MMA Review: #542: UFC 197: Jones vs. St. Preux

-Bit late with this one but I’ve had a lot on my plate, sorry. After the card lost Daniel Cormier and the massive rematch with Jon Jones at the top, it seemed to be flying under the radar massively, mainly because everyone figured Jones against late replacement Ovince St. Preux was a squash match and also because Demetrious Johnson – facing Henry Cejudo in the co-main event – still hasn’t really caught on with the casual fans. I was pumped myself just because Cejudo was the most interesting opponent for Mighty Mouse in some time and shit, any Jon Jones fight is a big deal even if I don’t like him. But I guess when Conor McGregor hits the news these days people forget about everything else.

UFC 197: Jones vs. St. Preux

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan.

Featherweight Fight: Yair Rodriguez vs Andre Fili

This was the latest test for young prospect Rodriguez – unbeaten after winning TUF Latin America and becoming known as one of the most exciting young fighters in the game – as he was faced with a fellow prospect in Fili, albeit one who’d lost a lot of his early lustre following a handful of disappointing losses. Still, he’d taken out Rodriguez’s TUF castmate Moggly Benitez in his last outing. My pick though was Rodriguez as I felt he had too much explosiveness and aggression for Fili to handle over three rounds.

Round One begins and Fili stalks forward as Rodriguez opens up with a leg kick. Spin kick misses for Yair. Combo misses for Fili as Rodriguez follows up with a jump kick that catches Fili in the groin. They restart right away and a crazy high kick just misses for Rodriguez. Good right hand lands for Fili. Side kick to the body from Yair. Body kick answers for Fili but Rodriguez grabs the leg and takes him down, landing a handful of punches down into the guard for good measure. Big hammer fist gets through for Rodriguez but Fili fires back with an upkick. Looks like Rodriguez is looking to lock up a heel hook, but he can’t quite catch him in it and he winds up dropping into side mount instead. Fili ties him up though and throws a couple more upkicks before getting to half-guard. Few decent punches get through again for Yair and he looks to be using a can opener to force the guard open too. Reversal attempt from Fili but Yair keeps a good base and slides into side mount. Just over a minute to go now and Fili really needs to get up. Scramble follows and he kicks Rodriguez off him, but the Mexican stands over him and lands a kick to the legs and another hammer fist. Fili escapes to his feet but gets dropped momentarily by a low kick, but then pops right back up. Left hand lands for Fili in an exchange. Another left connects and wobbles Rodriguez, but Fili taunts him rather than follow it up. Body kick from Fili and he goes for his own takedown, but Rodriguez reverses up and that’s the round. Good round for Yair Rodriguez, 10-9.

Round Two and Fili pushes forward aggressively with a left hand. Jumping roundhouse kick replies for Rodriguez but Fili catches it and trips him down. He can’t capitalise though and Yair is right back up. Front kick misses for Rodriguez and Fili throws him down and hits a leg kick before the Mexican pops back up. Beautiful double leg takedown from Rodriguez and he lands in the guard of Fili. Action slows down a bit as Fili ties the TUF winner up from the guard, locking up a body triangle for good measure. Rodriguez does get through with some hammer fists, but then decides to bring the fight back up. Couple of wild spin kicks miss for Rodriguez. Jab into a backfist from Rodriguez and Fili backpedals checking his eye a little, and Rodriguez capitalises and follows with a JUMPING SWITCH KICK THAT KNOCKS FILI OUT COLD!~!

Insane knockout, definitely a knockout of the year contender and probably the best one thus far in 2016 in fact. If this doesn’t end up on the Baba O’Riley highlight I’d be surprised. This was a fantastic showing from Yair Rodriguez as he basically shut Fili’s game down in all facets and ended his night with a highlight reel knockout to boot. No need to rush him up the ranks as he’s still a prospect rather than a contender, but man is he exciting to watch. As for Fili I think he’ll be fine after this loss – he probably needs a step down the ladder though to rebuild his own reputation as a prospect rather than a journeyman. Really fun opener.

