Card preview – UFC 247: Jones vs. Reyes

THE first two UFC championship bouts of 2020 take place this weekend at UFC 247, with Jon Jones putting his light heavyweight strap on the line against undefeated contender Dominick Reyes in Houston, Texas. Holding up the co-main event slot is a bout between women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko and number one contender, Katlyn Chookagian, with only two more ranked fights filling out the card, but plenty of opportunities for fighters on the precipice to break through.

MAIN CARD:

Light Heavyweight | Jon Jones [C] vs. Dominick Reyes [4]

Jon Jones will look to make his eleventh successful light heavyweight title defence when he meets 12-0 compatriot, Dominick Reyes in the octagon for Sunday’s main event. Once arguably the strongest division across the promotion, there has been somewhat of a lull at 205lbs with perennial champion Jones running out of viable contenders to take out. But Reyes is just that, coming into his maiden title shot on the back of six impressive promotional victories, including four by finish and a most recent one against former middleweight champ, Chris Weidman. The back-and-forth between the two has been largely led by Jones, who is exuding motivation as he battles to strengthen his legacy, while Reyes seems composed in the face of the biggest challenge of his young career. A technical striker with undeniable knockout power and athleticism, the challenger will look to get it done early given his lack of five-round experience – going no further than three thus far and with only one main event under his belt. Jones, on the other hand has entered the championship rounds on nine of a possible 14 occasions, with this his 14th-consecutive main event and title bout. His unparalleled all-round skillset should test Reyes, able to win the fight wherever it goes, but many claim that the long-time champion has slowed of late having gone the distance with a heavily-depleted Thiago Santos last time out. But count Jones out at your own peril, with super fights in his sights should he etch out a win here. Grappling could be the avenue to victory for Jones as Reyes looks to close the distance, but watch for the challenger’s hands both on the way in and at distance.

Prediction: Jones by decision.

W. Flyweight | Valentina Shevchenko [C] vs. Katlyn Chookagian [1]

Valentina Shevchenko makes her fourth flyweight championship defence in a bout which sees the title holder face a true number one contender. The fighter with the deserving number one next to her name is Katlyn Chookagian, a brown belt under Renzo Gracie who has ground her way to a title shot on the back of a 4-1 record in the UFC’s flyweight division. The 31-year-old dubbed ‘Blonde Fighter’ has only lost to former title challenger Jessica Eye via split decision in her run at 125lbs, with none of her fights in the promotion stopped before a decision. While it is largely a product of her point style, that is an element which sets Chookagian apart from Shevchenko, with the champion’s finishing credentials clear in her 12 career finishes. She also boasts a lethal head kick KO over Eye, with her avenues to victory seemingly much more diverse both on paper and in practice. But Chookagian is the longer fighter which will suit her karate background, with both women likely to look to frustrate the other into coming forward first given their counter-striking style. The fighter who can manage the distance better and land heavier on the way in should come up trumps, with Shevchenko’s strong grappling also likely to test the American. Much as is the case in the main event, it is hard to look past the champion given her near-unmatched skillset. But Chookagian is the latest contender to believe she has what it takes to dethrone the current Queen, and that Shevchenko has not yet faced anyone like her.

Prediction: Shevchenko by decision.

Heavyweight | Juan Adams vs. Justin Tafa

Two massive heavyweights are set to rumble in their main card slot, both looking to return to the winners list after respectively experiencing maiden career losses. Adams, a Contender Series standout, earned his way into the UFC via the gateway promotion with an impressive TKO victory, later backing it up via the same method on debut. But consecutive losses to fellow rising heavyweights Arjan Bhullar and Greg Hardy momentarily thwarted the American’s run to the rankings, with his next opponent posing just as much of a threat. Aussie bigman, Tafa fared poorly in his promotional debut on home soil, but is also young in his MMA career with just four fights under his belt (3-1). A heavy hitter who only needs one shot to end a fight, the Australian will look to pick his shot and keep the fight on the feet given Adams’ wrestling credentials and background in American football. The longer it goes, the more likely Adams will be the winner, but if it is over quickly we may well see Tafa’s hand raised.

Prediction: Tafa by T/KO.

Featherweight | Mirsad Bektic vs. Dan Ige

Competition for ranking spots at the back end of the featherweight division is set to heat up when Mirsad Bektic takes on Contender Series alum, Dan Ige. Having recently been overtaken in the numbers, 28-year-old Bektic remains one of the more promising 145lb prospects despite a slight stall in his run with two losses in his last four bouts. For Ige, who has hit the ground running since entering the promotion, Bektic poses the biggest test of his talents yet. The Hawaiian is a competent grappler who has looked ultra-impressive in each of his four UFC wins, and he will look to push the pace in this bout. Bektic, on the other hand will look to pick his opponent apart on the feet, able to manage the distance well but land heavy shots when he picks them. The 145’ers are set to light up 2020, and a chance to make a big statement is up for grabs for these two future stars. A true fight of the night contender.

Prediction: Ige by submission.

Heavyweight | Derrick Lewis [6] vs. Illir Latifi [12 LHW]

Illir Latifi makes the step up to heavyweight in the main card curtain jerker, set to take on fan-favourite, Derrick ‘The Black Beast’ Lewis. It looks an odd match-up on face value considering the size of Lewis, who used to cut down to 265lbs but has since sured up his conditioning, while Latifi is four inches shorter and a former light heavyweight. But having started his career at heavyweight and competed in submission wrestling at 218lbs, the Swede should hold his own in that department. Lewis’ avenue to victory hardly needs covering, with his knockout power almost unmatched across the promotion, but he will have to thwart a few different looks from Latifi. The former 205’er, who is coming off consecutive losses, presents a wrestling threat but has also fallen in love with his ability to finish on the feet. Holding Lewis down will be tough if he can get him there, and the American has shown competency in getting up through pure strength against much bigger heavyweights. It is hard to look past the proven commodity, although adding fresh blood to the rankings is always welcome.

Prediction: Lewis by T/KO.

PRELIMINARY CARD:

Middleweight | Trevin Giles vs. Antonio Arroyo

In 25 or less: Two men on losing streaks, who are relatively similar in a lot of respects and can win in many ways. Flip a coin.

Prediction: Giles by T/KO.

Welterweight | Alex Morono vs. Kalinn Williams

In 25 or less: Williams will look to bring the ‘Khaos’ on debut, but Morono has taken on some legit talent and has 12 more fights of experience.

Prediction: Morono by decision.

W. Flyweight | Lauren Murphy [7] vs. Andrea Lee [8]

In 25 or less: A sleeper of a fight on the prelims between two ranked flyweights. Experience meets youth, could be a massive step-up for Lee.

Prediction: Lee by T/KO.

EARLY PRELIMINARY CARD:

Bantamweight | Miles Johns vs. Mario Bautista

Prediction: Johns by decision.

Bantamweight | Journey Newson vs. Domingo Pilarte

Prediction: Pilarte by submission.

Bantamweight | Andre Ewell vs. Jonathan Martinez

Prediction: Ewell by decision.

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