UFC 197: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

Sydnie JonesFeatured ColumnistApril 22, 2016

UFC 197: Bleacher Report Main Card Staff Predictions

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    Jon Jones, left, and Ovince Saint Preux
    Jon Jones, left, and Ovince Saint PreuxBrandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    This Saturday in Las Vegas, former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will make his return to the Octagon. It's been almost a full year since Jones was arrested for a hit-and-run (h/t MMAJunkie) and stripped of his title. While Jones was suspended, Daniel Cormier fought Anthony Johnson for the vacant title, finishing Johnson in the third round with a rear-naked choke to secure the belt.

    UFC 197 was supposed to feature a rematch between Cormier and Jones, following Cormier's unsuccessful title challenge in January 2015. However, DC pulled out on April 1 with an injury, per MMAJunkie. Now, Jones faces Ovince Saint Preux in the main event.

    The co-main event is a flyweight title fight between long-reigning champion Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson and undefeated wrestler Henry Cejudo.

    The other fights on the main card:

    • Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza
    • Robert Whittaker vs. Rafael Natal
    • Yair Rodriguez vs. Andre Fili

    Your trusty Bleacher Report MMA team has predictions for you. Click on through to the other slide.

Yair Rodriguez vs. Andre Fili

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    Yair Rodriguez kicks Dan Hooker.
    Yair Rodriguez kicks Dan Hooker.Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Steven Rondina

    The UFC sees money in Yair Rodriguez and is not going to risk that with a fair fight. Andre Fili is not actually a tomato can, but there's a reason the company picked him to face the UFC's Great Mexican Hope.

    Rodriguez, unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Rodriguez has looked terrific, but he's a little bit wild in his attacks. Fili is a live underdog here, and it's time for some risky living. I forecast the UFC 197 main card kicks off with an upset.

    Fili, unanimous decision

     

    Scott Harris

    Hold off on crowning Rodriguez just yet. He's a dynamic performer, with all his spinning stuff and what have you, but Fili is his toughest matchup in the UFC to date. Don't let Fili's 3-2 UFC record fool you; he's insanely aggressive, and he'll pressure Rodriguez, get inside and get him in the clinch, where Fili is fairly underrated. What I want you to do right now is sound the upset alarms. The Team Alpha Male product wins a Fight of the Night candidate.

    Fili, unanimous decision

     

    Nathan McCarter

    I was a lot higher on Fili two years ago than I am now, and that is affecting how I view this fight. This is a good test for Rodriguez but one he will pass. Fili is going to be good enough to survive, and that's all.

    Rodriguez, unanimous decision

     

    Sydnie Jones

    Is it still an upset if three of five of us pick Fili? He may be an underdog, but he also has more experience with UFC-caliber fighters. Rodriguez seems promising, but Fili's tenure and his time at Team Alpha Male should guide him to take a decision.

    Fili, unanimous decision

Robert Whittaker vs. Rafael Natal

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    Robert Whittaker, left, and Uriah Hall
    Robert Whittaker, left, and Uriah HallQuinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Steven Rondina

    Rafael Natal is good enough to make this fight with Robert Whittaker a boring one. Good enough to win it? Not so much.

    Whittaker, unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Natal has quietly strung together four straight wins, but that run screeches to a halt Saturday night. Whittaker, who is riding a four-fight win streak of his own, is coming into his own as a 185-pounder. He'll earn the stoppage early.

    Whittaker, KO, Rd. 1

     

    Scott Harris

    If Natal is smart (and all indications are he is, at least in a fighting context), he'll want to grind Whittaker down on the mat or against the fence. It's the smart strategy, but it won't work. Whittaker is too strong and too good. He'll tenderize and neutralize the Brazilian.

    Whittaker, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Nathan McCarter

    Natal is too slow for Whittaker. He is, however, not too weak. Natal's chance to win this fight is to turn it into a slog. He won't be able to do that. Whittaker touches him up early and gets a finish late with a barrage of punches.

    Whittaker, TKO, Rd. 3

     

    Sydnie Jones

    Both have had good runs lately in the UFC, but Natal is unlikely to experience a resurgence in his career after 11 years at it. Whittaker is ascending, and Natal isn't the one to stop him.

