UFC 197 takes place this weekend in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux
Jones long awaited return to the Octagon is finally upon us, though he has to settle for an interim title shot against late replacement OSP, due to Daniel Cormier suffering an injury. OSP has had just three weeks to prepare for this five round encounter with arguably the best fighter in the sport, while Jones has been hard at work preparing for his comeback for months – give or take a few run-ins with the law!
Not many people are giving OSP much of a chance here, but that’s not to say he’s not a respectable opponent and he actually matches up relatively well physically to Jones, being of similar height and having an impressive 80″ inch reach, though remarkably that still leaves him 4.5″ inches off Jones wingspan.
OSP generally has shown a little more power in his punches than Jones, but he’s much more predictable than the former champion who’s always creative and seems to adapt to his opponents style on the fly.
Wherever the fight goes Jones should be comfortably, whereas as OSP is much more comfortable on his feet than on the mat. That could be a big issue if Jones goes back to the tremendous clinch throws and elbow-led ground and pound assaults we’ve seen from him at times the past.
Cardio’s almost certain to be a factor for OSP given his limited time training for this fight, and he doesn’t have the biggest gas tank at the best of times. Potentially Jones could have a little ring-rust after 15 months out, but I’d expect him to be well prepared to go the full five rounds which he’s had plenty of experience of doing in the past.
All in all it’s hard to see past one of the sport’s all-time best beating what amounts to a good, but not great opponent, and I think Jones wins by TKO in the third round and hopefully emerges unscathed enough that he can go on to rematch Cormier for the real belt this summer.
Jon Jones to win by TKO in Rd3.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo
A former Olympic wrestling gold medalist, Cejudo is the most promising title contender to emerge in the flyweight division so far, but it would have been nice to see him get a few more fights first befor facing the dominant champion.
Naturally, Cejudo is an excellent athelete who has complimented his world-class wrestling skills with an ever-improving striking game that proves he’s not just a one-trick pony.
The problem is that there’s just so much ground to catch up when your facing Johnson who’s as complete a fighter as you’re likely to see in the sport. The only thing he lacks is one-punch KO power, but his speed, accuracy and adaptability make up for it, and the way he’s able to fluidly transition between the different aspects of his MMA game is something that Cejudo will struggle to keep up with.
Cejudo may able to use his wrestling defensively to stop some of Johnson’s well-timed, round-stealing takedowns, but I think even then he’ll find the champion too evasive a target on the feet to really work his own striking game effectively, and will struggle to match Johnson’s seemingly endless energy reserves, leading to another successfully title defense on the scorecards for ‘Mighty Mouse’.
Demetrious Johnson to win by decision.
Edson Barboza vs. Anthony Pettis
What a terrific striking showcase this fight could be between two of the lightweight divison’s best on the feet.
We’ve seen recently that Pettis struggles when faced with pressure-based fighters who’ll leave him with little room to operate, but Barboza is somewhat similar to the former champion in that regard and is unlikely to be backing him up against the cage too often.
Both men are slick, creative and possess a wide arsenal of attacks to choose from, particularly with regards to kicks, and have the power to make them count. That means that anything could happen here, and either man could be taken out in the blink of an eye.
It’d be easy to be blinded by the striking spectacle here and forget that while Pettis is vulnerable defensively in the wrestling game, he’s actually fairly decent offensively and does have a very serviceable submission game, which is an achilles heel of the Brazilian.
Pettis’ back is up against the wall here as three losses in a row would be a disaster for the former champ, so it’s entirely possible that he may look to catch Barboza out on the mat here, or at least have that as a back-up strategy if he’s coming off second-best on the feet. With little too choose between them on the feet, that’s why I lean slightly towards Pettis winning this match-up.
Anthony Pettis to win by submission in Rd3.
Rafael Natal vs. Robert Whittaker
Both Natal and Whittaker have put together solid four-fight winning streaks in the UFC, including both having beaten Uriah Hall, but only one of them will maintain their unbeaten stretch on Saturday night.
Of the two, former TUF: Smashes winner Whittaker has looked the more impressive and it feels like he has a bit of a higher potential ceiling than Natal in the sport. He’s certainly the younger, fresher fighter of the two, and has a more impactful, energetic and aggressive striking game than his Brazilian counterpart.
Natal has a good ground game, but I like Whittaker’s chances of keeping this one on the feet for the most part and I think he may well finish this one inside the distance if he does so.
Robert Whittaker to win by TKO in Rd2.
Andre Fili vs. Yair Rodriguez
Rodriguez is the pride of Mexican MMA at the moment, having emerged as an entertaining prospect in the UFC’s featherweight division since winning TUF: Latin America Season 1.
He now faces a step up in talent though in Team Alpha Male member ‘Touchy’ Fili, who’s more experienced than he is and will look to pressure him with his straight-ahead, offensive style.
It should be a fun fight and could be quite close depending on how things play out, but I think Rodriguez has the striking ability to counter Fili’s aggression and will edge this one out on the scorecards.
Yair Rodriguez to win by decision.
Chris Kelades vs. Sergio Pettis
Danny Roberts vs. Dominique Steele
Carla Esparza vs. Juliana Lima
Glaico Franca vs. James Vick
Cody East vs. Walt Harris
Clint Hester vs. Marcos Rogerio de Lima
Efrain Escudero vs. Kevin Lee