The UFC returns to action after a week off. The promotion travels to Houston, where Jon Jones will look to defend his light-heavyweight strap against Dominick Reyes in the main event of UFC 247.
Jones is yet to taste a true defeat in his professional MMA career. He has dominated the light-heavyweight division over the span of 10 years. Reyes is also yet to see defeat in his young professional career. Since joining the sport in 2014, the challenger has followed a fast track to the top of the heat. Now, he will look to dethrone one of the greatest talents to ever step foot inside the Octagon.
In the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko is set to make her third title defense. Since becoming the flyweight champion, Shevchenko has gone on to dominate Liz Carmouche and deliver one of the most brutal knockouts ever seen. Katlyn Chookagian, on the other hand, has had some ups and downs in her career. She carries a solid 13-2 professional record, and while she does not have a background as decorated as Shevchenko, she will attempt to use her own strengths to dethrone one of the scariest female fighters alive.
The rest of the card features great bouts, such as a featherweight scrap between Mirsad Bektic and Dan Ige, a heavyweight clash that pits Derrick Lewis against Ilir Latifi, and a heavyweight showcase for up-and-comers Juan Adams and Justin Tafa. While it may not be the most stacked pay-per-view of the year, UFC 247 still features multiple exciting bouts that make this card worth purchasing for a great weekend to cool off after the Super Bowl.
The action gets underway at the Toyota Center on Saturday, Feb. 8, with the early prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 6:15 p.m. ET. The remainder of the preliminary card airs live on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. From there, it’s off to pay-per-view on ESPN+ with the main card at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Jaewon Paik preview the evening’s fights in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Will Dominick Reyes be the man to dethrone light-heavyweight kingpin Jon Jones?
Sumian: To put it simply, the answer is no. Reyes has proven himself a valuable addition to the UFC light-heavyweight division and has amassed a six-fight winning streak since joining the organization. The main issue, however, is his lack of victories over noteworthy contenders to solidify himself as the “David” to defeat “Goliath.”
Reyes fought twice in 2019. He was able to come out on top in a razor-thin decision against former contender Volkan Oezdemir and went on to knock out former UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman in his light-heavyweight debut. The lack of quality contendership is obvious when a title shot is awarded to Reyes after he defeated an opponent with no wins in the division and a 1-5 record in his last six fights.
Physically, Reyes, at 6-foot-4 and with a 77-inch reach, does match up well with Jones. His extensive background in athletics, including wrestling and football, are certainly valuable tools to have in combat sports. Statiscally, he boasts impressive numbers, as he currently averages 5.05 significant strikes per minute and an impressive 86 percent takedown-defense rate. The problem? He is fighting the proven top pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Since his return to the UFC, Jones has gone on to defeat Alexander Gustafsson and defend his title against Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos in a matter of seven months. Sure, his last title defense against Santos was incredibly close and did result in Santos defeating Jones on one judge’s scorecard, but the champ managed to use extensive Octagon experience, elite fight IQ and superb control of distance to edge out Santos in July.
Now, a similar case has been presented to Jones, and it’s one with which he is all too familiar. For over a decade, the UFC has attempted to create and foster a contender who is able to convince fans that this will be the time Jones will fall. For over a decade, the promotion has failed. With a 95 percent takedown average and 4.31 significant-strikes average, Jones has been nothing short of MMA supremacy by compiling a 12-fight winning streak since first claiming the title from Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Most of his title defenses have been convincing victories, as he has effectively cleaned out the division numerous times.
Jones will defeat Reyes. His experience, unique arsenal of tools, and elite corner of coaches will help him once again come out on top and make fans wonder if this man will ever really lose during his MMA career. Expect Reyes to hang in there the best he can using his athleticism and crisp hands, but Jones will ultimately be able to frustrate the challenger and dictate the pace and direction of the fight en route to a unanimous decision.
Paik: At this level of the sport, anything can happen. Reyes is a hungry up-and-comer who has made leaps and bounds since he decided to jump over to the world of MMA from football. In less than six years, he has climbed up to face one of the greatest to ever do it. Reyes seems extremely confident in all of his pre-fight interviews. He appears to have a true belief that he can accomplish the unlikely. Well, he hasn’t lost thus far, which should really be enough to tell you how good he is as a mixed martial artist.
There’s just one problem: His opponent is Jones. Jones, like Reyes, hasn’t lost (let’s just not even discuss his “setback” against Matt Hamill). “Bones” has faced the best of the best for several years now, and he has beaten everyone. While he has been shaky at times, he always gets the job done, one way or another.
The right pick in this fight is Jones. It would be foolish to bet against him.
Katlyn Chookagian has marched through established contenders Joanne Calderwood and Jennifer Maia over her last two fights. Can she keep this streak going when she challenges Valentina Shevchenko for the women’s flyweight title? What’s Chookagian’s key to victory?
Paik: Shevchenko is the second-greatest female fighter of all time.
Chookagian has been on a hot run since her split-decision loss to Jessica Eye, which came in 2018. She has improved drastically, and she has done a great job finding her way to the top of the ladder. However, it is truly difficult to see Shevchenko losing the title anytime soon. The champ has been dominant ever since she dropped down to flyweight. Shevchenko has defended her title twice already since winning it in late 2018.
To say that Chookagian has no chance would be foolish. That logic has been broken countless times in the past. However, to say that Shevchenko should win this fight is not a stretch.
Sumian: The performances and level of competition both combatants have faced in their careers tells a story that ends with Shevchenko defending her title for the third time and further solidifying herself as a top pound-for-pound fighter fighter.
Schevchenko’s only two losses in the last five years have come against double champ Amanda Nunes. Although physically smaller and despite a distinct strength disadvantage, Shevchenko fought Nunes twice and hung in there for the entire 25 minutes both times. The second fight was very close, which resulted in a split decision that many viewers argued could have gone Shevchenko’s way. Since moving down to flyweight, she has won four in a row and most recently knocked out the aforementioned Eye with a brilliant and flashy head kick before winning a lopsided decision against Liz Carmouche to avenge the first loss of her career.
Chookagian has also only had two losses in the last five years. The difference here is that her victories have come by way of a streak of unanimous decisions that didn’t necessarily impress fans or provide any “jump off the page” performances. Chookagian is very good at pressuring her opponents, dictating the pace, and using her well-rounded game to win convincing decisions and continue to raise her stock in the division. That being said, it’s going to take a whole lot more to defeat, as my colleague puts it, the second-greatest female fighter of all time.
Shevchenko will once again show everyone that she is simply on another level by gifting fight fans a stellar performance and adding another title defense to her reign as flyweight queen.
Derrick Lewis and Ilir Latifi — squash match or competitive fight?
Sumian: Competitive? Yes. Meaningful for the division? No. Anything — and I mean anything — can happen when Lewis steps into the cage. Let’s not forget about arguably the greatest comeback in recent memory where Lewis was being decisively smothered and beaten by Alexander Volkov at UFC 229. In the last minute of the fight, Lewis blasted the Russian with one of the most Street Fighter-esque right hands we’ve ever seen throw inside the cage. The blow effectively dropped Volkov to the canvas and secured an incredible knockout victory for Lewis.
Lewis recently defeated Blagoy Ivanov at UFC 244 via a lackluster split decision. Unfortunately, that has always been the problem with Lewis. You just don’t know which version you will get. He was fairly vocal after his last performance and was honest in the sense that he felt he should and could have performed better. Nevertheless, his power speaks for itself, and any opponent who stands before him in the Octagon runs the risk of being put out ice cold.
On the other side of Octagon, Latifi makes his heavyweight debut after dropping back-to-back fights to Corey Anderson and Volkan Oezdemir. Latifi has historically struggled against the division’s top contenders at light heavyweight and found trouble extending his winning streaks against the division’s best. Now, he leaves his old weight class in the rearview mirror and ventures on to compete with the UFC’s largest and most powerful athletes.
Physically, Latifi is a tank. He’s extremely powerful, too. However, he stands at 5-foot-10 with a 73-inch reach. These numbers were already below-average physical stats at light heavyweight. It only gets more difficult to physically match up opponents as he moves up to challenge one of the division’s most dangerous men in Lewis.
Neither fighter really boasts impressive striking statistics, but they make up for it with power. All bets are on Latifi trying to take Lewis down and impose his ground game. However, he could fail to do so due to the massive size difference that will be apparent on Saturday night. Instead, expect this to be a fun fight for the fans where both men try to utilize their power and swing heavy punches. The outcome will be a knockout victory for Lewis once he finds a home for that right hand.
Paik: I’m not so sure that this fight will be competitive. If the right Lewis shows up, then Latifi could be in some serious trouble.
Latifi has been extremely good, even at 205 pounds. However, he has an extremely tall task here against “The Black Beast.” In his last appearance, Lewis was involved in a dogfight against Ivanov. Latifi, meanwhile, was brutally knocked out by Oezdemir in his last outing.
Now, Latifi moves up a division to face even bigger and harder punchers. Now granted, anyone does have a chance at this level in the sport. Latifi could get a hold of Lewis and might be able to take him down and keep him there. We just do not know yet. What we do know, though, is that this fight could be actually meaningful. Regardless of how Lewis’s recent record looks, he is still one of the bigger names in the division, and honestly, the heavyweight division needs some excitement right about now.
Latifi coming out on top and proving that he found a true home at heavyweight would be the most interesting scenario, but it is tough to see him getting past Lewis.
Kalinn Williams, Austin Lingo and Youssef Zalal — do we need to know these names?
Paik: It’s always nice to see some new faces on the pay-per-view undercard. All three of these guys have a great record, particularly Austin Lingo, who checks in at 7-0.
Obviously, we will have to see how they perform in their respective debuts to truly gauge their potential, but Lingo’s scrap with fellow UFC newcomer Zalal is a real treat for the fans. Both guys are looking to make a statement in their debut. In an extremely stacked featherweight division, things could only get better with the addition of new talent. Lingo has finished five of his seven wins, while Zalal has stoppages in all of his victories. This just adds to the excitement.
Williams, on the other hand, comes in against a seasoned veteran in Alex Morono. Despite the thick and thins in his UFC career, Morono is riding a three-fight winning streak, which makes this a very challenging debut for Williams. Yet, bigger risks come with bigger rewards. With a statement win here, Williams could easily propel himself into bigger fights.
Sumian: Lingo and Zalal both have seven professional victories and have gotten it done in a variety of ways, including Zalal’s flying-knee finish of Jamie Hernandez in November. Both men have a proven track record of being able to stop their opponent and provide fans with exciting performances. Expect them to eagerly put on a show and strive for a performance that will resonate with fight fans.
Williams is currently riding a six-fight winning streak and steps into the Octagon with a 9-1 record. He’s a late replacement for Dhiego Lima against the welterweight veteran Morono, who has had some recent momentum. This is certainly no easy UFC debut for the young Williams, but when opportunity presents itself, you take it. Williams fought a total of four times in 2019 and continues to look impressive with each passing contest. He’ll rise to the occasion here and win a clear decision to officially introduce himself to UFC fans around the world.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 247?
Sumian: Fans of dominant champions. While the majority of the card features lesser-known names in quality fights to shape the many divisions of the UFC, the highlight of this card will be Jon Jones and Valentina Schevchenko adding another title defense to each of their dominant reigns as champion. Expect both titleholders to put on an impressive, yet familiar, performance to further cement their reign and dominance as the UFC elite.
