After a long 2015 that featured a hit and run accident, being stripped of his UFC title, testing positive for cocaine and altercations with the Albuquerque Police Department, Jon Jones will be back in the one place where he can say he is still the master: the UFC Octagon. Barring any last second auto accidents or failed drug tests, Jones returns to action tonight in Las Vegas for UFC 197 against Ovince St. Preux.
“Bones” may have the party habits of Johnny Manziel down pat, but he remains a freak athlete with power and speed to match any fighter in his weight class. His last outing showcased his dominance as he beat up Daniel Cormier and even neutralized the Olympian wrestler’s ground-game. Now, after a medical injury forced Cormier out of the eagerly anticipated rematch, its Jones against the former University of Tennessee linebacker, Ovince St. Preux.
In the co-main event, flyweight and pound-for-pound champion Demetrious Johnson squares off with undefeated 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Ceujudo, a match-up which many see as quite possibly one of the toughest tests for “Mighty Mouse.” Both men are explosive wrestlers and Johnson has become a very dangerous submission fighter in recent fights.
Also on the card, former lightweight champion Anthony “Showtime” Pettis takes on dangerous striker Edison Barboza in a three round bout and featherweight prospects Yair Rodriguez and Andre Fili will see which man is ready for the next step. Also, Robert Whittaker continues his middleweight ascent as he faces off with Rafael Natal.
But before we get to all this, let’s take a close look at the main event, “The Return of Jon Jones.” It’s difficult to imagine a way in which Ovince St. Preux can win. That’s not to say he isn’t talented, or tough, or a top ten guy, because many MMA insiders see him as a fighter on the rise. Unfortunately, this is a case of David vs Goliath with Goliath having something to prove, plus a chin that can take St. Preux’s power.
Since winning the title in 2011 against Shogun Rua, Jones has only gone the full five rounds twice and only the Alexander Gustafson match demonstrated any vulnerabilities. He is the rare fighter who has been able to mix his kicking and striking game fluently with his wrestling, while his reach advantage makes it nearly impossible for opponents to get inside and rough him up in the clinch.
The big positive for Ovince is that, like Jones, he is an explosive athlete, as we saw in his wins against Shogun Rua and Patrick Commins. Both bouts demonstrated that OSP has the power and hand speed to land the one big shot that can change the course of a fight. Could that power be effective against Jones?
The big takeaway here is OSP’s fight against former TUF Runner Up, Ryan Bader, at UFC Fight Night in August of 2014. On that night Bader was able to get St. Preux on the mat in the middle rounds and grind him down en route to a unanimous decision win. Difference here is that Jones is a beast when he gets on top, reigning down punches with frightening accuracy, speed and power.
The only question here is does Jon Jones come into this fight either rusty from his time away from the cage or too overconfident, believing he can steamroll an over-matched opponent. In any case, the view from here is that while St. Preux’s power may cause a scare or two for a few seconds, we will most likely see a dominant performance from “Bones Jones.”
If Jones vs OSP is a must-watch fight that could erupt in fireworks at any time, Johnson vs Cejudo has the makings of something either very special or very boring. While Cejudo is probably the most decorated Olympian to have ever competed under the Zuffa banner, “Mighty Mouse” has become a complete fighter. Some now consider Jones the best MMA fighter on the planet, but in fact Johnson is on the same level. After receiving criticism for being “too boring” or “a point fighter,” Johnson has become more aggressive since his first win over John Dodson. He has four finishes in his last six fights and has shown he can knock people out or make them tap out.
The biggest strength for Johnson is his ability to constantly switch tactics, going from strikes to kicks to grappling without ever slowing down. His last fight against Dodson was a thing of beauty as he dominated a younger man to the point where Dodson was unable to cleanly land any of his big shots when it mattered.
While Cejudo has the pedigree and the wrestling chops to give Mighty Mouse trouble, the key factor will be Johnson’s overall game. Against Chico Camus and Jussier Forminga, Cejudo showed that when the initial takedown is not possible, he doesn’t seem to have a striking plan to counter with. Both Formiga and Camus were able to land solid strikes and neither were threatened with submission attempts when they were taken to the mat.
Biggest question for this fight is going to be how Cejudo handles an opponent who is always in constant motion. Most of his takedowns have been when his opponent plants his feet or has slowed down. As we have seen with “Mighty Mouse,” his nimble footwork is beyond compare. He is not only fast and quick but his footwork allows him to pivot out of trouble at any time.
The bottom line for UFC 197 is that with the recent Conor McGregor debacle and the uncertain status of Ronda Rousey, Jon Jones is the face of the UFC once again. Is he a perfect face? Hell, no. But he is the one guy who you can presently make a case for being something truly special in the UFC. Consider this match an appetizer for bigger things as a win over OSP will get the drums banging for the grudge match that is Cormier vs Jones 2 with a possible heavyweight showdown against Fabricio Werdum to follow.
— Chris Connor
Chris Connor’s UFC 197 Picks:
Jon Jones KO 2 Ovince Saint Preux
Demetrious Johnson SUB 4 Henry Cejudo
Anthony Pettis KO 2 Edson Barboza
Robert Whittaker UD Rafael Natal
Andre Fili UD Yair Rodríguez
Sergio Pettis UD Chris Kelades
Danny Roberts KO 2 Dominique Steele
Carla Esparza UD Juliana Lima
James Vick SUB 3 Glaico França
Cody East KO 2 Walt Harris
Marcos Rogério de Lima UD Clint Hester
Kevin Lee UD Efrain Escudero