There’s something rather underwhelming about an interim title, but it does mean Jon Jones is back where he belongs – as the former light heavyweight champion returns to the octagon this weekend.
The king without a crown, Jones never lost the title – but was stripped of it after he was suspended by the UFC almost twelve months ago. Since then Daniel Cormier reigned supreme over the division and was scheduled to meet Jones for the second time.
An injury three weeks out from the fight ruled Cormier out, and number six ranked Ovince Saint Preux stepped in to meet Jones for the interim light heavyweight title.
Jones, rated by many as perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter off all time, has been his own worst enemy. A series of incidents outside the octagon have seen his reputation tarnished, and he will return to the cage this weekend after more than 15 months out of action.
The undisputed pound-for-pound king, Demetrious Johnson will co-headline the event, as he defends his flyweight title against former Olympic wrestling gold medalist Henry Cejudo.
Jones vs Saint Preux
It would be one of the biggest upsets in UFC history should OSP defy the odds and beat Jon Jones, but it’s not going to happen. Jones has beaten much better opponents, and adversaries who have had full training camps.
Jones presents a challenge nobody has been able to deal with thus far. His 8’4″ reach has proved problematic for most, and he has the ability to control the fight no matter where it goes. Coupled with the fact this is a motivated Jones on a mission to get his hands on Cormier for a second time – Jones could prove to be impossible to stop.
Anything can happen in the octagon, and Saint Preux has a fighter’s chance – but that’s about it. Jones could take a while to adapt to a fighter of his size, given the fact he was preparing for a much smaller fighter in Cormier.
But this would be a huge upset and Jones won’t lose. Expect him to take his time, and enjoy himself back in the cage for a while. However, he will pick Saint Preux apart and likely get a finish in the process – marching on towards a showdown with Cormier.
Jon Jones defeats Ovince Saint Preux via TKO (round two).
Johnson vs Cejudo
Is there a more dominant champion in the UFC today? Almost certainly not. Demetrious Johnson has shut down each and every challenger at 125 pounds, as he edges closer and closer to the record number of UFC title defences.
In his way, there’s only the small matter of a former Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, Henry Cejudo. The UFC’s top brass have been slowly building Cejudo for his shot at Johnson, but the lack of serious contenders at flyweight has probably seen his title shot rushed.
Cejudo’s run to the title has been less than convincing and he’s yet to finish an opponent. He will become stuck against DJ if he can’t utilise his wrestling. Expect Johnson to outpoint him. DJ is an excellent scrambler and this will just be another day at the office for ‘Mighty Mouse’.
After Johnson beats Cejudo, what is there left for him? He’s cleaned out the division. Potential superfights at 135 pounds are on the table – with the most interesting certainly being a potential rematch with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz.
But Johnson has made it clear that he will only take a superfight if the money is right, and wants to beat Anderson Silva’s title defence record – so it’s unlikely we’ll see him challenge at 135.
Demetrious Johnson defeats Henry Cejudo by unanimous decision.
Anthony Pettis vs Barboza
Just over twelve months ago, Anthony Pettis had it all. He was the UFC lightweight champion, one of the faces of Reebok and most predicted he would hold on to the title for a long time. But Rafael Dos Anjos exploited his kryptonite – wrestling.
Ever since Dos Anjos beat Pettis in a dominant way at UFC 185, Pettis suddenly looks vulnerable. Eddie Alvarez used Dos Anjos’ formula to beat ‘Showtime’ in his last bout and Pettis is in danger of losing a third on the trot.
Edson Barboza is a human highlight reel, and some of his finishes have been spectacular. He has been on somewhat of a downward spiral too though, losing two of his last three fights. Defeat for either man puts them in a difficult position.
Pettis is outstanding on the feet and this is where this fight will likely play out. Barboza is good on his feet, but Pettis is on another level and will keep his title hopes alive with a win. Defeat for Pettis could see him drop to featherweight for a run at the title, an idea that he has always toyed with.
Anthony Pettis defeats Edson Barboza by unanimous decision.
Whittaker vs Natal
Australian Robert Whittaker should feel disappointed with the UFC matchmaking here, after his win over Uriah Hall who was ranked in the top ten.
Whittaker should be receiving the push he deserves. Instead we have a potential bore-fest here despite the fact Natal is riding a four-fight win steak, as he has a tendency to make the fight ugly.
Whittaker has the potential to be a contender at middleweight, but for whatever reason the UFC don’t seem to want to give him that opportunity.
Whittaker should be aiming to make a statement and a big finish will do just that, but Natal will ensure it turns into a scrap. However, Whittaker should ease to a decision here.
Robert Whittaker defeats Rafael Natal by unanimous decision.
Rodriguez vs Fili
This is an interesting match-up, with both Andre Fili and Yair Rodgriguez decent prospects at 145. This will be Rodgriguez’s toughest match-up with Fili looking to pick up from where he left off.
Winner of the The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, Rodriguez has notched up two in a row since, but he faces a tough challenge in Fili.
The 25-year-old, a member of Team Alpha Male, is a solid fighter everywhere and his wrestling will undoubtedly improve at Alpha Male. It’s too soon for Rodriguez, but his time will come.
Andre Filli defeats Yair Rodriguez via unanimous decision
David Clarke, Pundit Arena