Middleweight Fight: Robert Whittaker vs Rafael Natal

Like the previous fight this one was featuring a TUF winner and surefire prospect, in this instance Australia’s Whittaker, who had reeled off three impressive wins at 185lbs and was looking to cement himself as part of the top ten with a fourth. Opponent Natal was a tricky one as he’s a world-beater on his day but has also looked downright awful at times, and so despite an advantage on the ground and a four-fight streak of his own, I was taking Whittaker to pull out the win probably by knockout.

Round One and Whittaker pushes forward as Natal circles on the outside, looking to gauge the distance. Couple of jabs glance for Whittaker and then he lands with a body kick. Short right hand clips Natal and a stiff jab follows, but Natal fires back with a front kick to the body. Head kick answers for Whittaker but doesn’t land cleanly. Good leg kick from Natal. Looping left hand glances for Whittaker. Takedown attempt from Natal is avoided by the Aussie who lands with his own leg kick. Leg kick answers back for Natal. Good combo from Whittaker backs him up a bit but a counter right does land for the Brazilian. Big right hand stuns Natal but a head kick misses for Whittaker and he has to scramble to avoid a takedown. Good leg kick from Whittaker. 1:30 to go now and both men miss with big shots. Solid leg kick lands for Natal. Right hand into a front kick answer for Whittaker and he follows with another leg kick. Body kick lands for Natal but Whittaker comes back with a left that drops him to a knee and a big right that has him badly hurt. The Aussie smells blood and looks to finish him off, but Natal fires back to slow him down a little and manages to survive the round despite being hurt again with another combo. 10-9 Whittaker.

Round Two and Natal opens with a chopping leg kick. Right hands have him stunned though and he has to back up again while winging counters at the Aussie. Takedown attempt from Natal but Whittaker stuffs it nicely. Leg kick misses for Natal this time. Good combo from Whittaker ends in a decent high kick. Pair of leg kicks from Natal but Whittaker comes back with a left hook and then stuffs a takedown. Couple of side kicks to the leg from Whittaker but he takes another leg kick from the Brazilian. Good right hands land for both men. Another leg kick connects for Natal. Whittaker needs to defend those more as his left leg looks horribly marked up. Good pair of left hands connect for the Aussie though and he has Natal backing up again with a combo. Nice front kick answers for Natal. Another leg kick follows it up. Uppercut lands for Whittaker in close and he follows with a front kick to the face and a nasty left hook. Takedown attempt from Natal is beautifully stuffed by Whittaker. Nice front kick to the body from Whittaker. Leg kick answers for Natal. Body kick follows. Seconds left in the round and a superman punch glances for Whittaker. Flying kick follows but doesn’t land cleanly and that’s the round. Closer round but I’d still go with Whittaker I think.

Round Three begins but before that we can hear Whittaker tell his corner that his right hand is jacked up. He checks a leg kick in the opening seconds and then lands a low blow, and referee Big John McCarthy has to call time. They restart quickly and Whittaker pressures him back some more and dodges a couple of kicks. Good right high kick glances for Whittaker and he follows with a leg kick of his own. Switch kick answers for Natal but he gets knocked back by a double jab. Couple of big swings miss for Natal. Whittaker comes back with the jab, a front kick and a leg kick. Big counter left stuns Natal off a failed takedown attempt. Another big left hook has him hurt in an exchange and he has to really back up. Looks like there’s a big difference in punching power. Left hand lands again for Whittaker as Natal tries to back up out of range. Hard leg kick lands for Natal as the striking exchange continues. We’ve got a minute to go and some more leg kicks connect for Natal. Whittaker fires back with the left hand though, catching Natal again with a short left hook. Big head kick lands for Whittaker in the final seconds and drops Natal, but the Brazilian pops up and Whittaker can’t finish him off. 30-27 Whittaker for me.

