Equal amounts of trash talk and respect were thrown across the stage when the athletes of UFC 235 got on stage at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
After all the fighters were introduced, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones was asked about his recent hearing at the Nevada Athletic Commision and expressed his excitement to put that talk behind him.
“Through all the testing I’ll be vindicated,” Jones said. “And we’ll all be educated.”
Regarding his opponent, Anthony Smith, Jones insisted he is taking his opponent seriously despite being a heavy betting favorite.
“It’s a very dangerous position to be in,” he said. “When you are fighting a guy that no one expects to do well, as the favorite, you have to be mature and humble enough to stay on the drawing board.”
For Smith, being the underdog is nothing new, and to this point, it is a welcome tag.
“I’ve been doubted my entire career,” Smith said. “I’m a small-town kid from Nebraska. I’m not supposed to be here anyway.”
While both light heavyweights maintained a healthy amount of respect for each other heading into their title fight, the same could not be said about the athletes in the other title fight on the card.
Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and contender Kamaru Usman exchanged a marathon-length back-and-forth, displaying a level of verbal cardio that is equaled only by their gas tanks inside the Octagon.
“I ain’t backing up,” Usman, who is 9-0 in the UFC, said. “You hit me, I’m still coming. I’m coming all night long.”
The two talked over each other uninterrupted for several minutes, with Woodley even telling Usman that the contender should “thank him” for giving him the blueprint to beat his opponents on his way to the title shot.
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, Cody Garbrandt and Pedro Munhoz had nothing but nice things to say about each other, with Munhoz even calling Garbrandt a “good-looking guy” when he was asked to say one thing he didn’t like about the former bantamweight champion.
Clearly flattered, “No Love” showed plenty of love toward Munhoz. Despite the budding bromance between the two, Garbrandt is still focused on getting back into the win column after suffering two straight losses to champion TJ Dillashaw.
“I have a lot of respect for (Munhoz),” Garbrandt said. “But this is my time to get back to the top.”
Throughout the entire press conference, welterweight Ben Askren peppered in a healthy dose of banter and respect ahead of his debut matchup against Robbie Lawler. After going undefeated in Bellator and ONE FC, the former Olympic wrestler is ready to take on the top mixed martial artists in the world. Despite describing Lawler as one of the toughest fights possible for him in the division, he knows he can’t be particularly picky with his opponents.
“I didn’t come here for the right fight,” Askren said. “I didn’t come here for the easy fight. I didn’t come for the damn money fight. I came here to fight the best in the world and prove that I am. I want to compete, so I’m ready to compete on March 2.”
Coming off a long layoff due to a knee injury, the former welterweight champion is confident and feeling healthy heading into his bout with Askren.
“It’s a perfect fight for me to come back,” Lawler said. “Really, I’ve just been concentrating on myself.”
Even though the fights are more than a month away, UFC 235 is shaping up to be one of the best cards of the year. Between the two title fights as well as exciting debuts, the entire card is loaded with intrigue, and even if there wasn’t, Woodley and Usman could probably have enough trash talk to distribute to everyone else.
“This has been the making for years,” Usman said.
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follw him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.