Jon Jones returns to pay-per-view (PPV) this Sat. night (Feb. 8, 2020) and while that’s usually a big deal, both in terms of fan excitement and promotion dollar signs, “Bones” is sandwiched between the comeback of Conor McGregor, the biggest star in all of mixed martial arts (MMA), and the most intriguing title fight we’ve had in several years, courtesy of the Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson showdown this April in Brooklyn.
By comparison, a light heavyweight title defense against Dominick Reyes in the UFC 247 main event feels like just another day at the office. We can also blame some of that on Jones, who mailed it in against former middleweights Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos in 2019. Perhaps “The Devastator,” who brings a perfect record into Toyota Center in Houston, Texas, will give us something to get excited about when the cage door closes this weekend in “The Lone Star State.”
Before we start breaking down the UFC 247 main card, which also features a five-round flyweight title fight between Valentina Shevchenko (champion) and Katlyn Chookagian (challenger), have a look at what our newly-formed tag team of Andrew Richardson and Patrick Stumberg had to say about the UFC 247 “Prelims” card, split across ESPN and ESPN+, by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for all the “Jones vs. Reyes” action can be dissected here.
Enough with the potatoes, let’s get to the meat.
205 lbs.: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones (25-1) vs. Dominick “The Devastator” Reyes (12-0)
What’s interesting about this Jon Jones fight, particularly when compared the ones that preceded it, is how his split-decision win over Thiago Santos has somehow foretold the fall of the light heavyweight legend. Perhaps the armchair experts who think Jones has run his course are overlooking the numbers because “Bones” easily out-struck the Brazilian bruiser. And I guess now is a good time to mention that both Anthony Smith and Ovince Saint Preux landed more strikes than “Maretta” when they had their chance to depose the 205-pound kingpin, so it’s not like Jones took an inordinate amount of abuse. I’m certainly not celebrating his win over Santos, as Jones was low output, abandoned his wrestling, and gave the former middleweight way too much respect, but I don’t understand this narrative that Jones is somehow shot because he played defense and tried to run out the clock. In football that makes you a genius, in MMA it makes you a pussy.
That said, I can’t help but wonder what happened to the Jones who came out of the Matt Hamill debacle and finished eight out of his next 10 opponents. And not just finished like “oh hey the ref had to intervene.” Lyoto Machida was basically dead for like three minutes inside the Octagon and Mauricio Rua looked like Johnny Cade when they pulled him from the burning church. Jones has been to the scorecards in six of his last seven fights (excluding the “no contest” against Daniel Cormier) and part of me is hoping he’s sick of all these five-round decisions (I certainly am). If not, we’re going to get a performance not unlike the ones we’ve seen against Smith and Saint Preux. I also understand that Jones is bored silly with what he considers to be “lame” contenders and MMA is not unlike most other jobs. Who the fuck wants to get up and go to work every day to do the same boring shit? Here’s to hoping there’s a jump to heavyweight in the very near future.
Until then, Jones will be tasked with turning away Dominick Reyes, a powerful light heavyweight who is the same height as Jones but gives up a whopping six inches in reach. “The Devastator” had me convinced he was going to be all kinds of problems for “Bones” after he melted Jared Cannonier and put a three-round beating on Ovince Saint Preux. Then he laid an egg against Volkan Oezdemir in a fight that saw “No Time” land more strikes and score the fight’s only takedown. That’s worth mentioning because Reyes has been taken to the floor in four of his six UFC fights and I think it’s safe to say that if Jeremy Kimball can get Reyes to the canvas, Jones should find little-to-no resistance. To his credit, Reyes rebounded with a lights-out finish over Chris Weidman in his very next appearance and it might have been a bigger deal had the former middleweight not gotten finished in four of the five fights that came before it. Getting trapped under Jones is like a death sentence, evidenced by his punishing victory over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 (just one of many examples).
This is by no means a lock for Jones, because Reyes has serious knockout power. More importantly, he was an athlete before he was a fighter, so he’s quick for his size and appropriately agile. With that in mind, it's hard to imagine Reyes landing a knockout blow when so many before him have tried and failed, including Santos. Putting all that aside, my biggest issue with “The Devastator” is that he never had to get through a Daniel Cormier, or an Anthony Johnson, to secure his 205-pound title shot. In fact, his only win over a Top 10 light heavyweight came against Oezdemir, and we already talked about that lackluster performance. I have a feeling Jones comes into this fight with something to prove. Not only to erase the doubt that came from his win over “Maretta” — and silence the “Reyes is a better athlete” talk — but also to secure a heavyweight shootout later this year. There’s money to be made in the land of the big men, especially with a division title on the line.