Judges have it 29-28, 30-27 and 30-27 for Robert Whittaker. Pretty clear-cut decision in the end as while Natal landed some excellent leg kicks he just didn’t do enough to really have Whittaker in trouble, while the Aussie had him rocked on numerous occasions and also stuffed all the takedowns. I kind of feel like Whittaker would’ve finished him off if he’d avoided injuring his hand but that kind of thing happens I guess. Solid enough fight but it felt like it never really got going if I’m honest, probably due to the injury to Whittaker. Still, Whittaker remains on course to be a real top level Middleweight and that’s all good with me.

Lightweight Fight: Anthony Pettis vs Edson Barboza

Hell of a striking match here on paper and to be fair, a dangerous fight for Pettis to come back with after he’d lost two in a row to RDA and Eddie Alvarez. Barboza was of course coming off his own loss in the wildly exciting fight with Tony Ferguson back in December. Despite Pettis’s two losses I still felt he could pull this one out, as Barboza’s always been a bit of a glass cannon to me and he wasn’t about to blanket Pettis in the way that Alvarez did.

Round One and both men circle and throw out a ton of feints with neither landing anything cleanly in the opening seconds. Good counter leg kick lands for Barboza as Pettis rushes forward. Couple of left hands back Pettis up a little but don’t land cleanly. Inside leg kick does connect clean for Barboza. Low kick lands for Pettis. Lot of movement from Barboza but he walks into a right hand from Pettis. Beautiful combo from Barboza ends in a sharp left hook. Another counter left hook lands hard for Barboza and it forces Pettis to firmly back up. Leg kick follows for the Brazilian. Nice jab to the body lands for Barboza too. Pettis seems to be struggling to get into a rhythm here as Barboza is beating him to the strike. Nice spin kick to the body lands cleanly for Barboza. Takedown attempt from Pettis replies, but Barboza stuffs it. Seconds to go in the round and a spin kick misses for Pettis. Hard leg kick lands for Barboza. Tornado kick misses for Pettis and that’s the round. 10-9 Barboza as he clearly got the best of those striking exchanges.

Round Two and Pettis opens with a jumping roundhouse kick that Barboza blocks. Low kick connects for Barboza. Wild left uppercut misses for Pettis. Good counter left hook lands for Barboza and it stops Pettis in his tracks for a moment. Another counter left lands for Barboza and it forces Pettis to almost stumble, and Barboza follows with a partially blocked high kick. Combo backs Pettis up slightly but doesn’t land cleanly. One-two glances for Pettis. Good left to the body from Barboza and he follows with a body kick. One-two answers for Showtime. Quick combo glances for Barboza. Left hook follows but doesn’t land cleanly. Body kick from Barboza and he avoids the leg being caught and escapes too. Body kick answers for Pettis. Sweet combo from Barboza ends with a hard left hook. Takedown attempt from Pettis is stuffed nicely. Less than a minute to go and Barboza glances on a few more strikes before throwing a HARD head kick that Pettis just about blocks. Left hooks glance for both men and Pettis misses a cartwheel kick to end the round. 10-9 Barboza again I’d say and I think Pettis needs a finish.

Round Three and Pettis switches stances a few times and misses with another spin kick. Good left hand from Barboza and he follows with a sharp inside leg kick. Beautiful left hand into a leg kick from Barboza puts Pettis down for a second, but he pops right back up. Barboza is looking awesome here. Stiff jab follows for the Brazilian. Another one lands and snaps Pettis’s head back. Inside leg kick connects hard for him. Pettis just can’t get his timing right. Another heavy inside leg kick from Barboza but Pettis claims a low blow and the ref calls time. Didn’t look like it to me and they restart quickly, but without a replay which is odd. Stiff jab from Barboza off the restart and he follows with a leg kick and a brutal body kick. Pettis is getting chewed up in this round. Counter left hook connects again for Edson. Inside leg kick follows. You can see Pettis beginning to struggle with his movement now. Another two leg kicks connect as Barboza looks comfortable. Another inside leg kick lands and a left hook glances too. Leg kick follows with little answer from Pettis. One minute to go and this fight is slipping quickly from Pettis’s grasp. Decent combo to the body from Pettis but he takes another leg kick. He tries to fire back again but another two leg kicks land for Barboza. Wheel kick misses for Pettis as does a flying knee and that’s the fight. 30-27 Barboza, no question for me.

