Jon Jones’ second reign as UFC light-heavyweight champion thus far has been defined by escaping controversy, and so it was again Saturday night as he cruised to a unanimous-decision triumph over Anthony Smith in the main event of UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena.
The judges’ cards would’ve been more one-sided than the three 48-44 scores they turned in, if not for Jones slamming his left knee to Smith’s head while he was downed and backed near the cage.
Referee Herb Dean reviewed a replay, and with Jones’ fate riding on his decision, Dean opted to deduct two points from Jones but stopped short of disqualifying him.
Bob Bennett, the Nevada State Athletic Commission’s executive officer, later explained that Dean ruled the knee intentional, but since Smith was able to continue, the penalty was not a disqualification.
“I wanted to win,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to steal it.”
Jones’ only loss was a 2009 disqualification in which he delivered illegal elbows to Matt Hamill.
This time, in Jones’ first Las Vegas fight since April 2016, he spent most of the evening smacking Smith (31-14) with reverse back kicks, kicks to the body and head and punches that were met by little resistance.
The performance was overwhelming and included a highlight-reel body slam of Smith in the third round, but Jones expressed frustration at not being able to finish Smith, whom he praised afterward.
“This MMA thing is hard … some days, you’re going to look amazing, some days you’re not,” Jones said. “Anthony Smith is so durable. I feel like tonight was just a learning lesson. I was chipping away. My strikes were not effective at all.”
Yet, for Jones, who’s endured personal problems that led to him being stripped of his belt and suspended three times between 2015 and 2017, retaining the title and skirting a disqualification is all he needed.
Welterweight Kamaru Usman spoke last week of the wealth — diamonds and gold — mined from his native Africa. There are more riches to be found, he said, displaying that Saturday by convincingly defeating Tyron Woodley to capture the title.
By pressuring Woodley, out-executing him on the canvas and landing blows like a punishing elbow to the head in a dominating second round, Usman was given a unanimous decision on scorecards of 50-44, 50-44, 50-45.
“I might not be the best striker or wrestler in the world, but when it comes to mixing it up, I’m the best fighter on the planet right now,” Usman (15-1) said in the octagon afterward.
Earlier, the UFC debut of Woodley’s close friend Ben Askren exceeded the expectations of his toughness and wrestling skill.
After surviving getting his head slammed to the canvas by former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler, Askren withstood the early barrage and delivered an ending chokehold 3 minutes 20 seconds into the fight, an inspired finish for the two-time NCAA wrestling champion.
“Hey Dana, is that really the best you got? Bring it baby,” Askren (19-0) said to UFC President Dana White following the triumph.