Few mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters get the opportunity to fight the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of their time, especially if it means filling in on short notice.
At UFC 197 tonight (Sat., April 23, 2016) inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Light Heavyweight dynamo Ovince Saint Preux will be given that opportunity. He will fight former UFC 205-pound champion Jon Jones in the main event, which will hold interim title implications with current champion Daniel Cormier sidelined with an injury.
In the minds of many pundits around the MMA universe, OSP is just a minor bump in the road for a former champion seeking career redemption. Those same enthusiasts will point at Saint Preux's lack of experience, limited preparation, wild offense, and limited wrestling repertoire as reasons why he will be unable to stomach the tactical approach of "Bones" and the gameplan mastery of Jones' head coach, Greg Jackson.
But there is simply more on the line at UFC 197 than the return of Jones to a division he absolutely butchered for over four-straight years. Instead, there lies this feeling of unexpected greatness surrounding OSP. After all, the former University of Tennessee (GO VOLS!) football standout infuses athleticism and raw power unlike many at the Light Heavyweight level. He stood with Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 73, finished Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night 56, submitted former Heavyweight grappling specialist Nikita Krylov at UFC 171 via Von Flue choke, and broke Ryan Jimmo's arm at UFC 174 with kicks to the body. He's strong, versatile, explosive, and vastly unappreciated as a growing title threat.
What makes Saint Preux even more dangerous opposite a returning Jones is the fact that he's relatively the same size. Remember, "Bones" had a lot of trouble executing his usually iron-clad distance control opposite towering Swede Alexander Gustafsson back at UFC 165. It was the first time Jones encountered someone with a similar physical makeup, and he struggled on his way to the most hard-fought victory of his entire professional career. While Gustafsson is most certainly a more complete striker than OSP, Saint Preux will bring a similar frame with him to the Octagon Saturday night.
While it seems like Jones has never been more ready for a fight in his life considering he's been sidelined for so long, there comes a time in every fighter's career when they're unable to capture victory. The 28-year-old New Yorker has looked the part of a fighter capable of winning every single one of his fights, but unexpected things tend to happen when the odds are in your favor and a sneaky contender is nipping at your heels.
So even though Saint Preux fails in comparison to Jones when fighting experience, striking efficiency, ground effectiveness, and defensive awareness are brought to the forefront, the top-flight 33-year-old contender is more than capable of forging unforgettable success at UFC 197.
Even if he doesn't defeat Jones in the main event, he will be the "Fighter to Watch."