Paik: Katlyn Chookagian. If she wins, she causes one of the biggest upsets in history. If she loses, then “it was supposed to happen.” It’s a no-lose situation for the 31-year-old challenger, and it can make for an extremely dangerous fighter.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 247?
Paik: Well, this is a tough one, but let’s go with Ilir Latifi.
Since a couple of tough breaks at the light-heavyweight level, the Swede is testing the waters at heavyweight. However, it’s against Derrick Lewis, one of the most powerful guys in the division. Latifi, for as massive as he may be, will be outsized.
For starters, the height difference is quite huge. Lewis stands 6-foot-3, while Latifi is 5-foot-10. Latifi is also coming off that devastating loss to Oezdemir. This is not a desirable situation. It is true that Lewis did not have a great 2019 — he went 1-1 with a TKO loss to Junior dos Santos — but Latifi will have to close the distance somehow against Lewis and get through the big man’s power. Then he will have to figure out a way to get Lewis’s huge frame to the mat. All of this is easier said than done.
With a loss at UFC 247, Latifi would move to 0-3 in his last three fights. He will have a difficult time finding his way into the top 10 of any division with that record. In a sense, it’s a must-win fight for the Swede, and he could not have a much tougher task in front of him.
Sumian: Mirsad Bektic. Once a top UFC featherweight, the former contender’s career has unfortunately taken a dip. He’s just 2-2 in his last four Octagon appearances. The 28-year-old recently lost to Josh Emmett via TKO and is now fighting a very dangerous prospect in Dan Ige, who is riding a four-fight winning streak. Expect Ige to add number five to his streak and further send Bektic toward the lower tier of the division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: Domingo Pilarte and Journey Newson.
Both of these gentlemen made their UFC debuts in the summer of 2019 and lost by decision. Pilarte compiled a five-fight winning streak, including a rear-naked choke victory on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contenders Series, before getting the call to the big stage. Similarly, Newson was riding a five-fight streak, most recently securing a knockout victory in May 2019 against Soslan Abanokov. These two bantamweights have displayed their diverse set of skills by securing eight victories a piece, including a number of knockouts and submissions. They should put on a show as they battle to earn their first UFC victory.
Paik: Mirsad Bektic and Dan Ige.
People seem to have forgotten how good Bektic is. Until his shocking loss to Darren Elkins, the Bosnian-born fighter was undefeated and listed among the best prospects in the featherweight division. His recent TKO loss to Josh Emmett seems to have erased his momentum, but he is certainly not washed up by any means. Ige, meanwhile, has looked impressive in the span of his four consecutive victories. This will be quite a technical battle, with the potential to turn into a war.
Pair this card with…
Paik: Regardless of what may have happened in the past, Jon Jones is still arguably the greatest fighter to ever grace the Octagon. So, for this card, choose the best of the best as your beverage. If Jones is able to come out the winner again, then it would match the drinkin your hand. If Reyes is able to cause the upset, then, well, you will still be there to witness one of the most shocking nights in the history of the sport. Either way, you’ll enjoy it with something special to consume.
Sumian: This is a card featuring two cream-of-the-crop champions who have made a career by pulling off impressive finishes and entertaining fans for years. Open up a bottle of Macallan or Hibiki Whiskey, sit back and watch the UFC elite do what they do best.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
LHW Championship: Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes
Women’s FlyW Championship: Valentina Shevchenko vs. Katlyn Chookagian
HW: Juan Adams vs. Justin Tafa
FW: Mirsad Bektic vs. Dan Ige
HW: Derrick Lewis vs. Ilir Latifi
Preliminary Card (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)
MW: Trevin Giles vs. Antônio Arroyo
WW: Alex Morono vs. Kalinn Williams
Women’s FlyW: Lauren Murphy vs. Andrea Lee
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:15 p.m. ET)
BW: Miles Johns vs. Mario Bautista
BW: Domingo Pilarte vs. Journey Newson
BW: Andre Ewell vs. Jonathan Martinez
FW: Austin Lingo vs. Youssef Zalal
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