UFC 247 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2020

UFC 247 Predictions: Bleacher Report Staff Main Card Picks

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    Will Jon Jones be all smiles after Saturday night in Houston?
    Will Jon Jones be all smiles after Saturday night in Houston?Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Jon Jones returns to the Octagon on Saturday night for the first time since earning a tougher-than-expected split decision against Thiago Santos last year.

    The 32-year-old takes on undefeated 205-pound menace Dominick Reyes in the main event of UFC 247, and the pound-for-pound No. 1 fighter in the UFC will be attempting to keep all challengers to his UFC light heavyweight throne an arm's length from his crown in Houston.

    Can Jones do it?

    In the co-main event, UFC women's flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko defends her belt against No. 1 contender Katlyn Chookagian. Plus, Houston-based heavyweights Derrick Lewis and Juan Adams hope the hometown gigs lead to important wins, and featherweights Mirsad Bektic and Dan Ige go head-to-head to round out the main card.

    But which fighters competing at UFC 247 will emerge victorious? Read on for B/R writers' picks.

Derrick Lewis vs. Ilir Latifi

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    Heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis is one of the hardest punchers in the sport.
    Heavyweight contender Derrick Lewis is one of the hardest punchers in the sport.Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Kelsey McCarson

    Lewis is one of the best heavyweight contenders in the UFC, and visiting him in camp recently revealed that he's in incredible shape. That he was able to win so many fights with torn ligaments in his knee before back-to-back losses to Daniel Cormier and Junior dos Santos finally sent him to have much-needed surgery is a scary proposition for the rest of the heavyweights now he's healed.

    Latifi is moving up to heavyweight from 205 pounds for the first time in his career. Picking Lewis as his target probably wasn't the smartest idea. Lewis hits harder than just about anyone in the company. What's more, he appears to be leaner and meaner than ever headed into UFC 247.

    Lewis, KO, Rd. 1.

                  

    Jonathan Snowden

    Latifi is taking on quite a task in his first appearance at heavyweight. Lewis will present a significant challenge for a fighter used to tying up, slamming and generally mauling top light heavyweights. Can he do that to the larger, surprisingly athletic Lewis?

    I'm skeptical.

    My biggest fear with this fight is extreme caution on both sides. Lewis and Latifi have both struggled with their gas tanks, which could lead to some sad wheezing gulps for oxygen if the bout goes into the third round.

    Lewis, KO, Rd. 3.

                

    Scott Harris

    Why, UFC? Why? Latifi moves to heavyweight, and this is what you do to him? You're killing him! Someone do something! In his debut at the top of the weight-class food chain, the Swedish cult hero—who appears to have taken horseback riding lessons from Vladimir Putin—is 5'8" with a 73.5-inch reach. Derrick Lewis, whose fists can destroy most of the solar system's smaller moons, stands 6'3" with a 79-inch reach.

    Latifi has standout wrestling, but it's gonna be tough sledding against one of the UFC's biggest big boys. It's been a year and a half since Lewis' last knockout. He needs one, and in front of his hometown faithful, he'll get it.

    Lewis, KO, Rd. 1.

Mirsad Bektic vs. Dan Ige

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    Can Mirsad Bektic get back to his winning ways?
    Can Mirsad Bektic get back to his winning ways?Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    I could go either way in picking Bektic vs. Ige. The former is considered super-talented by most, but he hasn't quite panned out the way people thought he probably would. He was dumped by stoppage by Josh Emmett in his most recent fight, so he badly needs to beat Ige to remain on track to accomplish his UFC hopes and dreams.

    But Ige has consistently performed well in fights he was probably supposed to lose as of late. More importantly, Ige seems to have a more well-rounded skill set, so there are more ways he can figure out the win than Bektic can. This one goes the full 15 minutes, with Ige's slight edge in takedowns earning him the nod from the judges.

    Ige via unanimous decision.

                   

    Jonathan Snowden

    This one is intriguing, as the two match up well. Both like to take the center of the cage, but while Bektic sets up his fast power punches with a steady jab, Ige prefers to do most of his damage with stinging counters.

    I like Bektic on the strength of superior footwork, better wrestling if it comes to that and a significant speed advantage.

    Bektic via unanimous decision.

                  

    Scott Harris

    Remember when Bektic was one of the hottest MMA prospects in the world? Injuries and plain old bad luck have allowed him only five fights (assuming he gets to the cage Saturday) in the past three years. At 28, there's time, but the clock is ticking. No one expected much from Ige when he entered the UFC in 2018. But he's 4-1 since then, and momentum is on his side.

    It's interesting that these two are the same age but appear to be in such different phases of their MMA lives. Sound the upset alarms.

    Ige via unanimous decision.

Juan Adams vs. Justin Tafa

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    Juan Adams gets the hometown gig in Houston.
    Juan Adams gets the hometown gig in Houston.Mike Roach/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    Adams gets the hometown gig, but the humongous heavyweight strikes me as the type who only ends up fighting because he wasn't quite good enough at what he really loved to do—in his case, playing football. Tafa was supposedly a prospect before getting knocked out by Yorgan De Castro at UFC 243.

    Both fighters are coming off losses, which should make them gun extra hard for the victory. Adams was stopped by Greg Hardy in just one round last time out. He's got all the tangible assets, but Tafa is the better overall fighter. I like Tafa with the mild upset of the hometown hero. 

    Tafa, KO, Rd. 2.

                 

    Jonathan Snowden

    This fight barely belongs on a UFC event, let alone on the main card of a pay-per-view. I'll bet there's quite a story behind this one's placement here.

    These are two aggressive, albeit bad, heavyweights. I expect a knockout, and Tafa has the heavier appendages here.

