The Ultimate Fighting Championship sold out the MGM Grand Arena on Saturday for UFC 197, producing a night of crazy knockouts, mundane decisions, and one long-awaited return.
Former UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones returned from a 15-month layoff to face short notice replacement Ovince Saint Preux – standing in for current champion Daniel Cormier who withdrew due to injury.
Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson once again defended his flyweight title against Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, the last real challenge for “Mighty Mouse” in a division he’s cleaned out of the past number of years.
Jones and Johnson weren’t the only fighters to impress on the night, with some very strong performance from Fight Pass to the main card. Unfortunately, not everyone climbed the ladder and instead found themselves falling further down the rankings.
Here’s a rundown of the winners and losers of UFC 197.
Jon Jones – After so much time on the sidelines, many wondered if Jon Jones still had the mantle and technical skill to face such a durable opponent in Ovince Saint Preux. With OSP stepping in on three weeks notice, many believed the interim title fight was nothing more than a platform to remind people how dangerous Jones is ahead of his rematch with Daniel Cormier. The former champion looked crisp, patient and strong over 25-minutes and now could find himself fighting to unify the title at the landmark UFC 200 card this July.
Ovince Saint Preux – Stepping in on short notice can be a gift even if you don’t end up getting your hand raised. The loss to Jones will do little to OSP’s position in the rankings and only strengthens his stock with the UFC now that he went 25-minutes with the greatest light-heavyweight on the planet. His act of good will for the promotion could bear fruit in the future, possibly in the form of a top-three ranked opponent.
Demetrious Johnson – With his win over Henry Cejudo, Johnson has successfully defended his flyweight title eight times. The first-round TKO over the Olympic gold medalist puts him two wins away from Anderson Silva’s record of ten title defenses, with no prominent contenders left for “Might Mouse” to face. Johnson has the division in the palm of his hand and continues to evolve with each fight but is still having issues selling himself to fans, which is a shame with such artistic talent on show.
Yair Rodriguez – The great thing about up and coming fighters is the chance to see them grow with each fight. Yari Rodriguez is wasting no time lapping up the experience and with his shoebox of kicks, he continues to excite anybody watching his fights. Rodriguez opened the main card against a game Andre Fili, exchanging flamboyant kicks and punches throughout the first round. Midway through the second, Rodriguez reminded the crowd why he’s one to watch, landing a vicious flying head kick that sent Fili to the canvas. An exciting fighter with a bright future.
Carla Esparza – Following her loss to Joanna Jędrzejczy, Esparza struggled with injuries that kept her out of the octagon for just over a year. Her return at UFC 197 showcased a part of her game she failed to implement against Jędrzejczy, her wrestling. A tough Juliana Lima stood in her way but was no match for the American’s grappling skills. The win for Esparza was needed after losing her belt and could be the kick-starter to get it back.
Anthony Pettis – It wasn’t a good night at the office for former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. “Showtime” couldn’t get his shots off against an in-form Edson Barboza, who pretty much figured out his opponent and chipped away as the fight progressed. The loss to Barboza continues Pretty Tony’s losing streak, previously dropping losses to Eddie Alvarez and Rafael dos Anjos. Hopefully, his recent move to Jackson-Winkeljohn starts to bring results sooner rather than later.
Clint Hester – The former Ultimate Fighter contestant has become nothing more than a stepping stone for rising talent in the UFC. His loss to Marcos Rogério de Lima on Saturday night was his third straight, all three coming within the first two rounds. Something has changed, given his impressive 4-0 run when he joined the promotion, so don’t be surprised if you see Hester on the next cut list.
Cody East – Just like Sage Northcutt, East was snapped up by the Ultimate Fighting Championship through the Lookin’ for a Fight series fronted by UFC president Dana White. Controversy surrounded the heavyweight and his past prior to signing with the UFC and following his first-round knockout loss to Walt Harris on Saturday night, his image can’t take another hit if the UFC brass do decide to keep him.
Andre Fili – The fight game can be cruel. Fili was on the receiving end of one well-placed switch head kick courtesy of Yari Rodriguez and it doesn’t bode well for his stock. The 25-year-old is finding it difficult to win two straight and is currently 3-3 with the promotion. While consistent against lower ranked opponents, when facing the likes of Max Hollaway and Rodriguez, Fili just doesn’t have the answers.
Henry Cejudo – Thankfully for Cejudo, the flyweight division isn’t teaming with title contenders and off the back of another two wins, he could see himself stepping in with Johnson once again. However, the manner in which he lost could work against the prominent wrestler, coming back from a knockout loss isn’t easy and to go into a rematch with the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world and put on a show sounds daunting. Back to the drawing board Cejudo.
James McDonald, Pundit Arena