Preview: UFC 247 ‘Jones vs. Reyes’

Jones vs. Reyes

By Tom Feely Feb 5, 2020
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The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 247 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

There was some hope that UFC 247 on Saturday in Houston would be one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s more stacked events, given that the promotion usually does well to load up cards featuring Jon Jones. However, this is basically a one-fight show. The main draw is mildly interesting—Valentina Shevchenko is a dominant champion if nothing else, Derrick Lewis is typically entertaining and Mirsad Bektic-Dan Ige is a legitimate banger—but injuries and drug test issues absolutely ravaged what is now one of the weakest pay-per-view undercards in recent memory.

Now to the UFC 247 “Jones vs. Reyes” preview:

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

Jon Jones (25-1) vs. Dominick Reyes (12-0)

ODDS: Jones (-450), Reyes (+360)

Jones’ latest fight has arrived, and that feels surprisingly normal. The last three pay-per-view events have featured their own circus—the BMF title, Conor McGregor’s return and whatever Colby Covington was hoping to accomplish—yet this is just a straight-up championship fight. That represents a welcome change from Jones’ few years in the wilderness. After beating Daniel Cormier to kick off his 2015 campaign, Jones spent the next four years in the headlines for essentially everything but fighting, as bouts were scrapped and wins were overturned due to some combination of legal troubles and tainted sexual-enhancement pills. Even Jones’ most recent comeback fight took place under insane circumstances, as the UFC moved an entire card on a week’s notice in order to get around some adverse findings in his drug test. Since then, the focus has been strictly inside the cage for one of the sport’s all-time greats. That comeback fight was a shellacking of Alexander Gustafsson that, in retrospect, likely said more about the Swede’s current state than anything else; and 2019 saw Jones defend his light heavyweight gold against the best challengers available, earning wins over Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos. The Smith win was one-sided, even if Jones seemed a bit more passive, but the bout with Santos easily could have gone the other way and raised some questions about the champion in the process. Since the peak of his career, Jones has always relied on a fairly simple process: He can outbox most of his opponents from range, and when that forces them to press inside, Jones can fall back on a dominant clinch game to cause most of his damage. Gustafsson managed to break through with his reach alone during their first fight in 2013, but since then, nobody has been able to present much of a test until Santos, whose strong kicking game and willingness to scare off Jones with strikes prevented “Bones” from getting most of his game going. Jones still managed to do enough to secure a narrow win, but he is now on upset watch for the first true loss of his career, especially since Reyes presents an interesting matchup.

A former football star at Stony Brook University, Reyes transitioned to mixed martial arts when his time on the gridiron was over and has not looked back since. Things officially clicked in 2016 and 2017, when Reyes put together a string of quick knockouts; and after going viral with a head kick finish against Jordan Powell, “The Devastator” was fighting in the UFC three weeks later and racking up two more wins before the year was out. Since then, there almost has not been much of a narrative simply because Reyes keeps racking up wins in impressive fashion. It took Reyes less than three minutes to send Jared Cannonier packing down to middleweight, and Ovince St. Preux had little answer for what he had to offer over 15 minutes. The greatest concern came against Volkan Oezdemir in March, as the Hard Knocks 365 rep managed to march down Reyes and keep him on his toes for the greater part of their fight. However, after earning that victory, Reyes blew former middleweight champion Chris Weidman out of the water to affirm himself as Jones’ latest—and possibly most dangerous—opponent.

While Reyes poses a serious threat, this fight feels a lot like a referendum on Jones and what lessons he took from the near-loss against Santos. Reyes and Santos are different fighters, but for the purpose of getting Jones off track, they both offer the same main danger in the form of their kicking games. If Santos could not put out Jones, it seems unlikely that Reyes can. An underrated part of Jones’ success is his ridiculous toughness when he has actually needed it. From there, it becomes a test of Jones’ willingness to stay out at range and avoid making things riskier. There are reasons to have faith that Jones will approach this correctly. In the Gustafsson rematch and against Smith, Jones showed a willingness to go back to his wrestling; in the case of the Smith fight, that may have even been a detriment, as there were a few times that Jones probably could have finished the fight on the feet. When Jones closed that distance against Santos, the Brazilian responded by swinging like a maniac, which was enough to dissuade the light heavyweight champion—something that probably will not replicate itself here. Reyes reacts better under pressure than Santos—if Jones had continued to press, he probably could have scored the finish, albeit in a riskier manner—but he does not offer that first layer of high-variance danger when he is under attack. It says something that basically everyone that has tried to wrestle Reyes has had some initial success, even Oezdemir and even Weidman during the 103 seconds the latter fight lasted. As long as Jones stays committed to applying pressure, he should be able to wear out Reyes in the clinch and possibly take things to the ground. To his credit, Reyes seems like the type of fighter who could show a ton of newfound stuff in this fight, as he appears to be self-aware and coachable and is firmly in the rapid improvement phase of his career. With that said, a Reyes win would still be an upset for a reason. The pick is Jones via decision.

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