UFC 235 Undercard Picks
UFC 235 Undercard Picks
When: Saturday, March 2, 2019
Where: T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
The UFC 235 card is a blockbuster in Vegas, headlined by PFP top dog and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. But on the undercard or the main-card as they call it, are two tremendous welterweight fights, led by UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley taking on top challenger Kamaru Usman. Also on the card is another 170-pound battle where the winner might get the next title shot, with former champ Robbie Lawler taking on unbeaten UFC first-timer Ben Askren. Let’s break it all down here!
Tyron Woodley, 19-3-1 (6 KOs, 6 Submissions), (-160) vs. Kamaru Usman, 14-1 (6 KOs, 1 Submission), (+140)
UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley takes on Kamaru Usman on the main card in UFC 235. Woodley, 36, is making the fifth defense of his belt, having last fought in September with a submission-win over top-challenger Darren Till. Usman, 31, is unbeaten in his UFC tenure and looks to be a very serious challenger to the long-reigning Woodley.
Woodley is an easy guy to overlook. He had an up-and-down UFC career, before going on a roll, culminating in a first-round KO over then-champion Robbie Lawler for the UFC 170-pound strap. His two fights with Wonderboy Thompson failed to yield the expected fireworks, and after a dreary decision over Demian Maia, he was out of action for 14 months before getting the big win over Till.
On the one hand, there hasn’t been a ton of fireworks in his reign. But when you consider that each of his challengers was fancied by many to beat him, he has done well to avert being derailed.
Usman, meanwhile, has done everything asked of him in his UFC career, gradually rising in class. His last fight proved his merit as a real contender, with a unanimous five-round decision over ex-champ Rafael dos Anjos. He has gone the 25-minute distance twice, proving he can hang in there in this championship context. He lost his second pro fight, but a win-streak got him on The Ultimate Fighter where he won his season. He started stringing together wins, beating Maia and then dos Anjos in his last two fights. He hasn’t lost in 6 years and is a supreme wrestler who can crack with his strikes.
I think it’s fair to say Woodley is a bit underappreciated on a grand scale. Even in this fight, the odds suggest a vulnerable champion. But Woodley possesses the uncanny knack of simply winning. And having a nose for victory is a valued trait to have just in itself. You can talk about how well a guy wrestles, strikes, or how good he is at different disciplines. But having a knack for cultivating victories out of difficult scenarios is as treasured a trait as any of them.
Woodley eschews entertainment-value for what will work best. Against Thompson, he didn’t engage and played it smart. Against a great BJJ practitioner in Maia, he tried to neutralize his opponent’s strengths and did a great job. Against Till, a very technical striker, he was able to take him off his game, as well. Whatever opponents do well, Woodley is able to stifle it. He is a tremendous wrestler and carries cinder-blocks in his fists, which keeps his opponents from being able to be too aggressive. That gives him the room to use his brains and maturity to navigate his way to wins that might not be thrilling, but are wins nonetheless.
I can certainly understand the thought behind feeling Woodley’s days as champ are numbered. But betting against him in the last five years has been a losing proposition, despite the good cases all his opponents had going into the fight. Usman is a big threat, but with just one stoppage in his last eight fights, he might lack the fight ending potential to turn this one in his favor. I see Woodley finding a way to get it done in this one.
My Pick to Win: I’m betting on Tyron Woodley at -160 betting odds. I think the ugliness of his wins makes him an undervalued performer. Usman has a lot going for him, but Woodley has more tools and the winning-experience at this level to make him a reasonably-priced choice.
Robbie Lawler, 28-12 (20 KOs, 1 Submission), (+250) vs. Ben Askren, 18-0 (6 KOs, 5 Submissions), (-300)
Former UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler takes on undefeated Ben Askren in a 170-pound encounter where the winner might be in line for a title shot. Lawler is one of the hardcore veterans of the sport and at 36, has been a figure in MMA for 15 years. He’s been through enormous ups and downs but faces a real test here to stay near the top. Askren, 34, has never lost in MMA, though this is his first UFC fight. That isn’t due to skill, but rather some political wrangling. Can he make noise now that he has finally made it to the big-time?
Lawler last fought late in 2017, losing a tough decision to Rafael dos Anjos. Askren is only two years younger but has absorbed exponentially less wear than Lawler. But the former champ has shown that writing him off prematurely can be a big mistake. He seems to come back stronger when he’s being counted out. But to think his best days are behind him might not be that far off. Relegated to stepping-stone status, Lawler came back all the way. In doing so, however, he took a lot of beatings and participated in some of the most-gruesome blood and guts battles this division has ever seen. What version of Lawler can we expect at this point?
A lot of this fight’s analysis comes down to context. We see a fighter in Lawler who might be yesterday’s news, but how would Askren have fared in the same context? In other words, there aren’t any common threads in which to compare the two fighters. Askren has looked great, with his wrestling talent on another level. He grabs guys, latches on, and doesn’t let go. When he gets his hands on an opponent, he drags them down and smothers them. It’s a formula that’s worked like a charm, as he’s hardly been tested in his 18-bout career. It’s just that at this level, you want a guy who has proven he can rise to the occasion in the face of adversity. And for all his accomplishments, Lawler has at least 15 wins that are better than anything Askren has ever done in terms of quality of opponent, with the exception of Douglas Lima, which is a quality win for Askren.
Two fights ago, Lawler showed he still has something in the tank with a big win over Donald Cerrone. That inactivity, however, is a real killer. With no fights since 2017, Askren finds himself in the same spot. And maybe a less-than-breakneck pace has suited Lawler, who was coming off a long run of ultra-taxing battles.
I think Lawler matches up decently with the unbeaten Askren. His wrestling is often overlooked in light of his striking menace, but he is very adept at stuffing takedown attempts. Lawler’s back is against a wall, and he knows a close-to-vintage version of himself needs to surface, or his career could be winding down. I think the actual value on Lawler exceeds his +250 quote, as I see him as more of a -160 underdog. I’ll take Lawler in this one and guys if you don’t have an online betting account I suggest heading over to our Guide to the Best Sportsbook Bonuses and get an account at one of our recommended betting sites.
My Pick to Win: I’m betting on Robbie Lawler at +250 betting odds. Askren is unquestionably a top fighter but hasn’t fought anyone with the striking of Lawler. I think in a three-round fight, Lawler still has enough juice to get another big win in his meritorious career.