UFC 197 takes place this Saturday night live from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and the UFC has put together a tremendous card with two title fights on the top of the bill, including the return of the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Jon Jones. There are a number of storylines to keep your eye on this weekend, and here are the top five things to watch out for at UFC 197.
After 16 months away from the cage, the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, Jon Jones, finally returns to the Octagon in the main event of UFC 197. Jones was supposed to fight rival Daniel Cormier in a rematch for the UFC light heavyweight title, but after DC pulled out with an injury, the UFC brought in Ovince Saint Preux on short notice to battle Jones for the interim title and the right to unify the belt with DC. Jones, who is 21-1 in his career with his lone loss coming via controversial DQ, is an incredible talent, and it appears the only man alive who can beat Jones is Jones himself. While his opponent at UFC 197, OSP, appears to be overmatched coming into this fight, it is still always a treat to watch Jones do his thing. If he shows up the same guy he was before he took his absence, fans should be in for an exciting, violent fight, and it’s very possible he might look even better than he did before, and that’s a scary thing for OSP and for the rest of the light heavyweight division.
Saint Preux has never fought for a title in either the UFC or Strikeforce, but with the UFC matchmakers needing someone to fill in on short notice for DC, OSP gets the call to fight Jones despite only being on a one-fight win streak and losing two fights ago to Glover Teixeira. There’s no doubt OSP is a tremendous athlete who has the power to finish most of the light heavyweights in the UFC, but going up against Jones is going to be a real challenge, to say the least. Still, it’s commendable he took the fight on short notice, and in the biggest fight of his career, it will be interesting to see how he looks against the best fighter in the world in Jones. It’s likely he loses in devastating fashion, but maybe he can prove the MMA world wrong and at least make the fight competitive. And if he does pull off the upset, change the landscape of the sport entirely.
Demetrious Johnson is the UFC flyweight champion and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. After going 2-1 as a bantamweight, Johnson moved down to flyweight when the UFC introduced the weight class back in 2012, and since then has achieved an incredible 9-0-1 record at 125lbs, winning the title and defeating every challenger the UFC has thrown his way, in some cases beating them twice. He has defended his belt seven-straight times and will look to do so for the eighth time in a row when he meets former Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in the co-main event of UFC 197. Cejudo represents an interesting challenge for Johnson because he is the best wrestler in the division, but since dropping to 125lbs, “Mighty Mouse” has shown no holes in his game, and if he can get by Cejudo to extend his win streak, you have to wonder if there is anyone in the world who can beat him.
Former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis has lost two-straight fights by being outwrestled, and he has to get back in the win column if he wants to make another run for the belt. Instead of matching him up with someone who will try to take him down, the UFC is giving him a fight against another fighter who will look to stand and trade in the form of Brazilian striker Edson Barboza. Both Pettis and Barboza are two of the most exciting standup fighters in the sport, and this matchup has all the makings of “Fight of the Night.” It’s a battle of two of the best kickers in MMA, and with no threat of a takedown coming against a fighter whose chin has been cracked before, it’s a great chance for Pettis to rebound from two-straight losses and make another run for the belt.
After going 3-2 at welterweight, TUF Smashes winner Robert Whittaker has been on a tear since moving up to the middleweight division. The 25-year-old Australian is 3-0 at 185lbs with wins over Uriah Hall, Brad Tavares, and Clint Hester, the latter two victories coming via stoppage. He is by far the youngest fighter ranked in the top-15 in the middleweight division, but he’s already one of the best in his weight class, and he keeps improving every fight. At UFC 197, Whittaker takes on veteran Rafael Natal in a matchup tailor-made for him to get another highlight-reel KO in. Natal is a solid fighter in his own right, but his chin is a weakness, and Whittaker hits extremely hard. This is a prime opportunity for Whittaker to get a big win on the big stage, and if he can pull it off, it will be interesting to see who the UFC matches him up with next. A title shot can’t be too far off at this point.