    Whittaker, TKO, Rd. 2

Anthony Pettis vs. Edson Barboza

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    Edson Barboza punches Tony Ferguson.
    Edson Barboza punches Tony Ferguson.Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Steven Rondina

    Edson Barboza has the length and pop to take the upset here, but I'm expecting Anthony Pettis to come out on top. Barboza has a bad habit of going into a defensive shell when facing comparably skilled strikers, and Pettis' cage-cutting will keep the Brazilian's back to the wall for the majority of this fight.

    Pettis, unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    When people stand and trade with Pettis, they lose. That's why even strikers wrestle with him. Barboza doesn't have the tools to effectively change his game plan, which means he'll be striking with Pettis. And as I said, when people do that, they lose.

    Pettis, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Scott Harris

    No ground exchanges in this one. The real winner is you, the home viewer. Both men will have moments, but Pettis—who knows how badly he needs this win—will find Barboza's chin. The dynamic ex-champion will rear his head and re-establish what made him great.

    Pettis, TKO, Rd. 1

     

    Nathan McCarter

    Expect a more thoughtful approach from Pettis, and a thinking man is a winning man. Barboza has to land his leg kicks to win this fight, but threats of a Pettis takedown will make him hesitant to throw them often enough to score. Pettis counters enough to open up takedowns.

    Pettis, unanimous decision

     

    Sydnie Jones

    Barboza has ended three fights via leg kicks, and I almost want to pick him out of admiration for that. But I can't. I like Barboza, but despite Pettis' two recent losses, he's still an elite fighter and should handle the Brazilian without much difficulty.

    Pettis, unanimous decision 

Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo

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    Demetrious Johnson, back row, second from left
    Demetrious Johnson, back row, second from leftKen Ishii/ Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

    Steven Rondina

    We all know the answer to this.

    Johnson, unanimous decision

     

    Craig Amos

    Though Cejudo is highly decorated and recently impressive, Johnson has overcome tougher challenges with relative ease. He'll chain together his attacks with mastery, as he always does, and finish Cejudo inside the distance.

    Johnson, TKO, Rd. 3

     

    Scott Harris

    Mighty Mouse does everything well. He's a true pick-your-poison kind of guy. He'll use that tremendous footwork of his to stay clear of Cejudo's takedown shots and heavy hands. He'll snipe the Olympian from distance and, as the fight goes on, move in for the clinch. Another outstanding, if perhaps not electrifying, performance.

    Johnson, unanimous decision

     

    Nathan McCarter

    Too much, too soon for Cejudo. He has the raw abilities both standing and in the grappling to win, but he doesn't have the fluidity to his game to make it effective enough to take the title off Johnson. Mighty Mouse is simply better. He won't be able to finish the Olympic gold medalist, but the score won't be close.

    Johnson, unanimous decision

     

    Sydnie Jones

    I wonder if DJ ever gets bored always winning with so little threat to himself. Like DJ (h/t ESPN), I'm also not blown away by Cejudo thus far. He's racked up four decision wins since he's joined the UFC, and his last KO came in a fight for a regional promotion whose cards are full of fast first-round wins. He may be able to hold his own against most in the UFC, but Cejudo won't be able to hack it against DJ.

    Johnson, submission, Rd. 4

Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux

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    Jon Jones throws a left at Daniel Cormier.
    Jon Jones throws a left at Daniel Cormier.Steve Marcus/Getty Images

    Steven Rondina

    The only victory Ovince Saint Preux has a chance of picking up here is the moral one of surviving to the second round.

    Jones, submission, Rd. 1

     

    Craig Amos

    There are few light heavyweights who can make Jon Jones break a sweat, and Saint Preux isn't one of them. Jones may get off to a slow start after being absent so long, but the finish will come sooner rather than later.

    Jones, submission, Rd. 2

     

    Scott Harris

    OSP is still so raw it's hard to break down his game. He relies on his great athleticism to power into and out of things and then just goes from there. That's not going to get it done against a newly hungry Jones.

    Jones, TKO, Rd. 2

     

    Nathan McCarter

    OSP is a deer crossing onto a freeway, and Jones is a Mack truck with a grille guard doing 90 mph downhill.

    Jones, submission, Rd. 1

     

    Sydnie Jones

    Props to OSP for stepping up on short notice, especially when he just fought in February, but he hasn't established himself as a fighter who could pose any real threat to Jones. So long as Jones can stay out of his own head, he should be fine. Even if he can't, he'll probably be fine.

    Jones, TKO, Rd. 2