Five things to watch for at UFC 235

UFC 235 in Las Vegas will pack a lot into Saturday night. Here are five things to watch for as fight night wears on.

A main event featuring the greatest champion in the sport (Jon Jones) against an overachiever driven by poise and self-belief (Anthony Smith). A co-main featuring another champion who’s in the pound-for-pound top five (Tyron Woodley) and a challenger who has won 13 fights in a row (Kamaru Usman). Still another bout in which a rugged former titleholder (Robbie Lawler) welcomes to the UFC an undefeated champ of two other promotions (Ben Askren).

Early prelims: UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET

Look but don’t touch

The first bout of the night features Polyana Viana. You might recall her latest fight. It happened not in the Octagon but on a Rio de Janeiro street, where in January she was approached by a man who said he had a gun and wanted her phone. She wanted her phone too, though, so she gave him something else.

“I gave him two hooks and a kick,” she told ESPN through a translator.

The kick to the face bloodied and staggered the would-be mugger, whom Viana (10-2) put in a chokehold and held until the police arrived. Now she faces Hannah Cifers (8-3) in a strawweight bout in the opener.

Prelims: ESPN and ESPN Deportes, 8 p.m. ET

The ultimate test

Mickey Gall was 13 years old and not yet in high school on the April night in 2005 when his future employer, the UFC, was on the verge of going out of business. But a couple of televised fights that evening saved the promotion. Most famous was the light heavyweight slugfest between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, which drove the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” to TV success.

Earlier in the night came a middleweight final in which the first Ultimate Fighter was determined. His name is Diego Sanchez (28-11), and 14 years later he is 37 and coming to the end of a feisty career. His 40th pro fight pits him against the 27-year-old Gall (5-1), who burst on the scene in 2016 and snatched away the dreams of CM Punk and Sage Northcutt.

Meeting at the crossroads

Zabit Magomedsharipov is 16-1 and has won 12 fights in a row, nine of his past 10 by finish. But during his swift rise through the featherweight division, he has never faced anyone the caliber of Jeremy Stephens.

Stephens (28-15), an explosive 32-year-old, has been in the cage with the likes of Jose Aldo, Max Holloway, Frankie Edgar, Renan Barao, Anthony Pettis and Rafael Dos Anjos.

This is a big step up for Magomedsharipov, and the fight also will help determine where Stephens stands at this point in a career that’s still chasing glory.

Main card: pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET

Breaking his fall?

Sixteen months ago, Cody Garbrandt was on top of the world. He was undefeated and bantamweight champion, having taken the belt away from the greatest 135-pounder in history, Dominick Cruz. And Garbrandt was on a mission: to defend the honor of Team Alpha Male against a teammate-turned-traitor. But Garbrandt ended up losing to that former training partner, TJ Dillashaw, and then lost to him again a year later. He dropped both of those grudge-match title fights by TKO. Now Garbrandt (11-2) is moving on to fight Pedro Munhoz (17-3) while facing a career path divided into two options: pick up the pieces or fall to pieces.

Jones vs. Jones

Contrary to what the fight posters say, this is the real main event. No disrespect to Anthony Smith (31-13), who worked his way toward the top and earned the opportunity to change his life in one night, but Jon Jones (23-1, 1 NC) has demonstrated throughout his starry career that there’s only one person on the UFC roster who can defeat him: Jon Jones.

Jones’ lapses in focus mostly have happened outside the cage, but the one time he acknowledged having taken his eye off the prize in a fight, Alexander Gustafsson nearly yanked the prizefight away from him. Jones is coming off a dominant performance in a rematch with Gustafsson, though, so is his mojo back? Or will all of his life’s distractions in recent years sidetrack “Bones”?

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