Preview And Predictions – UFC 197: Jones vs. St-Preux

OSP Jones

After a pull-out ravaged FOX card last weekend, it’s more of the same this weekend as the Las Vegas based Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to the MGM Grand Garden Arena in its home city on Saturday night for UFC 197.

When the matchmaking was originally done for the card we were set to have two big title fights, and although two belts are still up for grabs; it’s not quite the same.

In the main event, after light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was forced out with a leg injury, former champion and pound-for-pound king Jon Jones now takes on #6 ranked Ovince St-Preux in a battle for a hastily put-together interim strap.

Having won the real belt in 2011 and defended it eight times without fail, it’s kind of odd to see Jon Jones fighting for a title having never lost it inside the Octagon. If you’ve been living under a rock for the last year, the reason Jones is no longer the champion is because he was stripped of his title following a hit-and-run incident which left the pregnant occupant of a car he struck with a broken arm.

That was just one in a number of indiscretions for the New Yorker in recent times but now, seemingly back on the straight and narrow, he returns with a new found vim and vigour.

Prior to his enforced hiatus, Jones was already well on his way to the greatest championship winning streak in the sport’s young history with wins over names like Shogun Rua, Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, the aforementioned current champion Daniel Cormier and more.

That résumé is something special amongst the very best ever and one Ovince St-Preux just can’t compare with.

A native of Miami, Florida, OSP started his fighting career in 2008 following a stint as an American collegiate football player. In his first years as a pro, St-Preux fought seven times and amassed a 3-4 record which somewhat disguises the quality of a record which current stands at 19-7.

A seven-fight Strikeforce veteran, St-Preux only lost once in the former bridesmaid promotion against Gegard Mousasi and took that good form over with him to the UFC. Inside the Octagon, he is 7-2 with big wins over the likes of Shogun Rua, Gian Villante, Rafael Feijao and Pat Cummins and is very much deserving of his ranking at number 6 amongst 205 pounders.

That gap between number 6 and number 1 at light-heavyweight, though, is probably bigger than in any other division.

As a contest there is no real sugar coating this one and acting like it’s at all competitive. Jon Jones is simply superior everywhere.

On the feet, St-Preux undoubtedly does his best work. Fighting out of the southpaw stance he cracks extremely hard with his left kick to the legs, body and head, and will also lead well with his straight left hand. Like Jones, OSP loves to fight from distance but he does it in a much more agricultural way with hardly a jab used to set things up as he leaps in with power.

For Jones, that should be easy pickings. From the range St-Preux prefers to fight Jones will be able to land all of his best work. His long jab, his varying leg kicks, his body work and right hands will all come into play.

If that doesn’t work he should also have a huge advantage in wrestling and jiu-jitsu. OSP has shown some improvements in his takedown defence lately as well as a tremendous scrambling ability but even with that Jones can more than likely put him on his back and keep him there if he so chooses.

All in all, this is one of those fights where a puncher’s chance is unfortunately all you can give to one man. And even that, I find most unlikely here. Expect a rough night for Ovince St-Preux and for Jon Jones to showcase the work he has been putting in whilst on the sidelines in the last year before taking home the interim UFC light-heavyweight title.

The other belt up for grabs on the night is a quite legitimate one as the only ever flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson takes on former Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo in probably the most highly anticipated bout at the weight so far.

Having plyed his trade at bantamweight early in his career, “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has been the unflappable king at flyweight since winning the inaugural UFC 125 lbs strap in 2012. After beating Joseph Benavidez (whom he later beat a second time) for the title, Johnson went on to take out John Dodson (twice), John Moraga, Ali Bagautinov, Kyogi Horiguchi and Chris Cariaso since and will be looking to make it eight defences on the bounce this Saturday night.

