Tonight (Sat., April 23, 2016) marks the return of former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight champion Jon Jones (21-1).
Having been sidelined for over a year stemming back to a hit-and-run incident back in April of 2015, the 28-year-old New Yorker will once again step inside of the Octagon later tonight opposite Ovince Saint Preux (19-7) at UFC 197 live on pay-per-view (PPV) from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas Nevada.
The two Light Heavyweight dynamos will duke it out for interim title rights in the unfortunate absence of champion Daniel Cormier due to injury.
Jones will attempt to right the ship in the eyes of many fight fans by taking a dangerous opponent on short notice that holds no true ties to the 205-pound championship. He will look to showcase his ability inside of the Octagon after a year layoff that featured heightened training, muscle cultivation, and an inner realization of how good he can be if he completely dedicates himself to the fight game.
As for Saint Preux, who has shown a massive ability to finish fights throughout his UFC career, he will have the golden opportunity of challenging the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in mixed martial arts (MMA) today. He will attempt to utilize his athletic ability and suffocating power to thwart the superior technique and championship experience of "Bones."
In preparation for tonight's action, we take a closer look at Jones vs OSP to determine what each fighter needs to do to capture victory at UFC 197.
1. Enjoy the moment...
It seems generic, but this is a big moment in the career of Jones. He's not only making his first UFC appearance since a victory over Cormier at UFC 182, but he's now caught in the middle of a No. 1 contender's bout (essentially).
When Jones steps foot inside of the cage later tonight, he may be felling a little extra emotion compared to previous outings. This even includes his polarizing feuds with Cormier and Rashad Evans, who Jones defeated back at UFC 145. In order to get back to business, showcase the skills he's picked up in the past year, and fight the best to his ability, Jones must remain patient, calculated, and level-headed.
If he finds himself reaching for offense or sticking his chin out on defense, OSP is more than capable of taking advantage of those mistakes. For all intents and purposes, this fight has to be Jones' best performance to date.
The pressure is on. Can the former champion rise above it?
2. Embrace the clinch...
While Jones is arguably the most well-rounded striker in the 205-pound class, he hasn't displayed the knockout power in the past that's capable of going toe-to-toe with someone like Saint Preux. His improved strength and conditioning training may lend a hand in correcting that, but we're left to assume Jones isn't turning into Chuck Liddell anytime soon.
Because of that, "Bones" must embrace the clinch like he has in recent memory. In his championship tilts opposite Cormier and Glover Teixeira, Jones utilizes a ridiculous clinch against the cage, offering body shots, sharp elbows, shoulder jabs, and more. If he can do the same at UFC 197, it's going to take a lot of steam out of OSP on the feet.
Jones will obviously test the waters from range and see if Saint Preux has anything to offer from distance, but his quickest route to victory is to tie up with the former college football star, rely on his technique up close, pick OSP apart, and look for the finish down the line.
Ovince Saint Preux
1. Attack early...
There's no arguing that Saint Preux is stepping into a serious situation tonight at UFC 197. After all, he's fighting the best fighter on the planet on just a few weeks notice.
But like many fill-in fights we've seen before, anything is possible, especially when a fighter is as powerful, motivated, and athletic as OSP.
If the 33-year-old wants to make the most of this opportunity, he's going to have to put Jones on his heels as soon as he can. While OSP cannot afford to get careless when moving forward, he must hit Jones early, make him question his own gameplan, and try to lean on his athleticism to get a jump start on the judges' scorecards.
At the end of the day, getting into a chess match of precision and technique with Jon Jones on the feet isn't the best of ideas. Instead, going for broke can sometimes work in wondrous ways.
2. Rely on his finishing ability...
Jones may have a loss on his record to Matt Hamill back at The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 Finale due to disqualification, but the former Light Heavyweight kingpin has never truly lost a fight. In turn, Jones has never been finished inside of the cage.
So that leads us to believe that it's going to take a whole lot from OSP to put Jones on his butt and make the referee jump in for a stoppage at UFC 197. But considering Saint Preux has demonstrated the ability to hurt Teixeira on the feet, knockout Mauricio "Shogun" Rua with one punch, break Ryan Jimmo's arm via kicks, and sink in fairly rare submissions like the Von Flue choke, he may be the most equipped fighter at 205 pounds to actually finish "Bones."
With that said, if OSP sees even the smallest of windows to pounce on Jones, unload everything he has, and attempt to secure his sixth Octagon finish, he needs to take it. Not to mention the fact that coming in on a just a few weeks notice could hamper his overall conditioning. If that's the case, Saint Preux needs to find the perfect moment to give Jones everything he's got.
For live UFC 197 results and coverage click here.