The third UFC major of 2016 was originally set to be a massive grudge match between Jon Jones and Comier II, but unfortunately the latter had to pull out with a knee injury. Luckily, however, we are still treated with a huge UFC 197 as Jon Jones vs Ovince St. Preux headlines, along with the big flyweight title fight - Demetrious Johnson vs Henry Cejudo... so don't miss our latest UFC betting tips with UFC 197 kicking off this Sunday, April 24th!
This fight was supposed to be Jon Jones vs Daniel Cormier II, one of the biggest grudge matches in UFC history. Jones was looking to win back his title from his most bitter rival after being stripped of it following a felony hit and run. Then 3 weeks out from the fight Jones was arrested for violating his probation and spent 2 nights in jail. But it was Cormier who would have to pull out of the fight following a knee injury suffered in sparring. In stepped the always game, but severely outmatched Ovince St. Preux (OSP).
The brother of NFL stars Arthur and Chandler Jones, Jon is a once in a generation type athlete. He stands 6’4 with an incredible 215cm reach and despite a lanky appearance is one of the strongest guys on the UFC roster. He is a complete MMA fighter, dangerous on the outside with oblique kicks and rangy punches and deadly on the inside with standing elbows. He has submitted Gracie blackbelts like Vitor Belfort and outwrestled Olympians like Daniel Cormier. On top of that he fights under the best coaches in the business; Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn. On the back of his prodigious talent, Jones rose to the top of the light heavyweight division steamrolling a cavalcade of all time MMA legends on his way. But there were always question marks over his work ethic and the laundry list of legal troubles didn’t help. But now, both he and his coaching team believe he is finely taking the sport seriously. What this will translate to inside the octagon is a scary thought.
OSP is a former college linebacker for the University of Tennessee and is himself an A+ level athlete. He has amassed an impressive record in the UFC and strikeforce, but has always fallen short when taking the step up in competition, including loses to Ryan Bader and Glover Texeria (two opponents Jones soundly beat). He tends to rely on athletic prowess rather than skill, but this will be one of the very few occasions he is the inferior physical specimen. He is a southpaw with powerful leg kicks and beautifully timed hooks and uppercuts. He is also good at using his length, but will again be at a reach disadvantage in this fight. Before transitioning to football, OSP was an outstanding high school wrestler and his explosiveness mean there is always a takedown threat. If OSP is able to get a win and spoil the impending grudge match, it will surpass Holly Holm v Ronda Rousey and GSP v Matt Sera as the biggest upset in UFC history.
Prediction: This one is all about Jon Jones. If he returns even half as good as he was (or God forbid better), he will wipe the floor with OSP. Other than punching power, Jones holds a significant advantage in every facet of MMA. I think he will either submit OSP or finish with those hellacious elbows. Trying to find value in what is essentially a tune up fight is tricky. Jones can be a cautious starter so the over 1.5 might offer some value, but I am going to just pick him straight and parlay him with another fight later on the card. Jon Jones by 3rd Submission.
Flyweight title fight
Next up we have the mercurial Demetrious Johnson defending his flyweight belt against Olympic gold medal wrestler Henry Cejudo. Johnson might be one of the best and most underrated athletes to ever compete in MMA. Not only is he exceptional at all areas of the game, but he is able to transition from striking to wrestling to grappling with consummate ease. On the feet he has great technical kickboxing, but what sets him apart is speed. He is able to dart in and dart, inflicting damage without taking any. He has good takedowns and fantastic grappling, always looking for the submission. High fitness levels mean he is able to maintain his output for all 5 rounds and he is an intelligent fighter, not afraid to fight boring to get the win. Johnson is used to going into fights better than his opponents at everything; however in Cejudo he will be giving away at least one significant advantage.
Ever since making the transition from wrestling, Henry Cejudo has been earmarked as a potential foil for Johnson. Only three years into his MMA journey, Cejudo is still very raw but represents the most genuine threat to Johnson’s crown in quite some time. His striking is still evolving, but he throws in good combinations and with power that belies his small stature. It goes without saying that his wrestling is sublime and should he be able to close the distance he will get this fight to the mat and dominate. He hasn’t developed much of a submission threat yet, but is happy to control on top and rain down heavy ground and pound.
Cejudo has the tools to dethrone the champ but I just think he’s a step slow and a little green. Johnson will move around the octagon and score while Cejudo swings at air. Cejudo’s wrestling might mean he can steal a round or two, but Johnson’s class will come to fore and he’ll win another lopsided decision and continue to chase down Anderson Silva’s record for most title defences. Demetrious Johnson by 49-46 decision.
This one has long been a dream matchup for MMA fans; it brings together the two best technical kickers in the UFC. Anthony Pettis, a former UFC lightweight champion, is best known for this incredible off the wall kick which earned him the WEC lightweight championship against Benson Henderson:
Pettis is a high level Taekwondo black belt and trains with legendary American kickboxing coach Duke Roufus. On the feet he can be dangerous in close, but is more effective at distance where he can unleash the full fury of his offensive arsenal. His most dangerous weapon is the kicks which he mixes up to the head and body. He also has dangerous punching combinations, but this will be one of the few opponents in which he doesn’t have a significant speed advantage over. Pettis is an incredibly aggressive grappler and his active guard means he’s always a submission threat. While traditionally not a wrestler, he has recently procured the services of Jon Jones wrestling coach, Izzy Martinez and this might finally be the fight he looks to show off a more grappling centric game. Pettis’ has lost his last two fights and both Rafael Dos Anjos and Eddie Alvarez were able to layout the blueprint to beating Pettis. Back him against the cage with constant pressure so he isn’t able to get off any of his flashy attacks.
