On Saturday, April 23, the UFC hosted UFC 197: Jones vs. Saint Preux from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
In the night’s main event, former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones returned to the Octagon for the first time since being stripped of his title for various legal issues. Jones was expected to face current champion Daniel Cormier, but an injury forced the wrestling stalwart off the card. As such, Jones squared off with Ovince Saint Preux for an interim title.
The co-main event also featured UFC gold on the line as flyweight kingpin Demetrious Johnson took on unbeaten Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo. Since capturing the title in 2012, Johnson had made seven straight title defenses, including a unanimous decision win over John Dodson at UFC 191 in September. Cejudo earned his fourth straight win inside the Octagon in November, edging Brazilian Jussier da Silva.
The 12-fight event kicked off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET with three fights streaming on UFC Fight Pass. Four additional preliminary card bouts followed at 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1, with the five-fight main card airing live on pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET.
After a long layoff due to legal troubles, former light heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones returned to outwork late-replacement opponent Ovince Saint Preux. Jones was methodical in finding his range during the opening stanza. Saint Preux looked to score at range with looping hooks, but Jones scored with repeated oblique kicks. Round two was very similar while Jones settled into a rhythm. Jones unleashed multiple spinning back kicks to the body of Saint Preux, which slowed his movement. In round four, Jones took over with multiple takedowns. From side control, he dropped heavy elbows before mounting Saint Preux late in the round. It was more of the same in the final frame, as Jones slammed Saint Preux to the canvas. The result was never in doubt as Jones captured the interim belt.
Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson proved why he’s the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, stopping Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo by first-round TKO. Johnson landed his right hand early, but Cejudo closed the distance and earned a brief trip takedown. Johnson was undeterred, springing to his feet and unleashing a barrage of strikes from the clinch. After a series of knees to the head, Johnson delivered a heavy shot to Cejudo’s liver that clearly hurt him. Johnson smelled blood and again landed to the liver, sending Cejudo the canvas. A flurry of right hands forced the referee to intervene and keep the belt around Johnson’s waist.
Brazilian Edson Barboza put on a technical striking clinic against former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. From the opening bell, Barboza’s counter striking and range control gave Pettis fits. The left hook of Barboza found its mark time and time again, bloodying the right eye of Pettis. In the middle round, the inside leg kick of Barboza began to chew up the lead leg of Pettis. By the third round, the movement of Pettis was greatly limited, as Barboza picked him apart with more hooks and kicks. When it was over, the scorecards handed Barboza the win.
New Zealand’s Robert Whittaker continued his winning ways, edging Brazilian Rafael Natal on the scorecards. Natal peppered the lead leg of Whittaker early and often, creating a large bruise. Whittaker fought through it, scoring with combinations with his hands. The right eye of Natal swelled as the fight progressed, as Whittaker marched forward. Neither fighter backed down, but it was Whittaker’s constant pressure that was the difference, as the judges rewarded his efforts.
TUF winner Yair Rodriguez scored a highlight-reel knockout of Andre Fili in the opening bout of the main card. Rodriguez came out throwing kicks, that kept Fili off balance. He took Fili to the mat and controlled most of the first round from side control. Fili pushed the pace early in round two, but he was unable to establish his range. Rodriguez unleashed a vicious, jumping head kick that connected flush with Fili’s jaw, resulting in the second-round knockout.
Closing our the preliminary card, Sergio Pettis outworked Canadian Chris Kelades to claim a lopsided decision. Pettis used his kicking game to keep Kelades on the outside for the majority of the first round before earning a takedown. Kelades answered with a takedown of his own in round two, but Pettis countered with a slick sweep from the butterfly guard. Pettis was simply too much on the feet and in the clinch, capturing the clear-cut victory.
In a grueling, back-and-forth affair, Danny Roberts edged Dominique Steele to take home a decision win. Steele earned a big slam early, slowing the attack of Roberts. Roberts bounced back in the middle stanza, using his striking to pepper Steele. The final round was closely contested, but all three judges gave Roberts the round and the win on the scorecards.
Former strawweight titleholder Carla Esparza returned from shoulder surgery to best Brazilian Juliana Lima by decision. Esparza’s wrestling was the difference throughout the three-round affair. Lima was active from her back, but she could not threaten with anything significant. Esparza’s ability to take the fight to the ground and stifle Lima’s offense was too much, as she cruised to the win.
Lightweight James Vick kept his unblemished record intact, besting Brazilan Glaico Franca on the scorecard. Franca was aggressive early, scoring with a takedown and controlling Vick on the ground. Vick turned the tide as the fight progressed, using his reach and boxing to score at will. When it was all said and done, Vick took home the unanimous decision nod.
Heavyweight Walt Harris earned his first UFC win with a first-round finish of newcomer Cody East. East was the aggressor early, but Harris survived and landed a big left hand that sent East crashing to the mat. Harris flurried with punches and elbows, forcing the referee to intervene.
Brazilian Marcos Rogerio de Lima completely dominated Clint Hester, finishing by arm-triangle in the first round. “Pezao” used a barrage of kicks to set up a big shot that dropped Hester early in round one. De Lima followed him to the mat and moved to mount. After delivering a constant onslaught of strikes, de Lima slapped on an arm-triangle to coerce a tap from Hester.
Lightweight Kevin Lee utilized his reach advantage and well-time takedowns to edge The Ultimate Fighter 8 winner Efrain Escudero on the scorecards. Escudero was effective early with strikes and brief takedowns, but Lee turned the tide with solid combinations and strong top control. Lee’s dominant third frame was the difference as he claimed the unanimous decision victory.