Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

UFC 235 Best Bets

Saturday’s UFC 235 card at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas is absolutely stacked. There are two title fights, two former champions in action, the Octagon debut of undefeated Ben Askren, another appearance from the light-heavyweight division’s rising star in Johnny Walker, a great featherweight matchup between Jeremy Stephens and Zabit Magomedsharipov and yet (and who the hell wouldn’t pay money to watch?!) another scrap involving the one-and-only Diego Sanchez.

Due to a slew of various screw-ups on his part, Jon ‘Bones’ Jones (23-1-1 MMA, 17-1-1 UFC) fought only three times between Jan. 3 of 2015 and Christmas in 2018, a span that covered nearly four years. Now he’s set to fight for a second time in essentially two months when he puts his light-heavyweight belt on the line against Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith.

As of early Friday evening, most books had Jones installed as an enormous -900 favorite with a total of 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -160, ‘under’ +130). Unless you’re a serious Chalk Eater, then Jones on the straight price is not even close to an option. Bettors can shave that price off and still support Jones with two different proposition wagers – Jones to win by submission (+170 neighborhood) or by KO/TKO (-130).

Jones has twice been stripped of his 205-pound strap. He got the belt vacated by Daniel Cormier back with his third-round knockout (ground-and-pound punches) of Alexander Gustafsson in the UFC 232 headliner on Dec. 29. However, he was once again embroiled in controversy when a prefight drug test indicated a trace of turinabol, the steroid he popped dirty for after defeating Cormier at UFC 214. (That result was changed to a no-contest, Jones was stripped of the title and suspended for 15 months.)

With the show scheduled during the holidays, the Nevada Athletic Commission didn’t have time to launch any sort of investigation and refused to license Jones to fight. With the scientists and experts in the field on its side, the UFC was able to get the California Athletic Commission to sanction Jones vs. Gustafsson.

The result of the drug test was released a week before the event so as competitors arrived in Las Vegas for fight week, they were quickly informed that the event was being moved to the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood outside of Los Angeles. For fighters cutting weight, this was an unfathomable inconvenience.

Nevertheless, in vintage Jones’ form, he offered no apologies to the other fighters impacted by his nonsense. In fact, he scolded media members, including a female journalist (who he told, “you suck!”), for having the audacity to even inquire further about another failed drug test at the UFC 232 prefight media event.

As usual, though, he took care of his business in the Octagon against Gustafsson, who had bloodied up and more than held his own in their first meeting at UFC 165. On that September night in 2013, Jones escaped with a narrow decision victory but looked to be in much worse shape (at the hospital) than ‘The Mauler’ afterward.

Smith (31-13 MMA, 7-2 UFC) is a former middleweight who moved up to LHW last year and rapidly ascended into contention. The Omaha product went 4-2 as a UFC middleweight but after a second-round KO loss to Thiago Santos (body kick and punches) last February, decided to quit cutting weight and going into fights drained of his strength and energy.

The results have been fabulous. Smith sent former LHW champion Rashad Evans into retirement with a 53-second KO at UFC 225 last June. Then six weeks later, he went to Hamburg, Germany, to take on former champ Shogun Rua in the UFC Fight Night 134 main event. Smith needed only 89 seconds to dust Rua with a big elbow and subsequent punches to garner a Performance of the Night bonus.

In his last outing this past October in the UFC Moncton headliner, Smith earned another POTN bonus by submitting Volkan Oezdemir, who had fought for the LHW strap in his previous fight, via rear-naked choke late in the third round.

Prediction: I do give Smith a slight chance here. I’ve seen zero signs of intimidation and unlike most of Jones’s opponents not named Gustafsson, the 6’3” Smith doesn’t give much away in height (one inch). He has big power in his right hand and has used elbows, kicks and knees in paving his way to victories. Although I don’t necessarily think Jones will need to resort to his wrestling, that’s where he has an enormous advantage here. And that’s certainly not to imply that Jones doesn’t also have the edge when the fight is standing (he undoubtedly does), but that’s where Smith is at his best. Let’s go with 1.5 units on Jones to win by KO/TKO at a -130 price.

In the co-main event, Tyron Woodley (19-3-1 MMA, 9-2-1 UFC) will look to defend his 170-pound title for the fourth time against Kamaru Usman. As of Friday night, most books had Woodley as a -160 ‘chalk’ with a total of 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -300, ‘under’ +225).

Woodley won the belt at UFC 201 in Atlanta on July 30 of 2016 when he knocked out ‘Ruthless Robbie Lawler. He retained his belt in his first title defense against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson that was scored a majority draw at UFC 205.

Since then, the Ferguson, MO., product has successfully defended his strap with a pair of boring-as-hell victories over Thompson, Demian Maia and Darren Till. He submitted Till in the second round his last time out. Woodley’s only defeats in the UFC came against Jake Shields (split decision at UFC 161) and Rory MacDonald (UD at UFC 174). He owns other notable scalps over Kelvin Gastelum, Dong Hyun ‘The Stun Gun’ Kim, Carlos Condit, Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley.

Usman (14-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC) won Season 21 of The Ultimate Fighter by submitting Hayder Hassan in July of 2015. He’s been on a tear in the 170-pound loop since then, earning seven decision wins and one KO victory. His most notable wins have come over Maia and Rafael Dos Anjos.

The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ comes from a wrestling background and is an outstanding grappler, but it isn’t a style that’s earned him much fanfare as his decision wins can attest to. Nevertheless, Usman has had his hand raised in each Octagon visit and can taste UFC gold with a win Saturday night.

Prediction: Like Usman, Woodley is from a wrestling background and you could argue is superior in that specific facet of mixed martial arts. But while Usman’s striking is a serious project that’s still in progress, Woodley is a decimating striker who can sleep any opponent with one punch. As I’m filing this column Friday night, some books are still offering Woodley at a -150 price. That’s a bargain (on Woodley) and we’ll take it for one unit. If the price for readers is North of that and especially if it elevates into the -170-180 range, drop that down to one-half unit or pass.

We noted a pair of former champions on this card and we’ll first touch on Lawler, the former welterweight kingpin who is returning for the first time since sustaining a torn ACL in a decision loss to Dos Anjos on Dec. 16 of 2017. He will face UFC newcomer and former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champ, Ben Askren.

As of Friday night, Askren (18-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) was a -270 favorite with Lawler installed as the +220 underdog. The total was 2.5 rounds (‘over’ -250, ‘under’ +200).

The 36-year-old Lawler (28-12-1 MMA, 13-6 UFC) bounced back from his loss to Woodley to win a UD (29-28 across) over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone at UFC 214, but many, including this space, thought Cerrone should’ve been given nod from the judges.

Lawler is a legend of the sport and one of its most vicious knockout artists. If there’s a fighter on the roster that’s been in as many epic and bloody battles than Lawler, I’m not sure who it is (actually, check that! Maybe Diego Sanchez?). And as a UFC bettor, you must question how much of a toll those slugfests have taken on him, especially when he’s coming off an injury like he is in this spot.

Lawler had a pair of wars with Johny ‘Big Rigg’ Hendricks, splitting those matchups that were both narrow decisions. Both went the distance with Hendricks winning the first by UD, while Lawler won the belt with a split-decision triumph in the rematch. Hendricks was never the same fighter again after those scraps.

Between the bouts with Hendricks, Lawler had another thrilling five-rounder with Matt Brown in which he prevailed by UD. After Lawler-Hendricks II, the American Top Team member beat MacDonald by fifth-round KO in the 2015 Fight of the Year. MacDonald hasn’t been the same fighter since, mostly due to the damage he took in the form of left hands from Lawler to his nose.

And then at UFC 195, Lawler retained his strap by taking a split decision over Condit in what easily ranks in the Top 10 of my all-time favorite UFC fights. I bet on Lawler that night so I can’t say I was pissed that he won, but I undoubtedly felt that Condit narrowly prevailed in that one.

I must confess that I don’t watch a ton of MMA fights in other promotions, so I’ve yet to see Askren in action. But I have heard how Woodley (and nearly everyone else) raves about his long-time teammate and training partner, even saying in this recent edition of the UFC 235 ‘Countdown’ show that “ya’ll might see me get my ass kicked right now for the first time” (in reference to a training session with Askren that was about to get filmed).

With that said, there aren’t many notable names on his resume. In fact, there’s only three that I’ve heard of in Lyman Good, Jay Hieron and Douglas Lima. Nevertheless, he has a zero in the ‘L’ column of his record and the oddsmakers clearly like his chances in his Octagon debut.

Prediction: We’ll pass here.

The other former champ is Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt, who is off a pair of KO losses to his bitter nemesis and former Alpha Male teammate, T.J. Dillashaw. The 27-year-old Garbrandt (11-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) soared to prominence by winning his first five UFC fights with four knockouts, including three in the first round.

Garbrandt won the bantamweight belt by dusting Dominick Cruz by UD at UFC 207. He had to undergo back surgery early in 2017, however, and might’ve taken his first title defense against Dillashaw a bit too soon. In that first showdown at UFC 217, Garbrandt nearly finished Dillashaw after flooring him late in the opening stanza, but Dillashaw was saved by the bell. He slowly regained his faculties early in Round 2 and then won by KO a the 2:41 mark of that round.

In the rematch at UFC 227, Dillashaw won against by KO but this time it came earlier in Round 1. In this crucial bounce-back spot for Garbrandt, he’s been tabbed as a -150 favorite versus Pedro Munhoz, who is a +125 underdog. The total is 1.5 rounds (‘over’ -165, ‘under’ +145).

Munhoz (17-3-1 MMA, 7-3-1 UFC) is 6-1 in his past seven fights, earning three POTN bonuses. He’s off a first-round KO win over Bryand Caraway this past November.

Prediction: I rode Garbrandt to a lot of profit during his climb up the 135-pound loop’s rankings. However, I gave some back in both of his L’s against Dillashaw and I just can’t lay this sort of price when he’s coming off back-to-back defeats by KO that might’ve exposed his chin a bit. With that said, I still say Garbrandt has the best KO power in the division and since I’m questioning his chin, you can smell my thoughts of an ‘under’ here. Since we get plus money on it, let’s go that route with two units on ‘under’ 1.5 rounds for a +150 return.

B.E.’s Octagon Nuggets

-- Let’s throw out two more plays: Two units on Jeremy Stephens as a +210 underdog against Zabit Magomedsharipov and one unit on Johnny Walker (not the 1989 winner of Florida’s Mr. Basketball from…Quincy!) at -150 over Misha Cirkunov. Stephens had won three fights in a row and then had former featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo in all sorts of trouble early in the opening round of their fight last year. However, Aldo recovered and rallied to win by late first-round KO. This is a big step up in class for Magomedsharipov. Walker stud and highlight-reel KO artist. He needs more seasoning and I need to see him cope with a high-level wrestler before I’m completely solid on him (in terms of being a future champion), but this dude certainly has the type of size and power to potentially dethrone Jones in the 205-pound division (down the road, that is).

-- Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington won the interim welterweight championship by defeating Dos Anjos last year and appeared poised to take on Woodley to unify the belt. However, when Covington needed nose surgery that would keep him out for eight weeks, the promotion slotted Till to take on Woodley. Since Covington was passed up in favor of Usman for Saturday’s title shot, he has been raising hell with complaints and trash talk directed at Dana White, the UFC, Woodley and Usman. In fact, Covington crashed Usman’s open workout for the fans on Thursday to heckle the challenger. He’s been referring to White as ‘Uncle Fester’ and tracked down the UFC President while playing blackjack in a high-roller room at The Palms on Thursday night. As Covington had one of his sidekicks filming on Instagram live, the exchange went like this: “Dana, what’s up bro?” Covington said.

“Ohhhhh shit,” White replied.

“I just want an explanation for why I’m not fighting for the belt this weekend,” Covington replied.

At this point, White’s tone changed when he realized Covington had his social-media game going. “Stop filming,” White said.

“C’mon, bro! I just want an explanation.” Covington demanded.

“No, I’m fuckin’ gambling.” White fired back.

Covington was then escorted out by security. It was hard to pick up how many (or what color) chips White had in front of him.

-- Will Cerrone face Conor ‘The Notorious’ McGregor on July 6 in the UFC 239 headliner? Budweiser vs. Proper Twelve? Cerrone appears to be teasing that in this Instagram post

UPDATE: After the weigh-ins on Friday, White told ESPN's Brett Okamoto that, "Conor probably won't fight until the fall and you know Cowboy always wants to fight, so we're looking for another fight for him."

-- Women’s flyweight contender Paige ’12 Gauge’ VanZant revealed Thursday night on social media that she’s broken her arm again. It’s unclear how long this new injury will keep her out of action.

-- Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort has been calling his last several bouts “retirement fights.” But the dude has a serious need for fame and attention and, certainly not to the surprise of this space, inked a new contract with ONE Championship this week. The ONE roster now sports former UFC champs Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Belfort, not to mention ‘Super’ Sage Northcutt.

-- Word filtered out earlier this week that UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes had been issued a restraining order late in 2018 to stay away from his brother and his wife, who alleged that the former welterweight champ had violently attacked them. As most of you readers are aware, Hughes’s truck was hit by a train in a 2017 accident and he suffered a serious brain injury. Hughes denied the allegations in a lengthy Instagram post a few days after these media reports came out.

-- UNDERRATED: The looks on Diego Sanchez’s face during staredowns.

Follow Brian Edwards' sports gambling opinions on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

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