UFC 197 PREVIEW: Penick’s main card thoughts and predictions for “Jones vs. Saint Preux”

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

The wait is over. After nearly 16 months out of the cage, Jon Jones returns tonight against late replacement Ovince Saint Preux at UFC 197, attempting to redeem himself and get back to what he does best. Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is also in action tonight, putting his UFC Flyweight Championship on the line against Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo. Let’s break it down.

Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux (Interim Light Heavyweight Championship)

Ovince Saint Preux has consistently shown himself to be a competitive and dangerous light heavyweight. The former football player has developed a very effective striking game for MMA, and he’s got some decent submission instincts from time to time when he gets top position. Where he’s run into trouble is against superior wrestlers and grapplers, with both Ryan Bader and Glover Teixeira getting the best of him so far in the UFC.

That’s where he’s going to find trouble against Jones. The long-reigning pound for pound king may not have the belt around his waist heading into this fight, but make no mistake he is without question the best fighter in this weight class. He’s got freakish length that he utilizes extremely well, he’s a very good wrestler, and despite his many submission wins that part of his game gets overlooked.

Jones hasn’t yet shown one-punch knockout power, and though his chin has held up it would still be a risky tactic to get in any type of firefight with Saint Preux. I don’t expect that to be how he fights this one, because for as much as physical talent is unmatched, he’s also a highly intelligent competitor as well. Jones likely looks to get in close on Saint Preux, score some type of violent trip, takedown, or knock down, and from there he’s going to have Saint Preux in trouble. Saint Preux’s durable, but he doesn’t have the type of ground game off his back to really avoid the types of things Jones can find there. Jones is out to dominate in impressive fashion, and I think that’s just what we see tonight.

PREDICTION: Jones by submission in the second round

Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo (Flyweight Championship)

Demetrious Johnson doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he’s done in the flyweight division, and he himself is probably the second best pound for pound fighter in the world. He’s got crisp, technical striking skills, his wrestling is highly effective, his ability to transition between attacks is unmatched, and he’s the fastest fighter in a field of speedy competitors.

Henry Cejudo is obviously a world class wrestler, but that aspect of his skill set hasn’t been at the forefront of his MMA success. Instead, he’s mostly settled on out-striking, out-grinding, and out-working opponents. However, he hasn’t shown anything in the UFC thus far to suggest he’s ready to best the challenge Johnson presents.

Johnson doesn’t get held down, and he’s extremely capable of attacking on the ground from any position. He’s best in weaving his strikes in and out of range, mixed in with well timed takedowns, and the ability to snatch a submission at any point in a fight. He’ll wear his opponents down with his speed and movement in order to take advantage of openings late, and Cejudo – who has had some weight cutting issues in the past – hasn’t ever faced a fourth or fifth round. He’s a good fighter, but he’s not better than Johnson, and that should be apparent by the end of Saturday night.

PREDICTION: Johnson by submission in the fifth round

Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza (Lightweight)

After getting beaten up by Rafael dos Anjos and ground down by Eddie Alvarez (in a fight he arguably should have won anyway), Anthony Pettis gets a stylistic showcase matchup here. Despite what happened in those two fights, Pettis is still one of the most entertaining, unique, dynamic, and dangerous strikers in the game. His kicks are fight ending, his power in close is underrated, and in a matchup like this he’s been given a spot in which he should shine.

Now, Barboza is a very dangerous striker in his own right. His kicks, especially his leg kicks, do tons of damage, and he’s got several highlight reel wins on the feet. Unfortunately for him, he’s up against a man who works range really well, and though Pettis takes some strikes in his fights he doesn’t get hit nearly as much as he dishes out. The blueprint for beating Pettis is out there, but Barboza doesn’t have the tools to put that into effect, and this is Pettis’ chance to prove he’s still elite and ready to get back into the title picture.

PREDICTION: Pettis by TKO in the second round

Robert Whittaker vs. Rafael Natal (Middleweight)

Whittaker has been impressive since moving up to middleweight. He’s well rounded, with an effective striking attack, solid grappling work, and a penchant for just completely out-working fighters. Natal is durable, hits hard, and is effective with his striking and grappling as well. He’s not been entirely consistent, and he’s far from spectacular in most of his wins. This should be a very competitive fight between two fairly evenly matched middleweights, and if Whittaker can get past the bigger Natal, it will be as impressive as any of his other wins to date.

PREDICTION: Whittaker by decision

Yair Rodriguez vs. Andre Fili (Featherweight)

Rodriguez has been surprising in how effective he’s been since entering the UFC out of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. He’s been impressive in a couple of decision wins since then, and is a difficult opponent for Team Alpha Male’s Fili. The 25-year-old has been extremely impressive in a few of his UFC fights, but he’s had a couple of setbacks thus far in his run as well, getting submitted twice. That’s not something he’s likely to get caught in against Rodriguez, but this should be a very entertaining opener for the pay-per-view broadcast either way.

PREDICTION: Fili by TKO in the second round

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