UFC 197 predictions
FIGHT PASS PRELIMS
Lightweight Bout: Efrain Escudero (24-10) vs Kevin Lee (11-2)- This really should be Lee’s fight to lose. He is a very strong wrestler with good cardio and a significant athletic edge, while Escudero is susceptible to being taken down and controlled. Lee’s last fight ended in a knockout loss to Leandro Santos which seemed to be due to over-confidence rather than lack of skill. It seems more likely that he sticks with a wrestling-based gameplan here and takes a decision.
Light Heavyweight Bout:
Marcos Rogerio de Lima (13-3-1) vs Clint Hester (11-5)– de Lima is a powerful striker with a very limited gas tank, whereas Hester is an unrefined athlete who is moving up in weight class having physically outgrown the middleweight division. Lima usually has about a round’s worth of effective fighting in him, and the fight could well hinge on whether Hester can survive this spell. He’s fairly reckless and hittable on the feet, so I’d lean towards no. The pick is de Lima by round 1 knockout.
Walt Harris (7-4) vs Cody East (12-1)– To be frank, this is a battle between two dreadful heavyweights. Harris is bigger and more powerful, whereas East probably has the better cardio. It probably comes down to who lands the big shot first, and I slightly lean towards Harris. The pick is Harris by first round knockout.
Glacio Franca (13-3) vs James Vick (8-0)– A battle between two massive lightweights opens the televised prelims. Franca is highly athletic and likes to wrestle, but is very hittable and somewhat unrefined. Vick should have the advantage from the outside in the fight, but even if Franca looks to clinch and grapple he has very good knees and uppercuts as well as a lethal guillotine choke. The pick is Vick by decision.
Women’s Strawweight Bout:
Carla Esparza (10-3, #2 ranked) vs Juliana Lima (8-2, #14 ranked)– This will be Esparza’s first fight since losing the strawweight title to Joanna Jedrzejczyk 13 months ago. If she’s anything like the fighter she was prior to that loss, she should win this fight. Lima is a strong Muay Thai striker, but she has yet to face a potent wrestler in her UFC campaign, which happens to be Esparza’s speciality. Expect Esparza to employ this grappling advantage en route to a decision victory.
Danny Roberts (12-1) vs Dominque Steele (14-6)– Roberts is a lanky welterweight with fight finishing capabilities on the ground and the feet, with his ten career finishes evenly distributed between knockouts and submissions. Steele is a well-rounded grinder with a questionable chin which Roberts seems likely to crack at some stage. The pick is Roberts by first round KO.
Sergio Pettis (13-2) vs Chris Kelades (9-2)– Pettis is arguably more technically sound than his older brother, as he marries smooth combinations and sharp jabs with the occasional takedown. He is yet to lose a first round in his career, yet as the fight progresses he becomes more susceptible to lapses in concentration which have cost him dear. Fortunately for him, Kelades is more of a grinder than any dynamic finisher, so he should be able to cruise here. Pettis by decision.
Yair Rodriguez (6-1) vs Andre Fili (15-3)– Rodriguez is a highly athletic rangy striker who works at a very high pace. This pace should give him the advantage on the feet against Fili, and if it does hit the ground Rodriguez will probably dictate the action with a constant submission threat. The pick is Rodriguez by decision.
Robert Whittaker (16-4, #7 ranked) vs Rafael Natal (21-6-1, #13 ranked)– Whittaker is a phenomenally quick and sharp striker, albeit he’s slightly undersized for middleweight. Natal is more of a hard worker than a technician; he slows as the fight goes on, and lacks any dynamic athleticism or knockout power. Whittaker is going to be quicker and throw significantly harder strikes, which at some point should be good enough to get “Sapo” out of there. The pick is Whittaker by first round KO.
Anthony Pettis (18-4, #3 ranked) vs Edson Barboza (16-4, #8 ranked)– Former champion Anthony Pettis’ stock has dramatically fallen after back-to-back losses to wrestling-based gameplans, whereas Barboza himself is coming off losing two of his last three. Expect this to be a high quality striking match between two fighters looking to cling onto divisional relevance. Pettis is probably the most dynamic striker in the division, and Barboza’s chin has been cracked before. I favour Pettis to get back on track here, possibly by second round head kick knockout.
Flyweight Championship Bout:
Demetrious Johnson (22-2-1, champion, #2 pound for pound) vs Henry Cejudo (10-0, #2 ranked)– Demetrious Johnson is probably the most well-rounded fighter in the UFC, whereas Cejudo is a former Olympic gold medallist in wrestling with developing striking. The key question here is quite obvious; can Cejudo consistently get the takedown and maintain top control? The answer to this is almost certainly no. Cejudo went 1 for 15 with takedowns against Chico Camus less than a year ago, and moreover this will be the first 25 minute fight for a man who struggles with the weight cut.
Johnson will go out to set a high pace and pick his opponent apart from range, perhaps even mixing in his own takedown attempts as the fight progresses. I think he takes a wide decision here, with the possibility of a late submission.
Interim Light Heavyweight Championship Bout:
Jon Jones (21-1, #1 pound for pound) vs Ovince Saint Preux (19-7, #6 ranked)– The main event of UFC 197 seems to be somewhat of a mismatch, as the returning Jon Jones takes on late notice replacement Ovince Saint Preux. I expect Jones to be better in every department of the game, with “OSP’s” chance of victory probably limited to a flash knockout early on. OSP does have power on the feet, however he offers little on the ground, which is probably where Jones will take the fight at his earliest convenience, and from there it’s only a matter of time before the fight is over. The pick is Jones by first round TKO.
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