LAS VEGAS (AP) — Jon Jones defended his light heavyweight title with a unanimous decision victory over Anthony Smith at UFC 235 on Saturday night, overcoming a two-point deduction for an illegal knee to Smith’s head in the fourth round.
Kamaru Usman claimed the UFC welterweight title in the penultimate bout at T-Mobile Arena, dominating Tyron Woodley in a one-sided unanimous decision victory.
Ben Askren, Woodley’s close friend and training partner, survived an opening-minute beating and rallied to choke out Robbie Lawler midway through the first round of his own UFC debut.
Jones (24-1) had little trouble in an expert display of his all-around brilliance against the overmatched Smith (31-14), who had no answers for the likely pound-for-pound champion of mixed martial arts.
Jones dominated on his feet, against the cage and on the ground until he got in trouble in the fourth round when his knee struck Smith’s head while the challenger was in a downed position. Referee Herb Dean deducted two points from Jones, who apologized to Smith after the bell.
“This MMA thing is really hard,” Jones said. “Some days you’re going to look amazing, and some days at work you’re not going to perform at the level you hold yourself to.”
Jones finished uneventfully and remained unbeaten since 2009, winning a decision for the fifth time in his last seven fights.
Jones won 48-44 on all three scorecards.
Jones has been the UFC’s 205-pound champ for long stretches of the past eight years, but also has been stripped of his belt twice. After doping suspensions and other woes limited Jones to just two fights in a nearly four-year stretch of his prime, he returned to the cage at UFC 235 just nine weeks after beating Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 last December to reclaim his belt.
Smith, a tough veteran fighter from Nebraska City, got a title shot when Jones decided to make a quick return to the cage. Although Smith had won three consecutive fights, he was a heavy underdog at the Vegas sports books, but Jones emerged with respect for Smith’s fighting spirit.
“I have never had anyone talk to me while I’m hitting them,” Jones said. ”(Smith was) saying like, ‘That was nice,’ or, ‘Was that all you’ve got?’”
Woodley (19-4-1) had been the UFC’s 170-pound champ since July 2016 and defended the belt four times, but Usman (15-1) got off to a quick start and never let up in his first career title shot. Usman celebrated in the cage with his daughter before his hand was raised in victory.
The 31-year-old Usman, a Nigerian-born Texan and former NCAA Division II wrestler, broke into the UFC in 2015 on its long-running competition reality show. He won his first eight UFC bouts and battered ex-champ Rafael Dos Anjos last November to earn his shot at Woodley’s belt.
“Can’t nobody handle me,” Usman said. “I’ve been wanting this fight, and I’ll be honest, I might not be the best striker in the world. I might not be the best wrestler in the world. But when it comes to mixing this (stuff) up, I’m the best in the world right now.”
After a close opening round, Usman dominated the second with top control on Woodley, who couldn’t escape or avoid Usman’s elbows. Usman peppered Woodley with body shots in the first three rounds, and he appeared to be close to finishing Woodley in the fourth with punches.
Usman won 50-44 on two cards and 50-45 on the third.
“I have no excuses,” Woodley said. “I was prepared for this fight. I would love to run it back again and put on a better performance.”
The 34-year-old Askren’s UFC debut and unbeaten record almost ended abruptly when Lawler picked him up, slammed him down on his head and battered him with punches that left Askren badly bloodied.
“It took me a little while to get my bearings after the slam,” Askren said. “I was mostly surprised at how quickly he got me up and down.”
Askren survived and eventually gained position on Lawler with a bulldog choke. Lawler was furious when Dean stopped the bout, insisting he was fine in the choke. Some cage side observers thought Lawler was unconscious, but he sprung out of the stoppage.
“I was bleeding all over the place, so I just squeezed as hard as I could,” Ascran said. “Everyone is upset with Herb, but he came in and checked on Robbie (in the clinch), and Robbie gave him (no response). As a veteran, that’s on Robbie. That’s not on Herb or me.”
The outspoken Ascran (19-0), a former U.S. Olympic wrestler, joined the UFC late last year after a decade fighting in other promotions and sparring with UFC President Dana White on social media. The UFC surprisingly added him to its roster last year, trading former flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson to the One Championship promotion.
“Dana, is that the best you’ve got? Bring it, baby,” Ascran said after beating Lawler, the former welterweight champ.
Former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt took his third straight loss in the PPV opener, getting stopped by Pedro Munhoz in the final seconds of the first round after their fight turned into an all-out brawl.