No fighter in the world could keep Jon “Bones” Jones (23-1-1) out of the cage but himself.
His extended inactivity over the last few years was due to issues outside of the Octagon—both legal and drug-related. But 2019 seems primed to be a busy year for the man many consider to be the best pound-for-pound fighter of all-time.
Returning from a 17-month layoff at UFC 232 late last year, Jones reclaimed the Light Heavyweight title with a one-sided TKO victory over Alexander Gustafsson. Now, he’ll put that championship on the line against surging contender Anthony “Lionheart” Smith (31-13-1) in the main event of this weekend’s UFC 235 from Las Vegas, Nevada.
Despite the out-of-competition issues that have plagued his career, Jones has been essentially unbeatable inside of the cage. The only blemishes on his record are a disqualification loss—a fight with Matt Hamill that he was winning—and a no-contest—a bout with Daniel Cormier that he won inside the Octagon but failed a post-fight drug test for.
Stylistically, there are few fighters more well-rounded and more technically sound than Jones. His multifaceted attack has helped him secure 23 career victories over a plethora of former champions, including MMA luminaries Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Lyoto Machida. Training out of the famed Jackson-Wink Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the 31-year-old has consistently improved over the course of his career.
On the feet, Bones is a master of distance. Standing 6’5” tall and possessing an 84 1/2 in. reach, he utilizes a kick-heavy style to keep his opponents at a range he feels comfortable with. An incredibly creative and unorthodox striker, Jones, who often switches stances, mixes his wide variety of kicks with the use of knees, elbows and an ever improving boxing game.
In regards to grappling, Jones is well-rounded in this department as well. Coming from a wrestling background, Jones has only been taken down twice throughout his 25-fight career. He’s also shown the ability to mix his takedowns in well with his striking and has often found success in controlling and attacking opponents in the clinch.
Once a fight hits the canvas, Jones is extremely dangerous in the top position, whether it be due to his positional control and relentless ground-and-pound or to his growing arsenal of submissions.
Moving onto Smith, the 30-year-old has had a career resurgence since moving up to 205 pounds. Since his light heavyweight debut last year, he’s scored three-straight stoppage victories over Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, and Volkan Oezdemir. And despite being a heavy underdog (+650) this weekend, he’s actually far more experienced than Jones with 44 professional fights to his name.
Stylistically, Smith is a pressure fighter with a dangerous arsenal of Muay Thai attacks. Often preferring to walk down his opposition, Lionheart likes to fight on the inside where he can attack with knees and elbows and possibly engage in the clinch.
Standing 6’4” tall and owning a 76 in. reach, Smith will need to get inside with Jones. He should be careful about engaging in a clinch battle with the champion though as Jones is equipped with some of the most lethal elbows in the sport.
In addition, Smith possesses fight-ending power, as evidenced by his recent finish streak and his 17 career victories by T/KO, and an improved jab. However, it must be said that his striking defense isn’t always his strong suit.
In regards to his grappling game, Smith has 11 career submission victories to his credit and is capable of doing serious damage should he end up in top control, though I feel as if he’ll be at a major disadvantage in this area.
Lionheart isn’t known as the strongest wrestler, a department he struggled in at Middleweight. That may cost him in this fight. Smith’s feel-good story has been a joy to watch, but he just won’t have much to offer Jones.
Expect the champion to use his kicks and keep his distance on the feet before landing a takedown and finishing the fight via submission or strikes on the ground, all within the opening two rounds.