As Elton John once said, “Saturday night’s all fight for fighting!” and with a week of madness in the world of MMA, it’s time for some action inside the Octagon and tonight will see the return of Jon Jones.
While not quite the matchup that everyone was hoping for due to light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier pulling out of the originally scheduled main event, it’s still a big deal when the pound for pound best in the world steps into the Octagon. If you don’t buy the “interim” tag as legitimate, you can watch Demetrious Johnson put up his flyweight title in the night’s co-main event against the unbeaten Henry Cejudo. There are also two former champions on the card in Anthony Pettis and Carla Esparza. It should be a great night of action and our panel weighs in with their picks for the biggest fights on the card.
Here’s our panel with the 2016 records in parenthesis. We’ve also added a running tally of the records of the favorites going into the fights and the panel consensus picks
- John Pollock (24-11; .686) – Fight Network analyst, Live Audio Wrestling co-host, MMA Report co-host
- Josh Nason (23-12; .657) – Host of Josh Nason’s Punch Out; writer/editor WrestlingObserver.com , WON Twitter guy
- Mike Sawyer (21-14; .600) – Tough Talk MMA
- Consensus picks (19-13; .594)
- Mike Sempervive (20-15; .571) – Wrestling Observer Live and Big Audio Nightmare co-host
- David Bixenspan (20-15; .571) – Figure Four Weekly writer, podcast host
- Ryan Frederick (20-15; .571) – Observer DraftKings expert, WON Twitter guy
- Favorites (20-15; .571)
- Dave Meltzer (19-16; .543)– Wrestling Observer founder
- Steve Juon (19-16; .543) – MMA Mania/Wrestling Observer writer, Angry Marks founder
- Front Row Brian (17-18; .486) – MMA newsbreaker, Beloved internet personality, Podcast host
- Paul Fontaine (16-19; .457) – MMADraws.com founder, WrestlingObserver.com writer
Interim Light Heavyweight Title: Jon Jones (21-1) vs Ovince St Preux (19-7)
Jones’ problems outside the cage are well documented but inside the cage it’s hard, if not impossible, to question his dominance. The only question here is whether nearly 16 months outside the Octagon in the prime of his career will hurt him. For his first fight back he really shouldn’t have a problem with the overmatched OSP, who took this fight on three week’s notice. The winner of this fight should get a title fight with Daniel Cormier this year in what will be one of the biggest fights of the year.
Jones (massive favorite): Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Pollock, Nason, Sempervive, Fontaine, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson (23-2-1) vs Henry Cejudo (10-0)
Johnson is the first and only champion in this division, having beaten Joseph Benavidez in a tournament final nearly 4 years ago to win the strap. This will be his 8th title defence and he’s the longest reigning current champion in the UFC. He’s also managed to finish 4 of his last 6 challengers inside of 5 rounds. He does have a tough test in Olympic champion wrestler Cejudo. The unbeaten challenger has been on a fast track to a title shot since debuting in the UFC 15 months ago and has won all 4 of his fights in the Octagon, despite not having scored a finish. If “Mighty Mouse” manages to get through Cejudo, he’s scheduled to face the winner of the TUF 24 flyweight tournament later this year.
- Johnson (big favorite) – Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Pollock, Nason, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
- Cejudo – Sempervive, Fontaine
Anthony Pettis (18-4) vs Edson Barboza (16-4)
These guys are on almost every show…in a sense. Pettis’ “Showtime” kick, which clinch his WEC title fight with Benson Henderosn is shows in video packages at every live event, as is Barboza’s devastating head-kick KO of Terry Etim in their 2012 bout. Matching them up together will hopefully produce another memorable moment and it will almost certainly be an action-packed fight. Barboza is trying to get where Pettis has already been, to the top of the most stacked division in MMA. Both guys have lost 2 of their last 3 fights though and a loss for either man will probably remove them from the title picture.
- Pettis (moderate favorite) – Juon, Frederick, Sawyer, Pollock, Nason, Fontaine, Meltzer, FRB
- Barboza – Sempervive, Bix
Robert Whittaker (15-4) vs Rafael Natal (21-6-1)
Whittaker has been on a tear since moving up from 170 as he’s won 3 straight with 2 KO’s and a dominant decision win over Uriah Hall. The TUF Smashes winner is probably Australia’s best hope for their first ever UFC champion. Standing in his way is the veteran Natal. After losing to Tim Kennedy in his first and only UFC main event, Natal followed that up with a loss to veteran Ed Herman and many thought he was done. Instead he’s rung up 4 straight wins and will be in title contention with a win over Whittaker. This is a very important fight in the division and could steal the show.
Whittaker (big favorite) – Juon, Whittaker, Sawyer, Pollock, Nason, Sempervive, Fontaine, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
Carla Esparza (10-3) vs Juliana Lima (8-2)
Esparza makes her UFC return 13 months after being destroyed in a 2 round massacre at the hands of Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The first ever champion in this dvision also formerly held the Invicta title in the same weight class. Lima also fought the current champ but managed to go the distance with her in her UFC debut. Since that loss, she’s run up two straight decision wins and will be on the short list of title contenders with a win over the former champ.
- Esparza (moderate favorite) – Juon, Whittaker, Sawyer, Pollock, Nason, Sempervive, Bix, Meltzer, FRB
- Lima – Fontaine
Action begins with the Fight Prelims at 6:30 pm eastern, followed by the FS 1 portion at 8. The main card kicks off at 10 pm on PPV and Dave Meltzer will have ongoing coverage of the entire card.
While you’re waiting, check out the following content, also related to the show: