The Octagon heads back to Las Vegas and pay-per-view for UFC 197 on Saturday night, featuring the top two pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Jon Jones makes his return against Ovince Saint Preux in the main event for the UFC Interim Light Heavyweight Championship, and Demetrious Johnson defends the UFC Flyweight Championship against Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in the co-main event. Below are our studs, value plays and fighters to avoid when making your fantasy line-ups for Saturday's event.
Jon Jones ($11,400)
Jon Jones is the top play for this weekend's event as he makes his long-awaited and much-anticipated return to the Octagon. It isn't the fight everyone wants since Daniel Cormier pulled out due to injury, but he gets Ovince Saint Preux, who is a solid top-ten fighter at 205 pounds, but a favorable matchup for Jones. Jones commands the highest salary of all the fighters on the card, and really, that is to be expected seeing as he is arguably the best fighter in the world. The biggest question surrounding Jones is whether the 15 months off and the distractions throughout that time hinder his performance.
There is nothing that suggests that, though. Saint Preux is powerful at this weight and has solid striking and a great submission game, but he is taking the fight on short notice, and he can't match the skills of Jones. Jones has dynamic striking, great wrestling and excellent submissions, and is suffocating from top position. Saint Preux struggles when he is controlled on the mat, often looking like a lost puppy when on bottom. Jones should finish him, it's just a matter of when. Jones should be the most used fighter on the card.
James Vick ($10,900)
James Vick is entering UFC 197 on Saturday with a perfect 8-0 record in his career, and a 4-0 record inside the Octagon. If you include his bouts on TUF, his overall record would be 11-1, with the only loss coming to Michael Chiesa, a top-ten ranked lightweight. To say the least, Vick's record isn't too shabby. The only problem is his lack of activity due to injuries and various reasons. He was on the TUF Live season in early 2012, but didn't make his UFC debut until August 2013. He was then out of action for over a year, but had three fights between August 2014 and May 2015.
He hasn't fought since that May fight, when he submitted Jake Matthews, who was also undefeated at the time and hyped by a lot. Vick has scored stoppage wins in five of his eight wins, all of them in the first round. He is fighting TUF Brazil winner Glaico Franca on Saturday. Franca won his lone UFC bout in August but this is a huge step up in competition for him. Vick should be able to easily score the win on Saturday, and a finish is very likely. He is an excellent play on Saturday.
Andre Fili ($8,900)
Andre Fili boasts an impressive 15-3 record in his professional career but has struggled for consistency inside the Octagon. He is just 3-2 in the UFC and has rotated wins-and-losses in those bouts. History would dictate that he is set up for a loss on Saturday as he won his last fight. However, he looked the best he has to date in his first-round TKO win over Gabriel Benitez in November, and he is improving in his overall performance. He has struggled with UFC caliber opposition, and he has that on Saturday in the form of Yair Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a former TUF Mexico winner and has been solid in his three UFC bouts, and is coming off an impressive showing in his most recent win. Fili is the toughest test for Rodriguez to date in the UFC, and he has more than twice the experience of Rodriguez. Fili is a very solid value play on this card and worth a look.
Henry Cejudo ($8,400)
Henry Cejudo has been to the top of the mountain in every competition he has been in, and the only thing left is to win UFC gold. He has that opportunity on Saturday night when he takes on Demetrious Johnson for the UFC Flyweight Championship. Cejudo is undefeated in his MMA career and is a former Olympic gold medalist in wrestling. He enters the fight with Johnson on Saturday night as a big underdog, thus making his salary very low, among the lowest on the card. He has a tall task in front of him in Johnson, who is one of the best in the world.
What makes Cejudo an interesting play is the fact that this fight is five rounds, and it is likely to go the full five rounds. Cejudo has been the distance in all of his UFC bouts and Johnson has gone to the fifth round in all but two of his title fights. That should give both men more opportunities to land significant strikes and for Cejudo to use his wrestling. He also has a good chance at scoring an upset. It is hard to pick against Johnson, but Cejudo's salary makes his excellent value.
