All eyes will be on Jon Jones, as the former Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder returns to the Octagon for the first time since unlawful behavior outside the cage led to his being stripped of his crown.
Jones will face Ovince St. Preux -- he replaces the injured Daniel Cormier on short notice -- for the interim 205-pound championship in the UFC 197 main event on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. In the co-headliner, flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson risks his title against unbeaten Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in a five-round clash at 125 pounds. Intriguing bouts dot the rest of the main card, as onetime lightweight titlist Anthony Pettis meets Edson Barboza, “The Ultimate Fighter: The Smashes” winner Robert Whittaker confronts Rafael Natal and Team Alpha Male’s Andre Fili battles Yair Rodriguez.
Let us take a closer look at each UFC 197 “Jones vs. St. Preux” matchup, with analysis and picks:
UFC Interim Light Heavyweight ChampionshipJon Jones (21-1) vs. Ovince St. Preux (19-7)
THE MATCHUP: St. Preux is not the ideal replacement for Cormier, but he is certainly an interesting opponent for Jones and offers the best light heavyweight on the planet an unprecedented challenge.
St. Preux is a violently explosive fighter. His left hand and left kick both come with stunning quickness and power. St. Preux uses this explosiveness to counter his opponents, looping around on the outside and clipping the other man as he dives in or else chopping him down at range if he refuses to advance. St. Preux will also keep things interesting by shooting reactive doubles -- whatever it takes to break the opponent’s rhythm and put him at a disadvantage.
Of course, these natural talents are counterbalanced by St. Preux’s many technical deficiencies. Most glaringly, he has very little to offer on the ground. Whether lying flat on his back in half guard or freely giving up his back to stand, St. Preux is so used to relying on explosions that he has not developed a well-rounded ground game. The same holds true on the feet, where St. Preux rarely throws in combination and tends to load up on his shots. All of that instantaneous muscular contraction takes a toll on St. Preux, who winds up gasping for breath and moving sluggishly by the mid-point of the second round; and that is with a full camp.
Jones has yet to face a counterpuncher with St. Preux’s power and speed, and that will be more than enough reason for the former champion to stay cautious in the early going, Still, Jones has many options for dealing with the threat. Not only does Jones have four inches of reach on “OSP,” but his game has evolved lately to allow him full use of that advantage. Jones has worked heavily on his boxing. Both his punching and footwork have come along nicely, and St. Preux will have a very difficult time cornering the champion. Jones’ improved technique will make him difficult to counter, as well. “Bones” likes to jab his way into the pocket, where he works slicing elbows and short punches, moving his head and keeping a high guard to prevent the counter. Then there is the wrestling. Jones has taken down such excellent wrestlers as Cormier, Rashad Evans and Glover Teixeira. It has been some time since Jones was able to pin an opponent and go to work with his famous ground-and-pound, but St. Preux is less skilled and less prepared than most title challengers.
THE ODDS: Jones (-502), St. Preux (+400)
THE PICK: The first round should be dicey, with St. Preux looking to land his left kick and drop a counter left hand on Jones’ chin. After Jones finds his rhythm, however, St. Preux will have little to offer. Without an overextended, off-balance opponent in front of him, “OSP” will have trouble timing his counters and his powerful kicks will only leave him open to takedowns. The pick is Jones by TKO in round two.
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