Official scores are 29-28, 29-28 and 30-27 for Edson Barboza. Biggest win of his career for sure and it should put him firmly in the top five even if I don’t think he’s quite near to a title shot just yet thanks to the existence of Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov. He did look excellent though as he timed Pettis perfectly and just chewed him up with the low kicks and the left hook while not really ever allowing Pettis out of first gear. As for Pettis there’s been a lot of talk about RDA stealing his soul and stuff, but I wonder whether it’s more an accumulation of all of his injuries catching up with him – don’t forget it’s been almost SIX YEARS since the Showtime Kick now, which is a long time in MMA – and personally I’m questioning whether he’ll ever rise back up to the top of the division again, which is sad really. Pretty cool fight though if not really spectacular.

UFC World Flyweight Title: Demetrious Johnson vs Henry Cejudo

Strangely enough for a Mighty Mouse fight I was actually more hyped for this one than I was for the main event, as despite Cejudo probably being more unproven than some of Johnson’s previous title challengers (Dodson, Benavidez) he was bringing in that Olympic gold medallist mentality which can carry athletes further than they’re truly able to go, and he was probably the first fighter truly capable of outwrestling the champ. Despite Johnson being clearly more polished in every area – even wrestling in an MMA sense was a question mark really despite Cejudo’s background – I was actually picking the upset purely on gut instinct and going with Cejudo to unseat the champ and claim the gold.

Crowd seem to be buying into the story too as they give Cejudo a huge pop upon entrance and seem like they’re more into this fight than any other Mighty Mouse one I can remember recently.

First round begins and Cejudo pushes forward as Johnson circles on the outside. Leg kick lands for Cejudo and Johnson clinches, where they exchange some knees inside. Johnson breaks with a right hand and then lands with an inside leg kick, but Cejudo keeps pushing forward. Head kick from Mighty Mouse is blocked. Clinch from Johnson and he lands some knees inside again, but this time Cejudo hits a heavy trip to the ground to a big pop. Full guard from Johnson though and he uses his legs to kick Cejudo away and spring to his feet. Impressive. Clinch again from Mighty Mouse and he lands a knee to the body and muscles Cejudo around a bit. Plum clinch from Johnson and he stuns Cejudo with another knee, forcing him back. The champ clinches again and lands with a couple more hard knees, then works some shoulder shots for good measure. Cejudo tries to muscle him around but another knee and a HARD ELBOW land for Johnson and a big knee to the head staggers the Olympian! Johnson closes in with a left and then grabs the clinch again, and a knee to the body drops Cejudo and Mighty Mouse finishes him off on the ground. Wow.

Amazing performance from Mighty Mouse. People might not like him or find him interesting but shit, that was one of the best title defences I’ve ever seen, probably the best showing in Johnson’s career and just as an extra bonus it was the best use of knees from the plum since probably Anderson Silva over Rich Franklin ten years ago. Cejudo tried but he just got absolutely crushed by the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport right now. Throw the questions of drawing power and popularity out the window because really, it’s a fucking sport and fuck those guys who keep saying UFC should scrap the division and stuff. Uneducated idiots. Draw or no draw Mighty Mouse is a fantastic talent and this was another amazing example of that.

UFC Interim Light-Heavyweight Title: Jon Jones vs Ovince St. Preux

Well, obviously this would’ve been bigger had it been Jones vs. Cormier, but with the champion on the shelf then I’m just glad Zuffa managed to find Jones a top ten opponent rather than take him off the card altogether. The fight sounded like a squash on paper – after all, OSP had nothing for Teixeira or Bader and both guys got slaughtered by Jones, and while MMAth doesn’t usually work, it’s hard to pick anyone against Jones right now – but thanks to Jones being out for quite some time the interest was still there in terms of how he’d look upon his comeback. Would the powerlifting regime help or hinder him? Could OSP actually do anything against him? Not the biggest fight of the year but I was still quite pumped.

Daniel Cormier joins us on commentary for this one for good measure as I’m wondering why they couldn’t have had him in the booth for the whole broadcast? He’s pretty great at it to be honest – if a little biased due to the issues with Jones of course!