FIGHTERS TO AVOID
Kevin Lee ($10,300)
Kevin Lee is looking to rebound from a disappointing loss to Leonard Santos in December, a fight many expected to go his way. Perhaps he was thinking that too and got too overconfident, and it ended up with him being finished in the first. That ended Lee's four-fight win streak and has relegated him to opening fight duties on the UFC 197 card. Lee gets a tough opponent in Efrain Escudero, a long-time UFC veteran and former TUF winner who needs a win himself if he wants to avoid being cut for the third time. Lee is the favorite and should get the win, but here is why I am putting him as a fighter to avoid. At his salary, I see better options available at similar salaries. I don't see him finishing Escudero, and I don't see him scoring a lot of points en route to a win. Lee likely will win, but for fantasy reasons, I recommend fading him in your line-ups.
Walt Harris ($9,800)
Walt Harris has fought three times inside the Octagon, and all three times he has lost. His last two losses have been by knockout. Surprisingly, he has a higher salary than his opponent, Cody East. East is making his UFC debut coming off of Dana White's Looking For A Fight show, and he boasts a 12-1 record. East has won nine straight fights and eleven of his twelve wins have come by stoppage. East has eight wins in the first round, and he should be looking for an impressive debut win. Harris trains with a top camp in the American Top Team camp, but has just a 7-4 overall record. He badly needs a win to avoid being cut from the UFC roster, and that will give him added motivation. It is just a bad matchup for him, and I am avoiding Harris at all costs.
RYAN FREDERICK- Jon Jones ($11,400), Danny Roberts ($10,400), Marcos Rogerio de Lima ($10,000), Cody East ($9,600), Henry Cejudo ($8,400)
Jon Jones is my top play this weekend and my top pick. He has the highest salary and I expect him to get the finish of Ovince Saint Preux. I think a second-round submission win is in the cards for Jones. Danny Roberts is another solid pick. He fights Dominique Steele, a man who won his last bout but was knocked out quickly in the bout before. Roberts is an excellent finisher and I see him getting another first-round win here. Marcos Rogerio de Lima fights Clint Hester. One man is going to sleep in that fight as both rarely go the distance. de Lima hits way harder and is bigger and I like him.
Cody East has a ton of first-round finishes and his opponent, Walt Harris, is a good bet to go down early. My last pick is Henry Cejudo. I think he has a realistic shot at getting the win, and going five rounds will add to the points. Even in a defeat, I see him getting enough points over 25 minutes to equal another underdog that wins points total. He is a risk, but one I'm taking.
PAUL FONTAINE- Jon Jones ($11,400), Robert Whittaker ($10,700), Sergio Pettis ($10,100), Juliana Lima ($9,200), Henry Cejudo ($8,400)
I don’t really care what Jones’ salary is, he’s a must for my team. After 16 months away and facing the weakest opponent since before he won the title, he’s almost a lock to score an early finish. I’m picking Henry Cejudo to unseat the champion here in the year of upsets. Robert Whittaker should continue his impressive run at middleweight with another stoppage win over the aging Natal. I like Sergio Pettis to cement his place in the line of flyweight contenders with a dominant win over my countryman Kelades. Rounding out by team is Juliana Lima. She’s got the former champion Esparza coming in off a brutal defeat at the hands of Joanna Champion and should score a victory here.
PEACH MACHINE- Demetrious Johnson ($11,000), Robert Whittaker ($10,700), Kevin Lee ($10,300), Juliana Lima ($9,200), Edson Barboza ($8,800)
Again, another perfect use of 50,000. Bet this line-up. DJ is my number one power player in DK. He goes five rounds and gets finishes. IDK if he'll be able to finish Cejudo, but he will win. Barboza is my questionable pick. I like him to beat Pettis, but it's iffy. Whittaker is who I THOUGHT i was picking last week. I really like him to beat Natal. Lima is gonna destroy Esparza. I guarantee Esparza will come out scared and flat and will get beaten, and rightfully so. She was absolutely decimated the last time she entered the cage. Kevin Lee is going to be faster and stronger than the fading Escudero. Escudero is one of those guys that had a ton of potential, and just couldn't get the job done. Lee will get the job done.