Prediction: Jones def. Reyes by technical knockout
125 lbs.: UFC Flyweight Champion Valentina “Bullet” Shevchenko (18-3) vs. Katlyn “Blonde Fighter” Chookagian (13-2)
On paper, it looks as though the promotion has been able to scrounge up a worthy contender in the form of ex-bantamweight bruiser, Katlyn Chookagian. After all, a 13-2 record is pretty impressive in any division and “Blonde Fighter” has quietly racked up eight fights under the UFC banner. If that number comes as a surprise to you it’s probably because Chookagian has been to the scorecards in all eight of those contests. Her two losses, which came against Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye, were both split decisions and sometimes analysts like to pull that “she was one indecisive judge away from a win” card. If you do that in defeat then you must do it in victory, as well, as the 31 year-old slugger also drew a split in her UFC 210 win over Irene Aldana. It's impossible to say this without sounding like a douchey couch critic, but Chookagian is wholly unremarkable in every way. She’s big for a flyweight and will hold a height and reach advantage, but she’s yet to score a takedown in eight UFC fights and I’m not breaking out the party hats for a decision win over Jennifer Maia.
We also have to take into consideration that Chookagian is taking on one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport, regardless of weight class (who stands at No. 2 in the women’s division). When Valentina Shevchenko set sail for the flyweight division she was ranked No. 1 in the world at 135 pounds and was tired of playing patty cake with Amanda Nunes. Since her trip south, “Bullet” has racked up four straight wins with two violent finishes and sent Joanna Jedrzejczyk back to strawweight. What hurts her standing, at least in terms of popular opinion, was her dreadful showing against Liz Carmouche, which was not unlike her Nunes rematch in that fans were dragged through a 25-minute staring contest. It wasn't Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis bad, but I don’t think anyone went home happy after the curtain dropped at UFC Uruguay. When Shevchenko is dialed in, she treats opponents like Jason Voorhees treats camp counselors. The ones who don’t run, that is, because the 31 year-old Muay Thai striker does her best work when she’s given an opponent willing to bang.
I know it’s lazy to always pick the favorite but when you look at Chookagian’s body of work, there’s nothing there to support the upset. Shevchenko would have to turn in a Carmouche or Nunes-like performance against a run-and-gun challenger and that’s asking a lot for a five-round fight. Chookagian is going to move forward and press the action and Shevchenko will respond in kind. Considering the kind of abuse she absorbed in her first dance with “Lioness,” I’m not sure there is anything “Blonde Fighter” can throw that will make the bookies sweat. For me, this is a question of whether or not “Bullet” treats the UFC 247 co-main event like a turn-based strategy game. I don’t want Civilization II, I want Twisted Metal 2. I think we’ll get it, and I can already hear Sweet Tooth chuckling in the background.
Prediction: Shevchenko def. Chookagian by technical knockout
265 lbs.: Juan “The Kraken” Adams (5-2) vs. Justin “Bad Man” Tafa (3-1)
The fact that this heavyweight shit-show is on the PPV main card should give you a fairly good idea of what the promotion had to work with coming into this weekend’s event, but it still belongs on the ESPN “Prelims.” The argument that Juan Adams is from Houston is a stupid one, because friends and family don’t care where “The Kraken” is placed in the line up, they just want to see him fight and will buy a ticket regardless. As for Justin Tafa, he’s from Australia and has just one appearance inside the Octagon, a blistering knockout loss to Yorgan de Castro at UFC 243. Similarly, Adams went belly up against Greg Hardy his last time out in what can only be described as an embarrassing performance. Where are the two killers who smashed their way into UFC by way of Dana White’s Contender Series? They are right here, performing to the level of combatants who combined, have just 11 pro fights.
Perhaps the promotion is hoping for a quick (and violent) knockout, something that we all secretly hope for in a 265-pound battle. Most heavyweights are fat and end up gassing by the second stanza so the quicker, the better, and I’m not unlike most fight fans in that I love a good one-hitter quitter. I’d say the chances are pretty good in this match up because their eight combined wins have all ended by way of knockout/technical knockout. As for who gets the upper hand? It’s hard to make any sort of intelligent analysis when you depart the upper echelon of the heavyweight division and neither Adams nor Tafa have given us much to work with. From the little we’ve seen, I have to pick “The Kraken” because he owns five inches in height and six inches in reach to complement his background as a Division-1 collegiate wrestler. Tafa, by comparison, is an anachronism, a stocky southpaw who likes to plod forward and drop bombs. This is 2020, that kind of “swing for the fences and hope for the best” mentality is not going to cut it.
