UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith
Updated: Sep 8, 2020
UFC 235: Jon Jones vs. Anthony Smith
T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada
March 2, 2019, 9:30 PM PST
We like Jones to collect the win in the headline event for UFC 235 Saturday night, and to continue his effort to put the personal foolishness that became so much of a distraction in recent years in the rear-view mirror. However, with the betting market pricing Jones at the high-end of his historical range of implied winning probabilities, we are passing on the moneyline. Instead, we have honed in on a reasonably-priced prop bet that we think is likely to collect.
Aiding Jon Jones' effort to defend his belt Saturday evening, most obviously, is his significant physical advantage over Anthony Smith--namely, a massive eight inch edge in the arm reach department. But the light heavyweight champ is also statistically superior in virtually all important performance categories, such as striking accuracy and defense, and take down attempts, completion rate and defense.
To illustrate the vast disparity in net output between Jones and Smith, the following chart shows significant strikes landed per minute, minus significant strikes absorbed per minute for each fighter, by year, for the entirety of both of their UFC careers--a measure of the extend to which a fighter gives better than he receives.
There are a couple of key takeaways from the chart. First, the difference between Jones' and Smith's performance, historically, is quite stark. In aggregate, Jonny "Bones" has inflicted about two more significant blows than he has taken per minute of action in the octagon over his both illustrious and sometimes bizarre career. On the other hand, "Lionheart", enigmatically given his 0.700+ win rate, has taken more solid shots than he has dished per minute throughout his relationship with the UFC.
Also evident from the chart, Jones' performance is on the upswing off the lows registered years ago in his initial match-ups with Gustaffson and Cormier--by the way, those lows were still notably north of the 0.75 average striking differential for the light heavyweight division reported by Richard Mann for Bloody Elbow in a piece he wrote ahead of UFC 214.
Thus, our reading of tea leaves suggest Jones is very likely to emerge from this evening's scuffle victorious. However, with moneyline odds in the ballpark of -800, this expectation comes as no surprise to bookmakers. The uber-steep juice on Jones forces us to pass on the opportunity to make $100 per $800 of risk. However, we isolated a compelling prop bet that is consistent with our expected outcome:
We are backing Jones to win by KO, TKO or DQ -140.
Supporting our preferred play, we first note that UFC fights featuring combatants in the Middleweight or higher weight classes have ended by stoppage more than half the time, based on a 2013 examination of 1,448 contests by Fightnomics, which is to say that our selection has a natural weightiness.
More specific to tonight's action though, we expect Jones' striking ability and reach advantages to lead to domination over Smith standing. As such, we are not looking for Jones to willfully take the fight to the ground. While the eventual hall-of-famer collected four submission wins early in his career, the last came in 2012. Jones attempts a submission about every other fight, on average, and we do not see Smith as possessing the tools to threaten Jones sufficiently to force the fight to the mat.
Instead, Jones seems more likely to unleash a barrage of unconventional striking on Smith from range, showcasing his freakish athleticism and hand-game edge. Thus, we deem a Jones win by submission unlikely.
Moreover, while Jon Jones' has earned about an average proportion of his victories by decision (average for the light heavyweight division, that is), Jon Jones 2.0, the one on the comeback trail, has something to prove. We think Jones will seek a definitive pronouncement against Smith and will want to keep the decision out of the hands of the judges.