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UFC 197 predictions, preview, and analysis

Esther Lin

After more than a year on the sidelines, former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will finally return to the Octagon in the UFC 197 pay-per-view (PPV) main event, taking place this Sat. night (April 23, 2016) inside MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It's not against Daniel Cormier for the 205-pound title, but I don't think anyone gives a shit at this point. I, like a lot of other mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, want to see the world's baddest fighter get back inside the cage and put the hurt on somebody.

Or get put on his ass by a massive underdog.

It's just fun to watch "Bones" compete, which is why he retains headlining duties for his interim title fight against "OSP." But before they can mix things up in "Sin City," flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson will test his might against Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo.

That's not all.

In a match up that has stand-and-bang bros creaming their pants, Edson Barboza will throw leather with former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. A win over "Showtime" would go a long way in (finally) establishing the Brazilian as a serious title contender.

Let's see who gets it done tomorrow night in Vegas.

205 lbs.: Jon "Bones" Jones (21-1) vs. Ovince "OSP" Saint Preux (19-7)

Nostradumbass predicts: Jon Jones is, and has always been, invincible. Over the course of his remarkable UFC career, which dates back nearly eight  years, "Bones" has made the competition look foolish. That includes power punchers, submission specialists, Olympic wrestlers, the works.

I know some of you are thinking, Yeah, but that Alexander Gustafsson fight...

Let's not pretend for a second that Jones was taking that fight seriously (just look at this photo). And by his own admission, he was so high, even Cheech and Chong were like damn that guy is high. Jones skated by on talent. The idea that he's now clean and sober -- and training with a champion's intensity -- is terrifying.

The only way Ovince Saint Preux can win is if Jones drives himself to the arena (spoiler: he'll never make it).

"OSP" is not an undersized light heavyweight, packing considerable punch and demonstrating above-average athleticism. The few fighters who failed to take him seriously were either knocked out or choked out, something not lost on the masterminds at Jackson's MMA.

But you can't tell me a fighter who was subbed by Glover Teixeira and handled by Ryan Bader is the type of gladiator who can stop Jones. The evidence simply isn't there. In fact, the biggest win of Saint Preux's career was a first-round stoppage over Mauricio Rua in late 2014.

Beating "Shogun" was a big deal in 2006. In 2014, it was practically a coin toss.

Jones is likely to need a pair of rounds to get his groove back, as 15 months in between fights is long for any fighter and the only time the ex-champ will be vulnerable. Unfortunately for Saint Preux, Jones is 28 -- not 38 -- so he's still in his prime and still as dangerous as ever. Except now he's hungry.

Be afraid.

Final prediction: Jones def. Saint Preux by technical knockout

125 lbs.: Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson (23-2-1) vs. Henry "The Messenger" Cejudo (10-0)

Nostradumbass predicts: Demetrious Johnson will never get the respect he deserves as a martial artist because he competes in the flyweight division, and for some oddball reason, fight fans have trouble rooting for a fighter who looks like they just crawled out of that little suitcase in Puppet Master.

That's a shame, because from a technical standpoint, he's virtually flawless.

I have yet to see a fighter in any division move the way "Mighty Mouse" does and the tape of him transitioning from striking to grappling -- and back again -- is the kind of stuff they air on a loop at MMA gyms around the globe with a Post-It note that reads: Do This.

That's why he beats Henry Cejudo.

"The Messenger" secured gold in the 2008 Olympics at the tender age of 21 but didn't make his MMA debut until 2013. By then, Johnson had already captured the 125-pound crown and was beginning to pull away from the pack, fresh off a unanimous decision win over John Dodson.

For me, that's my big problem with picking the challenger.

After crushing a few cans on the regional circuit, Cejudo made his way to the big leagues and won all four of his fights. Regrettably, I don't remember any of them, because nothing really happened. Well, let me amend that. I do recall his last fight against Jussier Formiga being close.

Close will not cut it against the fastest fighter in MMA.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Cejudo was able to earn a title shot without having to first get past the two toughest guys in the division. I can't say "The Messenger" would have definitively won or lost in showdowns against Dodson or Joseph Benavidez, but it would have been a great way to determine his chances against "Mighty Mouse."

Without that body of work to draw from, I'm sticking with what I know, and what I know is Cejudo can wrestle.

And not much else.