Standing in his way, though, is arguably his toughest test to date as Henry Cejudo fights for UFC gold in just his eleventh pro fight. In his first ten bouts, Cejudo battled weight-cutting problems but remained undefeated with six decision wins coupled with four knockouts. Of those ten bouts, four took place inside the UFC’s Octagon as Cejudo won decisions over Dustin Kimura, Chris Cariaso, Chico Camus and Jussier Formiga.

As a fight this one is pretty intriguing for a numbers of reasons.

On the face of it, Demetrious Johnson is clearly the more well-rounded and polished mixed martial artist but that doesn’t mean Cejudo doesn’t have a chance.

In the striking department, Cejudo doesn’t pack too much of a punch but he is technically very good. He has a beautiful jab, works the body well, keeps a relatively high output and throws everything well in combination. Johnson too is technically very sound standing up in all aspects but as clearly the faster man should have an added advantage.

It’s in between the strikes, though, where Cejudo’s best chance may be found. As a Olympic champion freestyle wrestler one might think Cejudo is better suited to getting in low with double and single leg takedowns but it’s quite the contrary. As an MMA fighter, Cejudo has attained a large portion of his takedowns from the clinch which he usually gets from a close striking exchange. In the past, Demetrious Johnson has been a master of escaping such clinches, at flyweight at least, but Cejudo is a much more accomplished prospect than anyone he has met before. If Cejudo can get the clinch and a resultant takedown he will have a huge chance – but that’s easier said than done.

Johnson’s speed, and the perfect technical gameplans to use that speed properly, make it very difficult for anyone to get a hold of him when it pertains to grappling or striking. He’ll kick low, jab high, dart in with power strikes before you see him coming and escape to the sanctity of range all in one fell swoop. After that comes his very good fence work, wrestling, ground and pound, endurance and jiu-jitsu which are all a match for anyone in the world.

Henry Cejudo is a very good fighter and is of world championship calibre but Demetrious Johnson is a great fighter I’m any era and will prove that again Saturday night with a win in what I predict could be a lot closer of a fight than many people think.

Outside of the big two this card is by no means light either with the pick of the undercard bunch undoubtedly the lightweight scrap between striking wizards Anthony “Showtime” Pettis and Edson Barboza.

In the past, both men have had trouble with people exploiting their grappling weaknesses but that won’t be a problem on Saturday. Instead, you’ll have two of the most fast-punching, hard-kicking and exciting fighters to ever lace up a pair of gloves standing opposite eachother swinging heavily leather. What more do I need to say?

Opening up the card too is a similarly exciting possible fight-of-the-night between Andre Fili and Yair Rodriguez while the return of Carla Esparza and, the meeting of Robert Whittaker and Rafael Natal also can’t be missed.

FIGHT PICKS
Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux – Jones by complete destruction
Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo – Johnson retains his title but gives up a round or two
Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza – Someone is getting finished, I’ll take Barboza
Robert Whittaker vs. Rafael Natal – Whittaker should win this easily
Yair Rodríguez vs. Andre Fili – Yair could get the KO but I’m going for a Fili decision win

Sergio Pettis vs. Chris Kelades – Pettis
Danny Roberts vs. Dominique Steele – Roberts
Carla Esparza vs. Juliana Lima – Esparza
Glaico França vs. James Vick – Vick

Walt Harris vs. Cody East – East
Marcos Rogério de Lima vs. Clint Hester – Hester
Efrain Escudero vs. Kevin Lee – Lee

BET OF THE WEEK

This week I’m taking Edson Barboza by KO at 4/1

START TIMES (Irish Time)

Early Prelims – 11.30pm on UFC Fight Pass

Prelims – 1am on BT Sport 2

Main Card – 3am on BT Sport 2

Podcaster, lead MMA writer and analyst for SevereMMA. Host of the SevereMMA podcast, out every Sunday. Economics and Mathematics graduate from UCC. Also write for Sherdog. Previously of hov-mma and fightbooth. As heard on 2FM, Red FM, Today FM and more. Follow me on twitter for updates @SeanSheehanBA and on Facebook Facebook.com/seansheehanmma