Prediction: Adams def. Tafa by knockout
145 lbs.: Mirsad Bektic (13-2) vs. “Dynamite” Dan Ige (12-2)
If you were using the “Create A Fighter” option in the UFC video game you would no doubt include top shelf wrestling and heavy hands, two things Mirsad Bektic sports in earnest. That was enough to propel the Bosnian-American bruiser to four straight wins under the UFC banner, but his inability to maintain a solid pace throughout three rounds of fast-paced action cost him dearly against veteran featherweight Darren Elkins. Two fights later and Bektic was back on his ass, thanks to the heavy hands of Josh Emmett. He clearly understands the fight game after six years under the UFC banner, part of which has been spent under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal, but it’s troubling that he’s logged so many miles inside the Octagon and remains unranked at 145 pounds, even with a debilitating ACL injury back in 2015. I think it’s time we stop looking at Bektic as prospect or future star at age 29 and consider a more realistic prognosis, though I think it all hinges on how he performs this weekend in Houston.
That’s because Dan Ige is a formidable opponent and could be looking at a similar trajectory. A winner on Dana White’s Contender Series back in summer 2017, the Hawaiian stumbled out of the gate and found himself with a debut loss at UFC 220. Since then, “Dynamite” has exploded into a four-fight win streak, two of them finishes, including last June’s decision victory over the venerable Kevin Aguilar. Ige sports a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt (complemented by a brown belt in judo) and has five submissions to back it up, along with experience in some of the top stateside regional promotions. Despite not holding a place among the Top 15 featherweights, Ige is one of the more well-rounded fighters in the division. I think it’s not unreasonable to suggest that his biggest win to date has come over his fellow “Contender Series” standout (Aguilar), which also gives you an idea of his level of competition since joining UFC over two years back.
This fight boils down to how well Ige can keep his rampaging foe at bay. Height and reach are about the same for both combatants but where the gap really begins to widen is in the wrestling. Bektic has scored 17 takedowns across seven UFC fights, more than double what Ige —no slouch in the wrestling department — has managed to produce thus far inside the Octagon. I do expect the Hawaiian to stay away from the big punch and wait for Bektic to run out of steam, but in a three-round fight that is wrestle-heavy, the comeback may be too little, too late, blind haymaker notwithstanding.
Prediction: Bektic def. Age by split decision
265 lbs.: Derrick “Black Beast” Lewis (22-7, 1 NC) vs. Ilir “Sledgehammer” Latifi (14-7, 1 NC)
I guess Daniel Cormier can finally celebrate as he’s no longer the shortest heavyweight in the division. That’s because he was replaced by the shortest light heavyweight in the division in the form of 5’8” Ilir Latifi, who is just two inches taller than Matt Serra. How’s that for perspective? Somehow “The Sledgehammer” could no longer endure the cut to 205 pounds and instead of sacrificing some of those Swedish GAINZ, Latifi simply returned to the 265-pound weight class, where he started his career way back in 2008 against fellow UFC bruiser Blagoy Ivanov. Outside of his heavy right hand, Latifi is an accomplished Greco-Roman wrestler with sneaky submissions, good enough for two trips to Abu Dhabi Combat Club more than a decade ago. I know we like to share that pic of Latifi on horseback galloping along the beach, but all jokes aside, he’s a well-rounded fighter with a bevy of big-game experience.
Derrick Lewis, on the other hand, is one-dimensional and fairly predictable with his offense. What makes him such an entertaining fighter is his sizable heart, big enough for a couple of highlight-reel comebacks from the brink of defeat. “The Black Beast” is also a heavyweight when it comes to personality, giving fans some of the industry’s most memorable post-fight speeches — and I won’t even get into what’s doing on his R-rated Instagram account. Take all of that away and you’re left with a fighter who sports knockout power and ... not much else. Lewis is agile for a fighter of his size but if you consider his recent victories, the Texan does not have a lot to showcase. He punched the clock against the aforementioned Ivanov, spent 15 minutes sleepwalking against Francis Ngannou, and had to score come-from-behind knockouts to save himself from decision losses to Alexander Volkov and Marcin Tybura. In addition, Lewis went up against a better boxer (Junior dos Santos) and a better grappler (Daniel Cormier) and got finished both times. To be frank, I doubt he even cares, as “The Black Beast” appears content to bust heads and make bank, with or without a title.
I don’t want to pretend that Latifi has been tearing the house down because he hasn’t. Back-to-back losses to Volkan Oezdemir and Corey Anderson are a bad look and even worse at age 36. I still like his chances in this fight because stylistically, he’s not going to try to combat Lewis with technique or defensive prowess. Instead, he’s going to be just as wild and unpredictable as the hometown hero and like “The Black Beast” found out against Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione, living by the sword means dying by the sword. I’m expecting a very fun (and very short) fight.
Prediction: Latifi def. Lewis by technical knockout
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 247 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the ESPN+/Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
For much more on UFC 247 check out our “Jones vs. Reyes” news archive here.