UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has not fought very often the last couple of years because of his issues with USADA, but 2019 appears like it could be a big year for the three-time champ. TMZ reported over the weekend that Jones, who just knocked out Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232, will make a quick turnaround when he fights Anthony Smith at UFC 235 on March 2 in Las Vegas. UFC president Dana White told reporters at the UFC 232 post-fight press conference that he wanted Jones to stay busy this year, and it appears that Jones wants to do the same.
After taking very little damage in the Gustafsson rematch, Jones is healthy and ready to go, and the UFC did the smart thing here by giving him a quick turnaround. The truth is, the promotion was having a hard time figuring out the main event for UFC 235. With issues surrounding Nick Diaz and his fight against Jorge Masvidal just disappearing off the calendar, the UFC needed a big fight on this card. The promotion has had issues booking UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley against either Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington, but after announcing the Jones vs. Smith fight the UFC got Woodley and Usman to sign on the dotted line. A card that was looking like it would be Woodley vs. Covington and Diaz vs. Masvidal now has Jones vs. Smith and Woodley vs. Usman as its top two bouts. That should mean more pay-per-view buys, which makes everyone happy.
For the UFC matchmakers, booking Smith for the title fight against Jones was absolutely the right call. Although Corey Anderson picked up a quality win over Ilir Latifi at UFC 232 and has been calling out Jones on social media lately, Smith has far too much momentum for the UFC to ignore, and the promotion made the smart decision to give him the title fight. Since moving up to light heavyweight in June, Smith has finished Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Rashad Evans and Volkan Oezdemir. He looks like a completely different fighter at 205lbs and is a fresh matchup for Jones, making him the logical choice for the UFC to book him against Jones next. The UFC is looking to have a monster fiscal year in the opening season of the UFC era, and Jones is one of the few proven PPV draws in the company. At this point, Jones vs. anyone would sell on PPV, but Smith deserved the shot more than anyone.
Does Smith have a chance is a different question completely. As good as he has looked at light heavyweight, you can’t ignore the fact Smith has been finished 12 times in his MMA career, including eight knockout losses and four submission defeats. Jones is essentially undefeated in his career and has defeated the best of the light heavyweight division for more than a decade now. USADA issues aside, Jones is probably the most talented mixed martial artist of all time. He finishes fights, and Smith is going to have to work really hard to stay off of the mat, which is where Jones does most of his damage.
Smith does have a puncher’s chance and has shown off his knockout power throughout his career, but you’d have to give Jones a big advantage in almost every area of the fight. Still, Jones vs. Smith is a brand-new matchup and it should be an entertaining bout for as long as it lasts. Coupled with Woodley vs. Usman, plus Ben Askren vs. Robbie Lawler and Zabit Magomedsharipov vs. Jeremy Stephens, UFC 235 looks like it’s shaping up to be another must-watch PPV from the world’s leading MMA promotion.