Final prediction: Johnson def. Cejudo via unanimous decision

155 lbs.: Anthony "Showtime" Pettis (18-4) vs. Edson Barboza (16-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: Watching Anthony Pettis slowly-but-surely tumble down the lightweight ladder has been a sobering reminder of what happens to a fighter when there is no Plan B. When your opponents yield to your physical attributes, it's Wheaties and super fights.

When they don't, it's fan-favorite match ups against Edson Barboza.

That's not a knock on the Brazilian, who is the reason we have highlight reels in combat sports, but let's not overlook the fact that Barboza will have been with UFC for six years this November, and not once have we ever been in a position to call for a title shot.

I blame the panic button.

Whereas Pettis is befuddled when the fight fails to unfold according to plan, Barboza has a nervous breakdown, or at least seems to perform that way once the shit hits the fan. That's why he's been finished in three of his four losses and always tripped up just when he starts putting together a few wins.

Conversely, "Showtime" has not been knocked out or submitted in 22 professional bouts.

As far as who has the edge in striking for tomorrow night's bangfest, it's hard to say. It's not necessarily who the better striker is, but rather which combatant does a more effective job of controlling the pace and managing any available real estate.

For my money, that's going to be Barboza -- right up until he gets dropped with the jab of doom. Think of the "Cowboy" fight, with a very similar ending.

Final prediction: Pettis def. Barboza via submission

185 lbs.: Rafael "Sapo" Natal (21-6-1) vs. Robert "The Reaper" Whittaker (15-4)

Nostradumbass predicts: Rafael Natal is in a bit of a weird spot at 185 pounds, in that he's just kinda "there." The Brazilian managed to crack the top 15 with a four-fight winning streak, but none of those victories were particularly memorable.

Knocking out TUF import Kevin Casey is not cause for champagne or party hats.

In fact, you can make the argument that Natal's split-decision nod over the hot-and-cold Uriah Hall is his most notable win to date. Either that, or his knockout win over the fading Travis Lutter for Moosin MMA back in 2010. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

That said, "Sapo" is still a top-shelf grappler with knockout power and is not going to just roll over.

Like Natal, Robert Whittaker is still in search of a signature win and also holds a judges' nod over the aforementioned "Prime Time." The Australian blames his early woes on the cut to welterweight and while it garnered him the TUF: "Sm-Ashes" trophy, his middleweight results speak for themselves.

This should prove to be a competitive fight.

Natal doesn't have the kind of wrestling required to get a bull like Whittaker to the floor. In addition, I think "The Reaper" has already surpassed his Brazilian foe in terms of striking and footwork, so I would not expect to see him pressed into the cage or dragged to the ground.

Assuming "Sapo" can avoid the knockout punch, he's likely to lose all three rounds on points.

Final prediction: Whittaker def. Natal via unanimous decision

145 lbs.: Andre "Touchy" Fili (15-3) vs. Yair "Pantera" Rodriguez (6-1)

Nostradumbass predicts: Andre Fili was one of the most promising prospects to enter the featherweight division back in 2013 after a torrid 12-1 winning streak. In addition, "Touchy" -- one of the ten best nicknames in MMA -- was backed by Team Alpha Male long before the Sacramento, Calif.-based fight camp suffered a mass exodus.

Unfortunately, he's struggled to find consistency in his short time under the ZUFFA banner, alternating wins and losses in five trips to the Octagon. Losing to the No. 4-ranked Max Holloway is nothing to be ashamed of, but I was disappointed by his loss to Godofredo Castro.

Fili comes into this contest as the more experienced fighter, but I don't think it's fair to have the work Yair Rodriguez did at TUF: "Latin America" stricken from the record simply because they were exhibition bouts. Fighting inside a cage against someone trying to smash you still counts in my book, regardless of how the commission records it.

And "Pantera" was fucking hostile, finishing all four of his victims en route to a glass trophy.

Rodriguez then transitioned to the main roster and racked up another three wins. His competition hasn't been on the same level as Fili's, but I think his consistency throughout the past few years in addition to training alongside Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis, and two-time NCAA wrestling champ Jesse Delgado, among others, is what tips the scale tomorrow night in Vegas.

Final prediction: Rodriguez def. Fili via submission

That's a wrap.

For a closer look at the UFC 197 "Prelims" portion of the card click here and here. Latest odds and betting lines for "Jones vs. Saint Preux" can be found here. will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 197 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.

You've heard from me, now let's hear from you. Who gets the job done at UFC 197?

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