he’s just outmatched here. He ultimately submitted Volkan Oezdemir in his last fight. However, Oezdemir, a known striker, got “Lionheart” to the ground and took his back. It’s simply not a good sign when you’re facing a historic champion like Jones. He needs to keep “Bones” off his legs or it may be a long night for the upstart contender in Las Vegas.

Edge: 70-30 Jones

Submissions:

“Bones” has a dangerous submission toolkit which has propelled him to six tapouts in 23 total wins. He often gets his opponents on the ground and when he does, the fight is in jeopardy of ending immediately. Jones works an array of chokes and armbars from all positions. His ground and pound when dominating the jiu-jitsu action may be even more fearsome. But “Bones” can and does use his ever-improving ground assault to submit foes. “Lionheart” has been tapped four times in his 44-fight career. This all plays into an edge on the ground for the champ.

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But “Lionheart” is no slouch on the ground. He’s tapped out his opponent 11 times in 31 overall victories, a strong number to be sure. It’s just an uphill battle to obtain an advantageous position on the champion on the mat. “””Bones” has really only been threatened to submit by a Vitor Belfort armbar in the UFC. He wriggle out of that and tapped out “The Phenom” as a result. So once again, Jones has the edge.

Edge: 65-35 Jones

Final Prediction:

“Lionheart’s” rise to fame is an amazing story that sports are made for.

But the task he’s facing is just too big in my opinion. Jones appears to be at his prime in his early 30s, and if he is, he’s the greatest MMA talent ever. He’s that good, and his ever-evolving skillset is so rounded.

It’d be insane if Smith could knock Jones out in a Serra-like scenario, but I don’t see it happening. I see the champion grounding the action, landing some strikes, and locking on a submission in the second round.

Jon Jones defeats Anthony Smith via R2 submission (kimura, 2:25)