Fightful/Talking MMA Pick Em' For UFC 235

We'd like to welcome you to our event pick em'. I know this has been a tradition in the Talking MMA community, and one we look to continue here at Fightful.

We'll be doing these for main card UFC fights, and maybe for pro wrestling events as well. If there are any changes I need to make to better accommodate the Talking MMA group, don't hesitate to let me know.

At the top of the page is our Fightful MMA Podcast preview of the event, and you can subscribe to our MMA & Boxing Channel at this link. I'll also be going live right after the show for a review! You can make predictions all the way up until the main card is starting!

Jon Jones (c) vs Anthony Smith

Can we all agree that this is the easiest fight to pick on paper by far? Quite frankly, Jones is better at pretty much everything than Smith is. As cool as it is to see, Smith's success has been predicated on beating shopworn veterans and relying on his toughness to outlast better-equipped opponents. That shouldn't work against Jones, who has shown to be not only very durable, but he doesn't really fade much down the stretch. Smith's style requires a good deal of patience to find openings, but it also depends on his opponent giving him clear opportunities to counter. This is a problem for him because Jones is just as, if not more patient, and is at his most comfortable on the feet using his reach at distance with long kicks and punches. Smith is the harder hitter, but Jones always does well to control the range and discourage opponents from pressuring him to confidently. This is doubly dangerous for a fighter with so many defensive holes in his striking like Smith, who often relies on his chin.

Another area of concern for Smith is wrestling. His takedown defense has never possessed much in the way of solid takedown defense, and Jones is not someone you want on top of you. Smith has shown a pretty dangerous guard in the past, but I have my doubts he'll have much success there against Jones. Essentially, Smith is a fighter who often has to storm back while he's down on the cards, and that is simply not something you can rely on against Jones in the least. You can never fully count out a rousing comeback with Smith, but this is one fight that comes close. Jones should pick him apart on the feet and outclass him everywhere else before finding a stoppage in the 3rd round.

Tyron Woodley (c) vs Kamarau Usman

As I thought about this match up it became a lot tougher of a pick than I thought it would be. Woodley is such a tough match up for pretty much everyone in the division despite often slowing the action down to a crawl through a conservative striking approach. When I matched him and Usman up, the first thing that came to mind was that Usman is a relentless pressure fighter with a tireless work rate and incredible cardio while Woodley perpetually backs himself up to the fence, doesn't do much to discourage opponents from pressuring him, and his cardio is always in question. However, at this point it's safe to say that Woodely is just very comfortable with his back to the cage with a big counter right hand ready to go and Usman, while brutally effective at pressuring opponents, does leave himself open for right hands while closing the distance. Usman's striking has improved quite a bit over the years, but he can still be stiff and Woodley should have a speed advantage, which could spell trouble for him. For as much as Woodley's fights can drag, no one in the division covers distance as suddenly and quickly as he does. If Usman could get caught by Sergio Moraes' counters, he can definitely be hit by Woodley. Whether or not he can take the shot is another question; he's shown to be pretty durable, but has also commanded the majority of his fights and probably hasn't been hit with the type of power Woodley carries.
I think the fight will boil down to several important factors. How quickly can Woodley disincentivize Usman's pressure, if at all? It's very feasible that Woodley puts him in some trouble early, at which point Usman might think twice about his volume-heavy pressure approach. How successful will Usman's wrestling be? As we know, Woodley's wrestling is pretty sterling, but it's hard to forget the time he was largely nullified in the clinch by Jake Shields, who definitely isn't as strong a clinch fighter as Usman. However, if Usman isn't able to wrangle Woodley and minimize the amount of distance striking, he runs a significant risk of Woodley timing and catching him with a big shot. As impressive as his dominant performances over Demian Maia and Rafael dos Anjos were, both of them have shown to be more rendered a lot more uncomfortable by pressure than Woodley has. It's hard to know which route the fight will take, or even who comes out on top in those routes.

What we have here is a close one; at least on paper. I've turned it over in my head several times, but I have my doubts Usman will be able to impose his wrestling on Woodley. He may have some success in the clinch, but I feel Woodley's power could scare him off at key moments. This should be competitive and close throughout, but I think Woodley takes a decision that could potentially be controversial.

Robbie Lawler vs Ben Askren

How do you really call this one? Lawler has been out over a year following a knee injury, and prior to that definitely seemed to be on a bit of a decline. Askren is finally in the UFC, but although many people will tell you that either he's going to run roughshod over the division or that he's overrated and will get smashed, it's hard to really know one way or the other. Askren has spent the last several years looking mostly dominant in One FC, but fighting pretty lackluster competition. The highlights of his career are all in Bellator, where he established himself as a top 10 welterweight, and because it's been so long since he's fought worthwhile competition, it's difficult to determine how good he actually is at this point.
Stylistically this is essentially a striker vs grappler match up. Askren's unorthodox style of wrestling has led to the sort of "Everyone know what he wants to do, but few can stop it" distinction we see with many successful one-dimensional fighters. His striking is pretty abysmal, but it rarely ever prevents him from closing the distance. Lawler has had a penchant for putting on wars, but is more technical in his process than he's historically been given credit for; he's typically skilled at taking the information given to him during fights and adjusting. His takedown defense has been pretty solid during his current UFC run, but it's hard to imagine Askren can't at least drag him down if he's able to get inside. However, once on his back Lawler is pretty adept at scrambling back to his feet, and it'll be interesting to see him handle Askren's level of control. One might say that with the level of striking Lawler has he could feasibly just keep the fight on the outside and play the matador, but he is historically a "phone booth" fighter who actively seeks to exchange deep in the pocket. As a result it's never been particularly difficult to wrangle him into a clinch situation. Askren is also one of the more diverse wrestlers out there, and chains together a multitude of different attempts until he gets his man down.

