Jon Jones spent the better part of 25 minutes educating Anthony Smith on the vast gulf that exists between good and great.
“Bones” retained the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title with a convincing but somewhat pedestrian unanimous decision over Smith in the UFC 235 headliner on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 48-44, owing to a two-point deduction with which Jones was hit for an illegal knee strike in the fourth round.
Outside of the aforementioned foul, Jones was on cruise control. He broke down Smith with spinning back kicks to the body and front kicks to the face, tortured him in the clinch and mixed in a few takedowns for good measure, consolidating them with ground-and-pound and positional control. According to preliminary FightMetric data, Jones outlanded the challenger by an eye-popping 238-45 margin in the total strikes department. Of the 125 significant strikes with which he was credited, more than half (80) went to the legs and body.
In the aftermath of UFC 235 “Jones vs. Smith,” here are six matches that ought to be made:
Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos: Still undefeated outside of his disqualification loss to Matt Hamill in December 2009, Jones continues to strengthen his position in the Greatest of All-Time debate. The 31-year-old was in complete command of his opponent and surroundings, as he rolled past Smith on his way to another successful title defense at 205 pounds. Jones appears to be ticketed to the heavyweight division at some point, but new challenges await if he stays put. Santos appears to have moved to the front of the line with back-to-back-to-back finishes against Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz. The Tata Fight Team brute has compiled a 13-5 record since he joined the UFC roster in 2013.
Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington: Usman put together a virtually flawless performance, as he captured the welterweight crown with a one-sided unanimous decision over Tyron Woodley in the five-round co-main event. Scores were 50-44, 50-44 and 50-45, all for “The Nigerian Nightmare.” Usman wrecked his counterpart in the clinch, executed repeated takedowns and piled up points with heavy ground-and-pound. By the time the fight reached the championship rounds, Woodley seemed resigned to his fate. Usman nearly finished it in the fourth, where he unleashed a hellacious barrage of uppercuts and hooks along the fence. He could not have handled his business in more convincing fashion. On a six-fight winning streak, Covington has not competed since he took a five-round verdict from Rafael dos Anjos at UFC 225 in June.
Ben Askren vs. Darren Till-Jorge Masvidal winner: Though he was ultimately successful, Askren’s promotional debut did not go according to plan, as it was marked by substantial adversity and anticlimactic controversy. The former Bellator MMA champion was credited with a technical submission against Robbie Lawler after being battered, bloodied and nearly stopped moments earlier. Askren transitioned to a bulldog choke, and when Lawler’s arm appeared to briefly go limp, referee Herb Dean stepped in to call for the stoppage 3:20 into Round 1. “Ruthless Robbie” launched an immediate protest, to no avail. The win moved Askren’s record to 19-0 and allowed him to gain some traction in the welterweight division. Till will lock horns with Masvidal in the UFC Fight Night 147 headliner on March 16.
Weili Zhang vs. Michelle Waterson-Karolina Kowalkiewicz winner: Zhang has established herself as a person of interest in the women’s strawweight division and took another major step in her development with a unanimous decision over “The Ultimate Fighter 20” quarterfinalist Tecia Torres in a three-round feature at 115 pounds. The 29-year-old Black Tiger Fight Club cornerstone swept the scorecards with 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 marks from the judges, as she put her 19th straight win in the books. Torres could match neither her counterpart’s output nor her aggression and found herself pinned to the mat eating short elbows in the third round. Waterson and Kowalkiewicz have been booked opposite one another at UFC on ESPN 2 on March 30.
Pedro Munhoz vs. Aljamain Sterling: A former Resurrection Fighting Alliance champion who has largely flown under the radar, Munhoz made his most significant move yet and put away Cody Garbrandt with punches in the first round of their bantamweight showcase. Garbrandt succumbed to blows 4:51 into Round 1. Munhoz tipped his spear with crippling calf kicks, benefitted from an inadvertent head butt that went unnoticed and lured the Team Alpha Male export into a firefight. An overhand right folded Garbrandt where he stood and rendered him incapable of defending himself from the attack that followed. Sterling recorded his third consecutive victory at UFC on ESPN 1, where he was awarded a unanimous decision over Jimmie Rivera on Feb. 17.
Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Yair Rodriguez: Magomedsharipov pushed his winning streak to 13 fights with a unanimous decision over Jeremy Stephens in the featured featherweight prelim. All three cageside judges scored in 29-28. Magomedsharipov dictated terms of the engagement with accurate strikes, stance switches and sharp footwork, as he uncorked straight left hands behind kicks to the body and legs. A second-round takedown and an extended period of dominance on the ground extended his lead and afforded him the wiggle room he needed to withstand a late surge from Stephens. Rodriguez last appeared at UFC Fight Night 139 in November, when he authored the 2018 “Knockout of the Year” with a no-look elbow strike against Chan Sung Jung.