It’s almost time ladies and gentlemen! Jon Jones is returning tonight! Granted, it’s not for the belt that he was stripped of, since Daniel Cormier, the placeholder, claimed to be hurt and bowed out of the fight. Still, it’s the return of Jon Jones, against a tough, entertaining yet likely overmatched opponent in Ovince St. Preux, for the Interim Light Heavyweight title.
The whole main card is truly stacked. It opens up with a firefight, followed by an important Middleweight bout, a Fight of the Year candidate between former Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis and star Muay Thai specialist Edson Barboza, the UFC Flyweight title bout between wrestlers Demetrius Johnson and olympian Henry Cejudo, all before Jones’ fight.
It should be a great slate of fights, and here are my picks for each of the five bouts.
Main card (10/9c, PPV)
Yair Rodriguez (6-0) vs. Andre Fili (15-3)
Want a firefight! Well here’s a firefight! Both men are exciting fighters with a lot of ability. Fili is a “kill or be killed” type fighter, having had 14 of his 18 career fights end early. He’s 3-2 inside the octagon, and only one of those fights went the distance. Meanwhile, Rodriguez won the TUF: Latin America Featherweight Tournament at UFC 180, and has a black belt in Taekwondo. He’s gone the distance all but twice in his pro career, including all three of his UFC bouts. I can see Fili ending this early, but instead, I’ll go with Rodriguez in a thrilling 15-minute contest. Prediction: Rodriguez via unanimous decision.
(8) Robert Whittaker (15-4) vs. Rafael Natal (21-6-1)
The next fight is clearly the most overlooked one on the main card. Natal is a bit frustrating to watch. He’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and has eight submissions to his credit. He’s 9-2-1 inside the octagon, but doesn’t get much love. Why? because he tends to fight down, and lately, has won some controversial decisions.
Meanwhile, Whittaker has completely turned his career around since moving up to Middleweight. The winner of TUF: Smashes in December 2012, Whittaker won his first two UFC bouts, before losing a pair, and being on the verge of being purged out of the UFC. Since moving up though, the Aussie black belt in Hapkido and Karate has won four straight. He’s got seven knockouts and five submissions to his credit. While it’s entirely possible that Natal may win another controversial decision here, I’m betting that such a thing will not happen. Prediction: Whittaker via decision.
(3) Anthony Pettis (18-4) vs. (8) Edson Barboza (16-4)
Ladies and gentlemen, get your popcorn ready! Former Lightweight champion Anthony Pettis’ star has dimmed quite a bit over the past year, as he has been smothered by Rafael dos Anjos and Eddie Alvarez in his past two fights. Some argued that Pettis did enough to win against Alvarez this past January, but honestly, that fight was so hard to watch, nobody really won from that fight. Still, he is a thrilling striker who’s got submission ability as well. With 15 career finishes, seven knockouts and eight subs, he’s known to bring it every time. His showtime kick against Benson Henderson, head kick against Joe Lauzon, body kick vs. Donald Cerrone, and championship winning and defending submissions against Benson Henderson and Gilbert Melendez will be remembered forever.
Now, he fights a fellow striker in Edson Barboza, so you know that this will be a banger. Known for his ferocious kicks which have ended three UFC bouts (the thrilling highlight reel wheel kick vs. Terry Etim in 2012, a pair of leg kick finishes that made him the only man to win multiple bouts in that manner,) the Taekwondo and Muai Thai black belt has won ten fights via finish. He’s 10-4 inside the octagon, and while a loss would give him three losses in his last four fights, he’s so entertaining, he’ll likely stay on the roster. He has never beaten elite competition though, so I’ll pick Pettis in a three-round war. Prediction: Pettis via decision.
UFC Flyweight Championship: (c) Demetrius Johnson (23-2-1) vs. (2) Henry Cejudo (10-0)
Two wrestlers, and Cejudo is a gold medal Olympian. I still think Johnson prevails though. Prediction: Johnson via decision. </strong
Interim Light Heavyweight Championship: (1) Jon Jones (21-1*) vs. (6) Ovince St. Preux (19-7)
Bones is back! No, it’s not against Cormier, and it’s OSP should be an easy win for Jones. But, St. Preux is a finisher, and ring rust may play a role. I don’t think an upset happens, but there is a chance. I don’t see it happening though, and I believe Jones will win by the 3rd round at the latest. Prediction: Jones via submission, round 2.