UFC 197 Two-Title Preview
If you’ve been sensing something strange on Saturday nights, it could be the absence of UFC fights that are taking a rare extended break. But let that be the calm before the storm. Heading into Q2 of 2016 we’ll see several blockbuster fight cards, and a variety of title fights flooding the MMA calendar. And well before we get to the UFC 200 milestone event, we first have UFC 197 looming on April 23rd offering not one, but two title fights.
Capping the fight card will be the long-awaited return of Jon Jones. Jones never lost during his title reign, but now takes on short-notice challenger Ovince Saint Preux after defending champ Daniel Cormier was forced out due to injury. It’s a tough spot for matchmaking, as many of the potential contenders in the division were tied up with prior marquee fight commitments or injuries. So seemingly out of nowhere, Saint Preux has leapfrogged the division’s A-List to vie for an “interim” belt while all eyes will be locked on Jones’s first return performance.
And just before that, the UFC’s longest reigning active champion, Flyweight Demetrious Johnson, will take on an undefeated challenger, and former Olympic gold medalist wrestler Henry Cejudo. Cejudo is a guy that could transcend MMA, while Mighty Mouse has often been overlooked as a dominant champion as he lacks some of the bravado and antagonism that has propelled other champions to super-stardom. But these two under-the-radar Flyweights will be filling the cage with more than their share of talent.
The betting sharps have made their picks, and the market is behind legacy champs Johnson and Jones to walk away the winners. Here’s a quick preview of the performance metrics to see how they match up.
There is no shortage of ground skills on this card, but it’s hard to argue against challenger Henry Cejudo’s credentials as being the best in class. And he’ll need those wrestling chops if he’s going to counter the continuously evolving striking game of “Mighty Mouse.” On paper, defending champ Johnson definitely gets the edge in striking metrics, but Cejudo has been flawless to date on the mat. That will be the true battleground here. The only times Johnson has looked vulnerable was when his back was taken, and that is exactly Cejudo’s best path to victory. But according the opening odds, Cejudo is a bit of a long shot to pull this off.
Jon Jones is accustomed to being a big betting favorite, but the short notice substitution and the perception that this leap in competition is too big for the challenger has steamed Jones to his biggest betting line in years. Saint Preux has always had a puncher’s chance, and his striking metrics appear solid on paper, but against the rangier and more technical Jones the standup openings may not appear, and the grappling game will be a mismatch favoring the former champ.
Two belts on the line, and two heavy favorites facing very different threats. Later we’ll look closer at how the underdogs might have a chance for the upset.
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