The injury jinx continues unabated with UFC 197 as the original headliner is lost only a few weeks prior to the event. The withdrawal of Daniel Cormier due to injury has cast a huge shadow over the return of Jon Jones.

With all the shenanigans of the week you’d be forgiven if you forgot that this was a big PPV week. As always there are always opportunities to make a little money. I’ll be giving you my opinions and 5Dimes will help me out with the odds.

Pettis v Barboza:

With near identical records two of the most explosive 155lb’ers collide in a front runner for Fight of the Night honours. Once the king of the division, Anthony Pettis now finds himself staring down the barrel of a 3rd consecutive loss for the first time in his career. Normally this would be a threat to continued employment but the first loss came while still champion and the second came to the next title challenger. A loss to his opponent this weekend and questions will start to get asked though.

Edson Barboza has, at times, been a truly remarkable fighter to watch. In his arsenal he possesses arguably the most powerful leg kicks in the division, if not the UFC entirely. Against Terry Etim he delivered a highlight reel spinning wheel kick that is replayed on an almost daily basis and is a kick that Etim pretty much never recovered from. One thing about Barboza though, is he doesn’t like getting hit. When he gets hit hard his opponents have a window of opportunity to finish him, this has been proven by Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone and, most recently, Tony Ferguson. If he can keep range and deploy those leg kicks then he can beat anyone in the division. Put him on his back, and he can be toast.

Pettis needs the win more than Barboza here and for that reason I’ll be looking for him to get it. He has a BJJ game that plays to the weaknesses of his opponent and he will be able to hit him and hurt him. Like he has done to Benson Henderson and Gil Melendez, once his prey is stunned he can then secure the tap and the win.

Recommendation: Pettis wins by submission – 1 unit at +325 (13/4) @ 5Dimes

Johnson v Cejudo:

Despite his achievements as the only 125lb champion in UFC history, Demetrious Johnson remains underrated, undervalued and under-supported by the large majority of the MMA fan base. He isn’t flashy, doesn’t talk trash, has dominated every opponent since becoming champion and still cannot be booked to headline a PPV. Instead he is reduced to a supporting cast member or propped up on a co-main event due to poor ticket sales. It’s a shame because at 125lbs he has been untouchable, to the extent where he has beaten his top challengers twice and forced at least one of them up a division because they were in a dead end for as long as he holds the belt

Henry Cejudo is a different animal to the guys who have fought Johnson before though. As an Olympian we already know he is carved from a different stone and he just might be the best wrestler that the division has ever seen. Whether he can take down Johnson and nullify him is a different story but, on paper, he may just be the most credible threat there is. Cejudo has had issues with making weight in the past, although recently those haven’t been as evident but at 125lbs there is no margin for error.

This could be a career defining fight for both men. For Johnson this could be the first man to take him into deep waters and give him real problems, if true and he overcomes the adversity then his credibility as a true champion would have been enhanced immeasurably. On the other hand, Cejudo is an Olympian who will have the weight of expectation on his shoulders; he has struggled in a couple of his fights, against Jussier Formiga he limped through on the back of a split decision. There is almost no value in any of the betting here, so in the year of the underdog I am going to throw a single unit on the challenger. It’s the first time I have bet against Johnson but with these odds it’s the only play possible.

Recommendation: Henry Cejudo – 1 unit at +350 (7/2) @ 5Dimes

Jones v Saint Preux:

I could simply write the following sentence and leave it at that. Jon Jones makes his long awaited return to the octagon. But I won’t, because the whys and wherefores require more discussion. The most dominant champion in the history of the sport, the most naturally gifted athlete in MMA in the world, Jones possesses it all, but underlying his talent is a self-destructive streak that could derail this bullet train at any given moment. Jones has courted controversy for a number of years now but he still stands tall as the greatest of his time and in a matter of time he will soon be recognised as the greatest of all time.

When injury robbed the viewers of the chance for Daniel Cormier to rematch Jones there was a clamour to uncover who would step in. With the majority of the top ten either booked or injured it was left to one man to face the fight of his life. Ovince Saint Preux gets an opportunity to enhance his ranking position by facing the man who should still be king. OSP has won convincingly when fighting a tier 2 level opponent, but when facing a tier 1 level he has struggled. He has lost to Mousasi, Bader and Teixeira who are all in a different league to the fighters he has beaten in Cummins, Jimmo, Krylov et al and he will need to be the very best version of OSP that nobody has ever seen to score one of the biggest upsets of all time.

This feels like an enormous mismatch to me. Saint Preux is a decent fighter and does belong in the top ten, but he is fighting the best to ever pull on a set of 4oz gloves. Jon Jones is a genetic freak for whom the colour of his opponent’s belt is irrelevant. He has faced wrestlers and beat them, black belts in BJJ and Karate and beat them, all the while having an ‘inferior’ grasp of that particular discipline. In fact, the closest that Jon Jones has come to being really beaten, was by himself; against Chael Sonnen when he broke his own toe. He wants his belt back and he will smash OSP inside of 2.5 rounds to get it.

Recommendation: Under 2.5 Rounds – 4 units at -225 (4/9) @ 5Dimes