We present our UFC 235 free picks ahead of the big PPV event, which features two title defenses!
Check out our free picks for the main card, which is scheduled for Saturday, March 2nd out of Paradise, Nevada. The two stages of preliminary cards will also kick off earlier than the main card, which is scheduled for 7pm ET. Jeremy Stephens takes on Zabit Magomedsharipov, and Diego Sanchez battles Mickey Gall on ESPN prior to the pay-per-view. If you’re looking for cash cow dogs, you’re better off looking in the prelims because the card you have to dish out dollars for is one that presents as a chalk-heavy play.
Please visit our New Jersey sportsbook for up-to-date lines.
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Jon Jones -920 vs. Anthony Smith +540
There are much better fight analysts out there who can sing to the credentials of both fighters, but the long and short of this fight is that Jones is too expensive to make a real profit on. So why not take a shot at Smith with a cheeky flier play? To his credit, Smith has gone 6-1 SU in his last 7 fights and all of those wins have come via stoppage. He is a completely different fighter at the light heavyweight division, where he debuted by ending the career of Rashad Evans, knocking out Shogun and then ending Volkan Oezdemir with a submission. The guy’s talented. There’s no question about that.
At the end of the day, getting Jones an opponent who can challenge him is none of the highest priorities for the UFC. Despite all of his failings outside of the octagon, he remains a massive draw inside of it. Smith is a robust challenger despite being a bit of an unknown amongst mainstream pundits. At 31-13 SU over a fight career that has spanned over a decad, Smith has recently morphed in to an unbelievable competitor. What’s more is that 28 of his 31 wins have come via stoppage (17 knockouts, 11 submissions).
Where Smith’s biggest, physical disadvantage is with Jones’ ultimate weapon. Nobody has been able to solve the freakish reach advantage that Jones has, and it’s unlikely that Smith is the guy to solve that puzzle. But we’ve seen plenty of championship fights with lopsided odds like this and captured incredible upsets. Do not bust your bankroll on Smith, but a chip shot? That’s fair game considering the odds.
UFC 235 Free Picks – Smith +540
Tyron Woodley -180 vs. Kamura Usman +140
While Jones may be the most vilified champion in the UFC, Woodley remains the most polarizing. The 36-year old is accused too often of playing it safe. Fans want blood, and Woodley wants to keep his title. At some point, Woodley has to be credited for his ability to survive because you can only keep your career going for so long with Performance of the Night bonuses. Ever since he became the champ, Woodley has been a bit more careful in his tactics. It’s been a successful strategy, and while it’s won him several title defenses, it hasn’t exactly won over fans nor Dana White’s approval.
Usman may or may not be the type of fighter who can bring out the death-punching Woodley we all know exists somewhere inside the reigning champion. However, the challenger’s recent record doesn’t indicate that he is. Usman is 14-1 SU and undefeated in nine fights since entering the UFC, but he has claimed six unanimous decisions and just two stoppages. He’s an incredibly talented fighter, but Woodley feels like a gap too far in terms of experience, talent and scheme.
Woodley’s price here isn’t so steep that you can’t profit. He’s a much stronger bet than his odds will have you believe, and while Usman will challenge him to the best of his abilities, the much more powerful Woodley is going to do what he does best – pick his spots and play defense. It won’t be pretty, but praying that Usman can finish a man like Woodley when he hasn’t been able to do the same to dos Anjos or Maia is too much of a stretch. Woodley retains much to the chagrin of his boss.
UFC 235 Free Picks – Woodley -195
Ben Askren -295 vs. Robbie Lawler +220
The much anticipated debut of Ben Askren is finally here, and that’s bad news for Lawler. Askren arrived in the UFC via trade (yes, a trade) with ONE Championship in exchange for Demetrious Johnson and remains 18-0 SU in his career. He is a sensational grappler who has no problems trading punches with his opponent. At 34 years old, Askren is still in his prime and former middleweight champion Lawler is an ideal opponent to see where the newcomer stands in the title picture.
And all that being said, there is little to no fun in just running chalk with all the favorites on a UFC pay-per-view. I’m no fan of Lawler, but Askren has almost too much riding on this fight. If he doesn’t win – or perform at a high level – then Dana White will probably have no issue tossing him to the wolves. The main issue with Askren overall is the quality of competition he’s faced while presiding over the ONE Welterweight Championship, which he retained four times (technically five).
Lawler is by no means a world beater, but he’s been facing top flight competition throughout his UFC tenure. His loss to Rafael dos Anjos was over a year ago, and it was still a loss to dos Anjos. If there’s any reason to back Lawler, it’s that he’s a much higher caliber of fighter compared to what Askren has been mopping the cage with over in the Far East. Whether or not this is a sound enough argument for you to back a UFC veteran over a UFC newcomer is really up to you. Lawler isn’t a great bet, but Askren is a heavy burden to buy in to at -295.
I do think Askren wins, but Lawler is a better value play. There is a chance that Askren feels the pressure of a must-win situation to his detriment. I’m willing to take a shot despite my lukewarm feelings about Lawler overall.
UFC 235 Free Picks – Lawler +220
Tecia Torres -105 vs. Weili Zhang -120
Zhang has made waves in her first two fights since entering the UFC and is now 2-0 SU in the promotion and 18-1 SU overall. At 29 years old, the fearsome striker has a chance to skyrocket up the strawweight rankings by decimating Torres, who is coming off back-to-back losses against Jessica Andrade and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
UFC 235 Free Picks – Zhang -120
Cody Garbrandt -160 vs. Pedro Munhoz +125
Garbrandt’s an easy pick here to start the main card. Though he’s out of the Bantamweight Championship scene following two straight losses to TJ Dillashaw, he’s not going to be far from getting another shot at his former title. The 32-year old Munhoz is a perfect litmus test for Garbrandt’s stock. He is 6-1 SU in his last 7 fights having lost last to John Dodson in a narrow split decision. As long as Garbarndt stays on his feet, he’ll be able to control this fight because Munhoz is not a stand-up fighter. He might have reinvented himself in the past few weeks, but I’ll happily lay Garbrandt’s juice here.
UFC 235 Free Picks – Garbarndt -160