Welcome to the inaugural edition of the LWOS MMA Staff Picks. Our first go around will be for UFC 197, which takes place on April 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It is headlined by the return of the sports pound-for-pound king– Jon “Bones” Jones –as he faces off with Ovince Saint Preux, in an interim-title fight at 205 pounds. There are five fights on the card, including a Flyweight title bout between champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo. The card begins at 7 p.m. PT, 10 p.m. ET.
Along with picks from LWOS MMA staff members Jason Burgos and Max Hammer, Strikeforce veteran–and one time opponent of co-headliner Ovince Saint Preux–T.J. Cook will also be making picks as our guest analyst. Let’s get into it.
Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez vs. Andre “Touchy” Fili
Max Hammer: Both fighters have looked outstanding in recent fights. I’m taking Rodriguez because he’s more unpredictable and Fili has some holes in his game, despite improving his striking skills of late.
Rodriguez by Unanimous Decision
Jason Burgos: When prospects are matched up, it can be very unpredictable. My gut tells me Andre gets “Touchy Fili” (you see what I did there?) with “El Pantera’s” Chin.
Fili by KO – Round 1
Rodriquez – Hammer, Cook
Fili – Burgos
Robert Whittaker vs Rafael “Sapo” Natal
Max Hammer: This is a tough pick. Whittaker has tons of heart and sharp boxing. But Natal, who is also the larger man, is the better grappler and has better kicks.
Natal by Unanimous Decision
Jason Burgos: Youth versus experience. Striking versus grappling. Both are on winning streaks. Natal has always been a legit test for any fighter hoping to rise in the middleweight division. I believe youth and striking win out.
Whittaker by Majority Decision
Whittaker – Burgos, Cook
Natal – Hammer
Anthony “Showtime” Pettis vs Edson “Junior” Barboza
Max Hammer: While this fight was booked to showcase both fighters’ spectacular striking, Pettis has a good chance of winning by submission. He’s shown a vulnerability to being out-wrestled, but has destroyed anyone who’s tried to strike with him. And he has some impressive submission victories on his resume.
Pettis by (T)KO – Round 3
Jason Burgos: This is the fight I’m most excited for. Both could really use a win and it will be fun while it lasts. Barboza always seems to fall flat when the competition improves. Plus, for a high-level striker, wrestling Barboza isn’t the only avenue to victory. Cerrone, Varner and Johnson all stood with him and won. And Pettis is a notch above all of those men when it comes to using his hands and feet as weapons.
Pettis by Submission – Round 3
T.J. Cook: Pettis is the superior striker and the UFC wants to start pushing him back towards the top. Barboza is a decent fighter but he loses every time he steps up in competition. He’s lost 3 of his last 6, can you say “gatekeeper?” I see Pettis winning this one early with some Mortal Combat type stuff.
Pettis by KO – Round 1
Pettis – Hammer, Burgos, Cook
Barboza – None
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson vs Henry “The Messenger” Cejudo
Max Hammer: Cejudo is the most decorated grappler in the division, sporting an Olympic gold medal in men’s freestyle wrestling. That being said, Demetrious Johnson is on another level than the entire division. He’s ranked #2 on the UFC.com pound-for-pound rankings for good reason. He has masterful striking, wrestling, and submissions. He’s demolished, or shut down, everyone he’s fought at 125 lbs.. While he may have trouble taking Cejudo down, don’t be surprised to see the champion utilize the breadth of his arsenal and mix it up, possibly controlling positional or grappling exchanges.
Demetrious Johnson by Unanimous Decision
Jason Burgos: Unless there is a pro wrestling style run-in, while the ref is distracted, Cejudo doesn’t stand a chance. Missing weight multiple times shows this is not his optimal weight, so his cardio won’t be an advantage. He isn’t faster and he doesn’t have intimidating power. He is an Olympic Gold Medalist but can he MMA grapple better than “Mighty Mouse”? The real question is, can Johnson finish him? I say yes.
Johnson by Submission – Round 4
T.J. Cook: Stylistically, I’m really excited for this fight. Cejudo’s wrestling is world class, but we’ve seen fighters with better MMA wrestling outclass Olympians, ala Jones vs Cormier. Cejudo also prides himself on his boxing. I hope to see an exciting fight and would like to see a new champ at 125. But I expect “Mighty Mouse” to win a close decision. He’s the more complete MMA fighter and wins on experience and overall athleticism/transitions.
Johnson by Unanimous Decision
Johnson – Hammer, Burgos, Cook
Cejudo – None
Jon “Bones” Jones vs Ovince Saint Preux
Max Hammer: Can I really pick against Jon Jones? The man has looked unstoppable, dismantling every single opponent he’s fought. OSP is a talented athlete with powerful, unpredictable striking, but I just don’t see anyone beating Jon Jones right now.
Jon Jones by Submission – Round 2
Jason Burgos: I am a believer in ring rust–for certain fighters. Ring rust won’t be an adequate tag team partner to help OSP make up for his sloppy (at times) striking. Saint Preux is talented, but “Bones” is just in a whole other stratosphere.
Jones by (T)KO – Round 3
T.J. Cook: First off, I’m picking Jon Jones to miss weight and the fight will be at a catch-weight. I heard he weighed 240 a week ago. He could cut off a leg and not make 205. When we [Cook and Saint Preux] fought, he used his range and stayed on the outside. That’s not a game he’s going to win against Jones. So my pick is Jones. If OSP is going to pull off the upset he needs to run for a few rounds and hope Jones gets tired. It takes a lot of oxygen to feed those big muscles. If I was, hands down, the best fighter ever I wouldn’t have changed anything, except for maybe laying off the drugs and hiring a driver.
Jones by Submission – Round 2
Jones – Hammer, Burgos, Cook
Saint Preux – None
If you liked T.J.’s picks, you can follow him on twitter @TJCookMMA. He is also helping to promote American Fighting Championship 1, an amateur MMA event in Ocala, Florida on June 11.