    Tafa, KO, Rd. 1.

                  

    Scott Harris

    Most sports fans are familiar with the golden rule of trash talk: It's only trash talk if you can't back it up. With that in mind, Adams sure has been talking a lot of trash in his year and change on the UFC roster proper. 

    Plenty of fans cheered his online clowning of controversial former NFL player Greg Hardy, who is trying out MMA after effectively being banished from pro football. Hardy knocked him out in 45 seconds. It brought his UFC record to 1-2.

    But Adams is still plenty viable as a heavyweight. His wrestling is solid, and he can absolutely score the knockout. Tafa is a berserker whose metaphorical head appears to be teed up for a signature performance from Adams in his native Houston.

    Adams, KO, Rd. 1.

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Katlyn Chookagian

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    Valentina Schevchenko is a huge favorite at UFC 247.
    Valentina Schevchenko is a huge favorite at UFC 247.Chris Unger/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    Shevchenko is No. 2 pound-for-pound on the UFC's women's rankings—and for good reason. She's a smart, seasoned and confident striker with some of the best head kicks in the UFC. Ask Jessica Eye. While Chookagian is lanky, awkward and tough, Shevchenko's ability to plan and adapt during fights should keep her out of harm's way long enough to earn a points win.

    Shevchenko via unanimous decision. 

                   

    Jonathan Snowden

    Chookagian is the kind of point fighter widely disparaged by hardcore fans, seemingly specializing in throwing punches that terminate at least six inches in front of her opponent's face. All eight of her UFC fights have ended in decisions, many of them the kind that dare the audience to change channels.

    If she can suck Shevchenko into her style of dance, this could be five completely unwatchable rounds. But if the Bullet determines she has nothing to fear from her opponent, perhaps the crowd (and Chookagian) will be given the mercy of a swift finish.

    Shevchenko via unanimous decision.

                

    Scott Harris

    The co-main event title fight has a different look than the one in the main course. Shevchenko has a reputation for high energy, but her output can stall in middle rounds as she settles into a conservative counter-fighting style. She's a great fighter (you have to be to be a -1,400 favorite in a title fight, per Caesars—wager $1,400 to win $100), but when it comes to action, the steak doesn't always match the sizzle. 

    That's at least better than Chookagian, who fights as if she doesn't want to hurt anyone while wearing ill-fitting clothes. She can win, but her 6-2 UFC run came against opponents with a combined UFC record of 35-30. Is this a bit of a step up for Chookagian? According to my Magic 8-ball, all signs point to yes.

    If Shevchenko can get past Chookagian, the next big obstacle doesn't come (perhaps thankfully) from the women's flyweight division. It will come from the movie she's doing with Halle Berry. But if that's the path, beware, Valentina. Beware MMA's curse of the silver screen. It's a cruel mistress.

    Shevchenko via unanimous decision.

Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes

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    Who wins the main event of UFC 247?
    Who wins the main event of UFC 247?Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Kelsey McCarson

    Jones is running out of contenders at 205 pounds. That tends to happen when a fighter is so much better than everybody else in a division while refusing to move up a weight class to test himself. So Jones takes on the undefeated Reyes in what most people consider an easy pick to make for Jones. But his opponent Saturday does possess some attributes that could spoil the show.

    Reyes is tall, strong and has enough power to hurt Jones with a single punch or kick. Still, Jones has him bested in technique and overall skill set. So long as Jones is still Jones, he should find himself with yet another win at 205 pounds to add to his UFC divisional record. He already holds the UFC record at 19. This will be No. 20. Reyes makes things interesting early, but Jones submits him in Round 2 after wearing him down with counters.

    Jones, Submission, Rd. 2.

                      

    Jonathan Snowden

    The concept of "moving up in weight to test yourself" doesn't exist in mixed martial arts historically. You can count the number of times UFC champions have done so on one hand and have fingers to spare, almost all of them in the wake of Conor McGregor's unparalleled success.

    MMA fighters typically move up in weight when their bodies start rejecting extreme weight cuts and not a second before. It's much more common for high-profile fighters to drop down a weight class once they are established, as they can then afford better meal plans, nutritionists and the right supplements.

    And there's a good reason for that. Unlike boxing, grappling in mixed martial arts is a significant part of the contest—and 10 pounds can make a huge difference when someone is leaning on you against the cage or laying on top of you on the mat.

    So a dominant champion like Jones is most likely to stay right where they are unless money talks loudly—and in MMA, it tends to speak in a whisper. I'd anticipate him beating up dudes like Reyes for some time to come.

    Jones, TKO, Rd. 3.

                    

    Scott Harris

    It's the latest cliche in the MMA reporter's playbook. Whenever a title changes hands or an existing champ wins convincingly, the post-fight conversation always involves 10 or 12 versions of the same question. When are you switching weight classes?

    But as Jonathan pointed out, it's easier said than done, with lower and higher weight divisions carrying their own, well-established challenges. I continue to believe that Jones and middleweight champ Israel Adesanya should and will happen at some point. Adesanya said recently he wanted Jones at heavyweight after three title defenses at 185 pounds. That—or something at light heavyweight if Jones is dead set on staying at 205—instantly becomes the top matchup in any calendar year, and the Scroogian UFC wouldn't need three spirits to visit in the night to understand the case for paying up.

    We'll see how it shakes out. For now, Jones has work to do. And it should be short work. Reyes has a potent kicking game, not entirely unlike that of Thiago Santos, who troubled Jones in July. If the champion plays the long game and relies on pressure and time to wear down Reyes, and The Devastator is the best the rest of the division can muster, heavyweight will be that much more tempting for the kingpin.

    Jones, TKO, Rd. 3.