UFC 197 Preview and Predictions

Josh Hedges|Zuffa LLC|Zuffa LLC

Josh Hedges|Zuffa LLC|Zuffa LLC

UFC 197 takes place this Saturday live from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. In the main event, former UFC light-heavyweight champion and consensus greatest fighter in the world, Jon Jones, takes on light-heavyweight contender, Ovince St. Preux for the UFC interim light-heavyweight championship. Also on the card is a flyweight title fight between champion Demetrious Johnson and contender, Henry Cejudo. The 3-fight UFC Fight Pass card starts at 6:30pm ET before a 4-fight Fox Sports 1 card begins at 8pm ET. The 5-fight pay-per-view card begins at 10pm ET. Jon Jones vs. Ovince St. Preux Finally, the consensus best in the world makes his return after almost a year and a half out of the octagon, but not the limelight. Let's be honest, this is a giant step down to what we  originally hoped for, which was Jon Jones fighting for the proper belt versus Daniel Cormier. As it so often does, injury derailed those plans, but let's look on the bright-side, we're getting to see one of the greatest of all-time compete in what is largely being looked at as a showcase fight. Jones hasn't fought since systematically breaking down Daniel Cormier in January of 2015 but chances are, we see an even better Jon Jones than the one who was fighting regularly before his troubles, he's more focused, energised and it seems he's finally got his priorities straight, which is a scary thought for any light-heavyweight contender in the UFC. I look at this fight as a chance for the viewer to get familiar with seeing Jones back again and a reminder as to how great this guy really is inside the octagon. Ovince St. Preux is no tune-up fight for anybody and is extremely awkward and unorthodox, partly due to his inexperience but also due to the fact he's 6'5 and a great athlete who can afford to let loose a bit more than others. However, I see Jones feasting on his lack of fight IQ, for however long it lasts and systematically beating him up be it on the mat or in tight on the feet, St. Preux has a Mack truck of a left hand which comes at extremely weird angles and is hard for anybody to read, aside from that though, I don't see Jones having any trouble here and I see him letting loose in the first round and finishing it in the second by TKO on the ground with elbows. Pick: Jones, TKO. Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo I want to start by saying this is absolutely the most compelling flyweight title fight since the inception of the division. Demetrious Johnson has looked nothing but sensational in his UFC title-run beating everybody with relative ease. What Henry Cejudo possesses that everybody hasn't who's faced Johnson so far is an Olympic background and a proven winner's mentality, which is a very interesting aspect of the fight from a viewer's perspective. What Cejudo lacks in speed he certainly makes up for in skill and I think that could make this a closer fight than people think. In saying that, I still think Johnson's massive speed advantage over not just Cejudo but every flyweight, is a major factor in his success, as well as his unpredictability and sharpness in changing levels, I like Johnson's ability to adjust on the fly and confuse his opponent with speed and unpredictability to get him a solid win here, I expect Cejudo to prove tough in the first two rounds but as the fight progresses, Johnson's tempo will be too hard for Henry to match and I like him to take a clear decision here. Pick: Johnson, decision. Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza As outstanding a match-up as this is, it's a also a pivotal one for both guys in the fight to stay relevant around the lightweight elite. Both guys are in bad spots, particularly Pettis, who is on the first 2-fight skid of his career and is under immense pressure this Saturday to get a win. Barboza, on the other hand, is on similar road that he's always been on, he wins some, gets that big fight, and loses, as was the case in his fight with Tony Ferguson back in December of 2015. Now let's get to the specifics of this match-up. Barboza and Pettis have a very similar striking style which is also very different in a lot of ways. Both are devastating finishers who can hav  you staring at the lights in the click of a finger and you can almost guarantee there won't be takedowns in this one. I feel, however, that Barboza is slightly more polished on the feet, uses range better and knows when to strike and strike hard, his speed is matched by Pettis but I'm not sure Pettis can match his consistency at range, Pettis tends to wait at times in a fight, in search of that knockout blow, whilst Barboza likes to strike often throughout a fight and if a knockout comes it comes. That's partly why I favour the Brazilian here by decsion. He's the more consistent striker of the two and makes you frustrated at his speed and ability to just get out of the way. Whilst Pettis will always have that ability to end a fight in an instant and Barboza's chin isn't reliable, he's improved his defence and I like Barboza to out strike the American at range and frustrate Pettis en route to a unanimous decision. Pick: Barboza, decision. Robert Whittaker vs. Rafael Natal This is a classic up-and-coming talent versus a tested veteran who has been around for a long time. I like this fight a lot even if it looks from the outside like a showcase fight for Robert Whittaker, Natal is extremely durable and underrated at 185 and has wins over the likes of Uriah Hall, to prove that, I also like the fact that the UFC aren't rushing Whittaker at all, he has the potential to be a big star but rushing him to the top would be a mistake. I like Whittaker here to come out and really dominate this one en route to a stoppage victory. His striking is some of the best at middleweight already and is an excellent athlete with a lot of firepower. Natal is a jack of all trades type of fighter but not one that should particularly trouble a talent like Whittaker at this stage in his career. Pick: Whittaker, TKO. Yair Rodriguez vs. Andre Fili First, I want to publicly applaud Sean Shelby and/or Joe Silva for this outstanding matchmaking. Both of these guys have incredible potential yet are still so young and green in their careers. Rodriguez has been nothing short of sensational to watch in his short UFC career thus far, whilst Fili has been similar, showing real potential earth despite having some bumps in the road. Despite both of these guys being in relatively similar spots in their careers at this moment, I feel like Rodriguez has real potential to be great if brought along appropriately. He already has an extremely unpredictable style and a tremendously difficult ground game to deal with. Fili is also pretty wild, being that he's young, but I think Rodriguez gets it done here by just having a little too much for Fili to handle. I like Yair by triangle choke in a very lively fight to say the least. Pick: Rodriguez, submission.

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