So honestly...I don't know. I feel like there's been a palpable change in Lawler since his war with Carlos Condit, and the change hasn't been for the better. I worry that if Askren does have a good degree of success then Lawler might just get complacent and accept the way the fight is going even if he's losing. At the same time, who the hell knows if Askren can handle big shots from ? Lawler might need just one good opportunity to land, but as much as I hate to say it, the Lawler I've seen since he lost his title probably won't win this fight if he doesn't find that shot early. I guess I'm going with Askren by decision.

Tecia Torres vs Weili Zhang

When this fight was announced I was worried that it was a bit too much, too soon for Zhang, but it does make some sense given how thoroughly she dismantled a former top strawweight in Jessica Aguilar. Torres employed an out-fighting style that seemed counterintuitive to her short, squat frame, but once longer strikers poked holes in that approach she rounded out her game with a more wrestling and clinch-based approach. When that style wasn't enough to overcome a powerhouse like Jessica Andrade, Torres was firmly cemented in the role of gatekeeper to the elite. Now it's time to see if Zhang can cross over into that elite category with a win.

Zhang started out as mostly a wild striker with some impressive power, but in her UFC run has shown a bit more patience. She picked apart Danielle Taylor with little trouble, and as mentioned she ripped through Aguilar with even more ease. However, there is a large gulf in quality between Taylor and Torres, and Aguilar has looked largely shopworn in her UFC run; it's difficult to know just how good Zhang is. In Taylor she fought a fighter similar in size to Torres, but with a much less dynamic attack on the feet. Zhang is not particularly fleet of foot, and I could see Torres' speed and mobility giving her issues. Things could get interesting in the clinch since they've both shown to be physically strong, but Torres may be wise to avoid it. As much as I think it'd be better for the division if Zhang wins, I have to go with the experience of Torres to walk away with the decision.

Cody Garbrandt vs Pedro Munhoz

This is a pretty rough match up for Garbrandt to return to after two straight crushing losses to TJ Dillashaw. One has to worry about his state of mind and his confidence coming into the fight even before assessing the match up itself. Provided he's not a mental mess (or more of one) following the losses, the Dillashaw fights did go a long way in revealing just how dependent he is on his speed and reflexes to have success in exchanges. That said, his speed and reflexes are still some of the best in the division, and I'm not sure we can count on many fighters to exploit that limitation of his game. Munhoz is at least someone who could further test whether or not his chin is compromised.

Munhoz's style is also flawed, but almost in an inverted sense compared to Garbrandt's. He very much lacks speed so he's not dependent on that, but instead he depends on his toughness to withstand shots while aggressively pressuring his opponents. He needs that durability because he often moves in straight lines and is very hittable. In recent fights he's shown a bit more discipline, but he's still prone to getting into firefights; the question is whether or not that will work for or against him here. If he's able to hurt Garbrandt it could be the break he's looking for. Garbrandt showed in both Dillashaw fights that his response to getting tagged is to just swing back, and if he's really hurt to shoot for a takedown. Munhoz has perhaps the best guillotine in the division, and if he can get Garbrandt to shoot that could be all she wrote. On the other hand, Munhoz's approach is still a very dangerous game to play with Garbrandt because he's faster, has better reflexes, and hits harder. I'm not so sure Garbrandt is the guy you want to "take one to give one" against when you're at such a marked speed disadvantage. Munhoz could do what Dillashaw did and use leg kicks to frustrate Garbrandt and open him up to getting reckless, but with Munhoz's propensity for getting reckless as well he'd still be open to getting cracked even when he pulls out a counter.

This fight will be interesting just in seeing how Garbrandt deals with the losses. One one hand you could say that Garbrandt may have been exposed since he fell for the same combinations multiple times in those fights. But on the other hand, how much did emotion factor in? Garbrandt legitimately didn't like Dillashaw, and it's definitely feasible that part of the reason he was so easily drawn into falling for the same shots was that he let his dislike for Dillashaw get the better of him and he just wanted to knock him out too badly. I don't anticipate he has the same impatience when it comes to Munhoz, and he'll probably be more disciplined like he was in his career-defining performance against Dominick Cruz. It's a dangerous fight for both men, but in the end I have to favor Garbrandt. Munhoz is very durable so I could see this going the distance, but I think I'll take Garbrandt to score a knockout in that late first-round-early second-round range.

Here is the UFC 235 main card lineup:

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship
Jon Jones (23-1, 1NC) (c) vs. #3 Anthony Smith (31-13)

UFC Welterweight Championship
Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) (c) vs. #2 Kamaru Usman (14-1)

#6 Robbie Lawler (28-12, 1NC) vs. Ben Askren (18-0, 1NC)

#7 Tecia Torres (10-3) vs. Weili Zhang (18-1)

#2 Cody Garbrandt (11-2) vs. #8 Pedro Munhoz (17-3, 1NC)

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