Jon Jones at less than his best was more than enough to get past Ovince St. Preux.
In his first appearance inside the Octagon in more than a year, Jones claimed the interim Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight title and cruised to a unanimous decision over St. Preux in the UFC 197 headliner on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Scores were 50-44, 50-45 and 50-45, all in Jones’ favor.
St. Preux (19-8, 7-3 UFC), who replaced reigning light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier on short notice, was stuck in neutral for the majority of the 25-minute encounter. Jones chipped away at the underdog with a variety of kicks to the legs, body and head. He appeared passive at times but found another gear in the championship round. Jones (22-1, 16-1 UFC) struck for a pair of takedowns in the fourth round, battered the fading St. Preux with some of his trademark elbows and briefly advanced to mount. He scored with another powerful takedown in the fifth before easing his foot off the gas and coasting to the finish line.
Jones, 28, will carry a 13-fight winning streak into his planned unification bout with Cormier.
Related » UFC 197 Round-by-Round Scoring
Johnson Clinch Wrecks Cejudo
In the co-main event, Demetrious Johnson retained the UFC flyweight championship, as he disposed of the previously unbeaten Henry Cejudo with first-round knees and punches. Cejudo (10-1, 4-1 UFC) wilted 2:49 into round one, the latest victim of Johnson’s brilliance.
Cejudo landed an early takedown, but little else went his way. Johnson (24-2-1, 12-1-1 UFC) returned to his feet, drew the Olympic gold medalist into a firefight in close quarters and let his talent do the rest. “Mighty Mouse” blasted Cejudo with a standing elbow in the clinch and connected with a diagonal knee to the head that sent a dazed Cejudo careening across the cage. A knee to the body drove “The Messenger” to the canvas and left him unable to defend the follow-up punches that flew next. Soon after, referee John McCarthy came to the rescue.
Johnson has won his last 10 fights, eight of them successful flyweight title defenses.
Barboza Deals Pettis Third Straight Loss
Former Ring of Combat champion Edson Barboza picked apart Anthony Pettis on his way to a unanimous decision in a showdown between two of the UFC’s top lightweights. Barboza (17-4, 11-4 UFC) swept the scorecards with 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 marks from the judges, winning for the fourth time in six appearances.
Pettis (18-5, 5-4 UFC) never seemed comfortable. Barboza punished him with a probing jab that was often followed with a left hook, and he attacked the body and head with equal fervor. The 30-year-old Brazilian muay Thai machine also zeroed in on Pettis’ lower extremities, landing one crushing inside kick after another. By the time it was over, a significant portion of the former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting champion’s left leg had turned a deep, grotesque shade of purple.
Once the toast of the lightweight division, Pettis has suffered back-to-back-to-back losses.
Whittaker Denies Natal, Extends Streak
“The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner Robert Whittaker recorded his fifth straight win, as he took a unanimous decision from Rafael Natal in a featured middleweight clash. All three cageside judges scored it for Whittaker (16-4, 7-2 UFC): 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27.
Natal (21-7-1, 9-5-1 UFC) beat up his counterpart’s lead leg with kicks but did little else of note from an offensive standpoint. Whittaker punched in combination, firing stinging jabs up the middle and rolling jabs around the Brazilian’s raised hands. He had Natal reeling on multiple occasions and punctuated his latest triumph with a head kick that briefly doubled over “Sapo” in the closing seconds of round three.
The loss snapped Natal’s four-fight winning streak.
Spectacular Rodriguez Head Kick KOs Fili
“The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” winner Yair Rodriguez knocked out Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili with a flying switch kick in the second round of their featherweight showcase. Fili (15-4, 3-3 UFC) met his end 2:15 into round two.
The rapidly improving Rodriguez (7-1, 4-0 UFC) controlled the first five minutes, as he executed a takedown, passed guard and scored from the top. What came next was utterly spectacular. Rodriguez backed Fili toward the fence, took flight and blasted him with a switch kick upstairs. Shin met face, as Fili fell backward and hit the canvas unconscious, the victim of an early contender for “Knockout of the Year.”
The 23-year-old Rodriguez has won five fights in a row.