Round One and Jones crawl out of his corner in his usual fashion. Oblique kick and a spin kick to the body land for Jones as OSP looks tentative. Front kick to the body from Jones. Big left hand misses for OSP. Leg kick does land for OSP but Jones keeps stalking him. Low kick lands for Jones. Axe kick misses for him as he looks pretty laid back so far. Oblique kick connects again. Nice side kick to the body knocks OSP back. Spin kick misses for Jones and OSP lunges in with a left hand that glances. Couple more kicks land for Jones. Body kick from Jones as the crowd are beginning to boo slightly due to the lack of action. Body kick from OSP is caught but he escapes before Jones can capitalise. Another side kick lands for Jones. Oblique kick follows. Low kick answers for OSP. More kicks glance for Jones before OSP connects on a jab. Foot sweep from Jones but OSP pops back up, only to take a knee before the round ends. 10-9 Jones.

Round Two and Jones opens with a jumping kick that doesn’t really land. Oblique kick follows as he continues to look to hamper OSP’s movement. Left hand glances for OSP before Jones catches a kick and goes for the takedown. Good defense from OSP though and he remains standing. Jones immediately comes back with a left high kick and a knee. Brutal body kick connects for Jones. Couple of flicking jabs from OSP keep the distance but don’t really land. Low kick from Jones. Double jab from OSP backs Jones up a bit, but Jones quickly clinches and they exchange inside. OSP breaks and slaps Jon’s hand away as he reaches out, but Jones comes back with a body kick and some vicious elbows from close quarters. OSP answers back with a knee to the body and then breaks off. Nice right cross from OSP lands cleanly but Jones takes it well and fires back with a low kick. Left hand misses for OSP and Jones nails him with a side kick to the leg. Oblique kick again lands for Jones. Just over a minute to go and another oblique kick seems to hurt OSP a little. Another spin kick lands cleanly to OSP’s body. Right hand answers for Ovince but Jones takes it well again. OSP’s looking a bit tired. He tries to swing more punches but can’t land and the round ends with a missed wheel kick from Jones leading to a left from OSP. OSP landed some good shots there for sure but it was still Jones’s round, 10-9.

Round Three and they exchange some kicks to begin the round with OSP actually landing a decent one but taking more from Jones. Jones is really using those oblique kicks here. Couple of left hooks into a combo glance for OSP but Jones seems okay and keeps pushing forward with the kicks. Surprised that Jones hasn’t looked to take OSP down yet. Spinning elbow lands for Jones albeit not cleanly. Good left hand follows. Solid left hand replies for OSP. Nice left to the body sets up a short left elbow for Jones, but OSP manages to circle away from the fence. Good leg kick from Jones. More kicks follow but the crowd begin to spatter the cage with boos due to the relative inactivity. Good job from OSP to avoid the clinch, but he needs to get some offense going. Big head kick connects for Jones but OSP takes it well. He replies with a decent body shot, but before he can follow it up Jones hits him with another series of kicks. Less than a minute to go in the round and Jones continues with his kicks and dodges some haymakers. Big body kick from Jones. Clinch from OSP but they separate quickly and the round ends there. Another round in the books for Jones.

Round Four and Cormier is outright saying he’s upset that he had to pull out of the fight as Jones seems rusty. OSP opens with a glancing body kick and he follows with a decent right hook too. Good leg kick from OSP also connects. Jones seems to be more defensive in this round so far. Leg kick lands for OSP. Right hand backs Jones up but the former champ clinches and forces him back into the fence. Takedown attempt from Jones and he lifts OSP for a BIG SLAM down. OSP does a tremendous job of reversing to his feet though, but Jones exits the clinch with a hard knee. Jumping side kick to the knee from Jones but OSP answers with a kick to the body. Pair of hard elbows land for Jones to back OSP up but the crowd are still booing. Good left into the clinch from Jones and he forces OSP into the fence, then drops and his another slam down into side mount. Jones looks for the mounted crucifix but OSP manages to avoid, but it doesn’t look like he can escape from the position and he eats a couple of nasty elbows. OSP tries to walk up the fence to escape, but Jones looks too heavy on top of him and he appears to be going for a possible Americana too. OSP manages to flip over, but Jones keeps him down and this time he steps into mount. OSP is in trouble. Jones lands a nasty elbow that forces him to give his back, but despite landing some hard shots he doesn’t really open up quite enough to finish the fight off. Clear-cut 10-9 round for Jones however and this is a shutout.

Round Five and Jones’s corner are telling him to quit the games, take him down and finish him. Cormier meanwhile compares it to pro-wrestling and Jones giving OSP the rub, ha. Very little action in the first minute here before Jones connects on a leg kick. Both men look tired actually. Left hand lands for Jones. Spin kick connects to the body of OSP. Combo glances for OSP in reply. Crowd begin to really boo loudly with three minutes to go. Nice work from Jones as he dodges some punches and then lands cleanly with an uppercut. Left hook replies for OSP but Jones comes back with the uppercut that sets up a clinch, and from there Jones elevates him and hits a HUGE BODYSLAM to side mount. He stands over him to land with a soccer kick to the body, but then surprisingly lets him back up. OSP looks exhausted. He tries to swing, but to no avail as Jones walks him down. Big head kick narrowly misses for Jones but it allows him to clinch again where the action slows down. Couple of elbows land for Jones and OSP can’t shake him off. Seconds to go now and they break off, and to his credit OSP swings, but Jones avoids easily and the fight ends there. Crowd aren’t happy but it’s got to be 50-45 for Jon Jones.

Judges have it 50-44, 50-45 and 50-45 all for Jon Jones to become the Interim UFC LHW champion. Post-fight Jones says he doesn’t want the belt as he wants his real belt back, and then he admits he struggled to pull the trigger and used probably 20% of his arsenal. Fair play to him for admitting rust rather than claiming an injury or anything like that. He also puts over St. Preux and says he probably needed that fight before fighting for the real belt, and then surprisingly he doesn’t tear into Daniel Cormier, just saying he’s excited to fight him again. Of course though he ended up flipping Cormier off at cageside, but that’s Jon Jones for you!

Bit of a pedestrian fight in the end then. Nothing necessarily wrong with it as such but yeah, I’d agree with Jones’s own assessment that he struggled to pull the trigger due to ring rust, and while OSP hung in there he never really put together any significant offense and he felt like a warm body for Jones to beat to get himself back into the groove. I think I expected a Tyson-like destruction here which in hindsight was totally unfair to OSP – maybe we would’ve gotten that with Jones vs. Dada 5000 or something like that, but thankfully UFC don’t do that sort of bullshit. So yeah, on one hand it was a disappointing fight to watch but on the other hand we probably should’ve expected something like this coming in. For the record I’m not sure about all these people saying that DC or Rumble would’ve beaten this version of Jones because we don’t know if Jones would’ve raised his game for one of those guys, but yeah – I guess it adds a bit more intrigue to the Jones/DC rematch as the first fight was closer than a lot of people remember and Jones is going to have to be at the very top of his game to beat Cormier again.

-Show ends with some plugs for the upcoming shows and Cormier cutting some pretty awesome promos on Jones. You know, not many fighters ‘get it’ as much as Cormier does I don’t think. Love the guy.

Final Thoughts….

Bit of a disappointing show I thought – sure, Rodriguez/Fili and Johnson/Cejudo were pretty awesome and had tremendous finishes, but the other three fights just felt deflated to me – that isn’t to say they were bad at all, but nothing really memorable happened in any of them and while Pettis losing to Barboza was a big deal it wasn’t like Edson wheel kicked him into unconsciousness, you know? Can’t go the full thumbs down because none of the fights stunk and Johnson’s performance is definitely worth checking out, but it’s not going to be one of 2016’s better shows I don’t think.

Best Fight: Johnson vs. Cejudo
Worst Fight: Jones vs. OSP

Overall Rating: **1/2

Until next time,

Scott Newman: