Weekend Warrior: Jon Jones Eyes UFC 235 Title Defense Opposite Anthony Smith

Photo: Sean M. Haffey (Getty Images)

For all his flaws and maddening missteps, Jon Jones inexorably remains the preeminent talent in mixed martial arts.

Jones will defend the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title against journeyman turned contender Anthony Smith in the UFC 235 headliner on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, Tyron Woodley puts his welterweight championship on the line against Kamaru Usman—he of the 13-fight winning streak—in the co-main event.

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Despite run-ins with the law, issues with substance abuse and a cloud of suspicion regarding performance-enhancing drugs, Jones once again finds himself on top of the mountain at 205 pounds. The 31-year-old Jackson-Wink MMA representative reclaimed the vacant light heavyweight championship on Dec. 29, when he put away Alexander Gustafsson with punches in the third round of their UFC 232 rematch.

Jon Jones

Jon Jones punches Alexander Gustafsson. Photo: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC (Getty Images)

Jones’ historic resume includes wins over the aforementioned Gustafsson (twice), reigning two-division Bellator MMA titleholder Ryan Bader and six current or former UFC champions: Daniel Cormier, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Mauricio Rua. Even so, he thinks he has more left in the tank.

“I feel like right now I’m at my absolute best,” Jones said at the pre-fight press conference. “I’m realizing how much I don’t know still about this sport. I’m really excited about how much I’m learning still. I feel like my best performance will be this next one, for sure.”

Smith has rattled off 14 victories across his past 16 appearances, a run of sustained success that includes his current three-fight winning streak. Spawned by the Disorderly Conduct outfit in Omaha, Nebraska, “Lionheart” last competed at UFC Fight Night 138, where he submitted Volkan Oezdemir with a third-round rear-naked choke. Smith, 30, has delivered 28 of his 31 career wins by knockout, technical knockout or submission. He believes he can crack the Jones’ code.

Anthony Smith punches Volkan Oezdemir. Photo: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC (Getty Images)

“I think that every matchup is different,” Smith said. “I don’t think you’re ever going to fight two separate people and see the same thing, but I think, especially with the move to 205 [pounds], I can really grow the way I’m supposed to in between fights and leading up during camp. I have the answer. I really do, or I wouldn’t be here. I’m not just coming in to hang out and fight.”

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UFC 235 “Jones vs. Smith”—which airs live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT—will also feature a welterweight clash pairing former champion Robbie Lawler with the undefeated Ben Askren, a women’s strawweight tilt pitting Tecia Torres against Weili Zhang and a bantamweight affair matching Cody Garbrandt with Pedro Munhoz. ESPN (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT) and UFC Fight Pass (6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT) are scheduled to share coverage of the eight-fight undercard, highlighted by a high-stakes featherweight showdown between Jeremy Stephens and Zabit Magomedsharipov.

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