Like Pettis, Edson Barboza has a longlist of highlight reel KO’s, but none more impressive than this wheel kick KO of poor Terry Etim:
Barboza at his best is a terrifying striker, but his career has been hallmarked by lacklustre performances. Hopefully fighting another striking supremo will bring out the best in him. Barboza has a blackbelt in both Taekwondo and Muay Thai and has the most impressive spinning kicks in the game. He throws those techniques with a combination of lighting speed, deadly accuracy and almost no setup which make them very hard to defend against. Punishing leg kicks and a crisp jab form the foundations of his striking game. Like Pettis, Barboza has been susceptible to wrestlers and high pressure fighters. He is a competent BJJ practioner, but has zero offensive or defensive wrestling.
The best thing about this fight is it is going to take place at kicking range. Both these fighters are used to opponents trying the close the distance and cramp them, but here he should get some great Tae Kwan do action. Pettis is the far more well-rounded fighter and is the more dynamic striker, but Barboza will have a power edge. I think Pettis will be desperate to get in the win column here and I expect him to show off some offensive wrestling for the first time. Overall Pettis has the more diverse offensive options and that will prove too much for his Brazilian counterpart. Anthony Pettis by 3rd TKO.
Australian Robert Whittaker will look to keep his impressive win streak intact when takes on Brazilian grappling expert Rafael Natal. Since moving up to middleweight, Whittaker has reeled off three straight victories and is rapidly rising in the rankings. As the only fighter under 30 in the top 10, he represents the future of the division and a win here should earn him a shot against one of the middleweight elite. A karate and hapkido black belt fighting out of Sydney, Whittaker relies purely on his striking ability. His combination of high output, devastating power and speed has seen him light up each of his recent opponents. He is also efficient at utilizing the karate blitz to catch his opponents off guard. His years of Hapkido have given him fantastic understanding of distance and he uses this to stay out of range of strikes and defend takedowns. His ground game is a bit of an unknown, but it’s safe to say he will be at a massive disadvantage whenever this one hits the mat.
Natal is a blackbelt under the incomparable Renzo Gracie and has had a decorated BJJ career. He is a solid UFC vet in midst of a career resurgence on the back of four straight wins. Although Natal has been able dominate most opponents on the ground, he has only secured one UFC submission victory and tends to rely more on control and dominate positions to earn points on the judges’ scorecards. He is pretty effective at getting opponents to the mat and isn’t afraid to go for a blast double in the middle of the octagon. On the feet Natal generates good power, but is slow and plodding. Even though he occasionally throws in capoeira techniques, his striking is predictable and susceptible to counters, particularly against someone of Whittaker’s capabilities. His striking also gets significantly sloppier the longer the fight goes.
This is a pretty clear striker vs grappler match up. Whittaker’s success in the fighting off the takedown will go a long way to determining the outcome. If Whittaker can keep it standing he has the better offensive and defensive striking and will enjoy a cardio and chin advantage. I think Whittaker has the ability to win this fight from bell to bell and I expect him to land a big punch on his tired opponent and earn the KO victory and a potential ‘number one contenders’ fight.
The main card kicks off with yet another humdinger of a contest. These are two of the most exciting young strikers in the featherweight division. Yair Rodriquez in particular is one of the most unorthodox and inventive strikers you are very likely to see. His cartwheel and switch kicks against Charles Rosa were a thing of beauty. He is also good at transitioning from strikes to takedowns and is a dangerous offensive grappler. His biggest flaw is lack of activity and relying on the one big shot rather than throwing in combination. Hailing from Mexico, Rodriquez won the Ultimate Fighter Latin America and then moved his training to the Jackson-Wink Academy. It’s going to be interesting to see what a camp of that quality can do with such raw talent.
Andre Fili has the always entertaining combination of crazy striking aggression and disregard for basic defence. He lacks the dynamism of Rodriquez, but is just as dangerous on the feet. He throws heavy hands and his aggression means he’s always the one coming forward. He employs the ‘take one to give one’ strategy and relies on punching power and chin to see him through. Fighting out of team Alpha Male, Fili is well rounded in every aspect of the game and will have a big wrestling advantage. He is dominant on the ground, but again his over-aggressiveness for transitions can leave him susceptible to submissions and his two UFC losses have come by way of submission. He will also have an advantage in clinch, were he can generate a lot of power with knees and elbows. Finally he has the great nickname of Andre ‘touchy’ Fili which must count for something.
Prediction: This is my pick to be fight of the night, I cannot fathom a way it’s going to be boring. Fili is going to come forward and swing for the fences, while Rodriquez will circle away and try and land the Hail Mary strike. The x-factor with young fighters is always fight-to-fight improvement and while I think Fili is the better fighter now, Rodriquez has the higher celling. If Rodriquez is going to win I think he’ll have to get a stoppage and while he is capable of that, I’m picking the underdog Fili to use his better all-round skills to win 2 rounds on the judges’ scorecards. Andre Fili via 29-28 decision.
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Take note: Any of the tips in this article are simply the author’s opinion, so bet at your own risk and always gamble responsibly. Also be sure to check out the Before You Bet Twitter Page for all our thoughts in the lead up to bets! Happy punting!
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