After 15 months away from the Octagon, you have to figure Jon Jones is ready to punch someone. He’ll finally get the chance at UFC 197, although he’ll be swinging at Ovince Saint Preux, not Daniel Cormier. Plus, former Olympic wrestler Henry Cejudo takes on Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title, and Anthony Pettis looks to halt the first two-fight losing streak of his career. Let’s break down the UFC 197 card.
Jon Jones ($11,400) vs Ovince Saint Preux ($8,000)
Ovince Saint Preux was taken down nine times by Ryan Bader and five times by Glover Teixeira. While Jones has an incredible striking game, let’s not forget he can administer brutal ground and pound. Jones will have a decided reach advantage, something OSP has never dealt with in his career. Jones absorbs very little punishment and is near impossible to take down. Simply put, Jones is going to wreck OSP — and he’ll do it wherever he pleases. He’ll get his first finish since knocking out Chael Sonnen back in 2013. The price is steep, and he will be highly-owned, but he should get you about 120 DKFP.
Demetrious Johnson ($11,000) vs Henry Cejudo ($8,400)
Cejudo seems like the perfect foil for Johnson: he fights at a furious pace, hasn’t been taken down in four UFC fights and is a former Olympic wrestler. But he has yet to face anyone like “Mighty Mouse,” and I think that will be evident from the opening bell. Johnson has never been out-struck by any of his opponents over his 16 UFC fights, and that includes his 135 lb fight against Dominick Cruz. He’s gone to the fifth round seven times. Cejudo has never gone more than three. I enjoy watching Henry Cejudo fight, but Johnson is one of the best mixed martial artists of all-time. I think DJ wins by decision, in which case I expect him to score about 75 DKFP.
Anthony Pettis ($10,600) vs Edson Barboza ($8,800)
Pettis comes in losing two in a row, and he was taken down 15 times in those two losses. He won’t have to worry about that with Barboza, who is almost exclusively a standup fighter. Barboza will push the pace, but he leaves himself open a lot and absorbs almost as many significant strikes as he delivers. That’s not going to fly with Pettis, and it also wouldn’t surprise me if Pettis takes this to the ground at some point. Barboza has run into trouble with the upper class of the division, with losses to Cowboy Cerrone, Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson. I think the same will be true here, with Pettis head-kicking Barboza to sleep early in this one.
Robert Whittaker ($10,700) vs Rafael Natal ($8,700)
Speed kills, and Whittaker will have quite a speed advantage over Rafael “Sapo” Natal. He’s younger, quicker and lands more than Natal. Whittaker also excels at take down defense, something that Natal loves to incorporate into his game plan, averaging almost three takedowns per 15 minutes. Whittaker hasn’t had any problems with the bigger middleweights, and that will be true here against Natal. Look for a flurry of punches from Whittaker to drop Natal in round 2 or beyond, making it five straight wins for the Aussie.
Andre Fili ($8,900) vs Yair Rodriguez ($10,500)
This is the most difficult fight to call on the card. Two evenly matched prospects take the cage and try to make their way into the rankings. Fili has been inconsistent in his UFC career, but has shown flashes of greatness. Rodriguez draws rave reviews for his exciting style, which features some dynamic kicks and high energy, but he has yet to finish an opponent in the Octagon. However you see this fight, it’s likely to go to a decision. Both fighters average 55-60 DKFPPG, and there are better options available. I like Rodriguez to win, but I’ll be staying away from this one for fantasy purposes.
Chris Kelades ($9,300) vs Sergio Pettis ($10,100)
If Kelades was a better power-puncher, I might lean toward him being the victor here, as Pettis has shown some vulnerability to big hitters. But Kelades doesn’t really stand out in any one area, especially power. Kelades has two KO wins, both early in his career. The fighters he floored are a combined 6-10. Pettis has youth and speed on his side, and in a fairly even matchup, that means he is the one that will land more and take the rounds.
Carla Esparza ($10,200) vs Julianna Lima ($9,200)
Esparza put on one the worst performances by a champion defending their title when she fought Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 181. The former strawweight champ then suffered an injury, so this fight will be her first appearance in over a year. Look for Esparza to get back to her winning ways here. She averages over four takedowns per 15 minutes, and I think she will repeatedly take Lima down, battering her on the ground. She’ll be the first person to stop Lima, with a TKO win via ground and pound in the third.
Danny Roberts ($10,300) vs Dominique Steele ($9,000)
Steele is coming off an impressive win against Dong Hyun Kim, a fight in which he out-struck and out-grappled Kim, then knocked him out with a huge slam. Roberts has a ton of steam behind him after his first round submission of Nathan Coy, and he showed excellent strength in turning away Coy on takedowns and in the clinch. Roberts, a former boxer turned MMA fighter, has the ability to put together combos, and that spells bad news for Steele. Look for Roberts to notch his sixth-straight win with a barrage of punches that makes the ref step in to end it.
Glaico Franca ($8,500) vs James Vick ($10,900)
This could be a very interesting fight, with both fighters doing their best work on the ground. Vick just submitted prized-prospect Jake Matthews though, so I’m not sure Franca has anything that will frustrate Vick. I think this will be a fun fight, but I just see Vick being too skilled to get subbed by Franca. I think Vick takes this by decision, which won’t be worth $10,900. I don’t see a lot of upsets on this card, but with Franca having a tight submission game, he might be worth a shot if you are in need of a low-priced fighter.
Cody East ($9,600) vs Walt Harris ($9,800)
East has been wrecking guys in Legacy and King of the Cage. Harris hasn’t fought since 2014, and he’s basically an all-or-nothing power puncher. I think East will continue his wreckage, easily laying out Harris in the first round. It’s a slight upset according to the salaries, and East should get you 100+ DKFP at just $9,600.
Marcos Rogerio de Lima ($10,000) vs Clint Hester ($9,400)
Hester has lost back-to-back fights, both by knockout. Getting knocked out twice in a row has to affect your psyche and confidence, but I like Hester’s speed and power. The problem here is de Lima has vicious knockout power, scoring KO wins in his first two UFC fights before dropping his last fight to Nikita Krylov. Hester got off to a nice start against Vitor Miranda, getting the clinch and taking him down. But the crowd started booing shortly thereafter as Hester wasn’t even attempting to land punches. When Miranda got Hester down, he bloodied his face and landed close to 50 strikes. When I first saw this matchup I thought it was a good one for Hester, but a deeper look reveals otherwise. de Lima should get the KO win, and about 100 DKFP in the process.
Efrain Escudero ($9,100) vs Kevin Lee ($10,300)
Lee and Escudero both stand 5’9″ but Lee will have a seven-inch reach advantage, and that will definitely be a factor. Escudero, now in his second UFC stint, has never lived up to his potential. He’s 2-2 in this run, with the fights against fighters all near the bottom of the division. Lee is an excellent prospect. He features a high-volume striking game coupled with an excellent ground game. He should be able to get Escudero to the ground several times, and a lot of his strikes are landed against grounded fighters. I think he’ll coast to victory, but it will be by decision. He has averaged just over 56 DKPPG, and a decision win would get him somewhere close to that. That’s not really worth $10,300 though, so I will likely skip this fight.