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Dominick Reyes will try to win the UFC light heavyweight title at UFC 247 on Saturday night.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

If there’s one thing the city of Houston knows, it’s dramatic UFC title fights.

Who could forget UFC 69, an event which saw the greatest upset in MMA history when Matt Serra shockingly finished Georges St-Pierre with strikes inside of a round to become welterweight champion? Or UFC 136, which featured lightweight champion Frankie Edgar putting the exclamation point on his trilogy with Gray Maynard via fourth-round TKO?

Alexander Gustafsson pushed Daniel Cormier to the limit in a light heavyweight title bout at UFC 192, and heavyweight king Cain Velasquez left no doubt at UFC 166 that the was the better man in his trilogy with Junior dos Santos, dominating “Cigano” and finishing him in the fifth. Heck, add in Chan Sung Jung’s thrilling KO of Dennis Bermudez in a non-title Fight Night main event back in February 2017—Jung’s first fight in over three years—and you can see why Houston has never had a problem with hosting memorable headliners.

If the betting odds are any indication, fans may want to temper their expectations when it comes to the two title fights atop the UFC 247 card.

Jon Jones, going for his third straight light heavyweight title defense (and 11th overall), takes on undefeated—and some would say unproven—challenger Dominick Reyes, while Valentina Shevchenko also goes for a third defense of her flyweight title against Katlyn Chookagian. Neither champion is expected to have much trouble with their respective opponents, but then again, the same was once said about a scrappy Ultimate Fighter winner named Matt Serra.

In other main card action, heavyweight prospects Juan Adams and Justin Tafa look to make the most of a major opportunity, featherweights Mirsad Bektic and Dan Ige meet in what would should be a Fight of the Night frontrunner, and Derrick Lewis welcomes Ilir Latifi to the heavyweight division.

What: UFC 247

Where: Toyota Center in Houston.

When: Saturday, Feb. 8. The three-fight early preliminary card begins at 6:30 p.m. ET and will air on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, followed by a four-fight preliminary card on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight pay-per-view main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available for purchase exclusively through ESPN+.

Jon Jones vs. Dominick Reyes

Dominick Reyes has the one-punch knockout power needed for an epic upset. It’s every other aspect of the fight that he should be worried about.

While it’s become routine to write about how complete Jon Jones’s game is, it has to be mentioned here as he is light years ahead of Reyes in so many categories. He excels at distance striking, something that gave Reyes problems in the Volkan Oezdemir fight, and also has arguably the best clinch game in MMA. That combination of skills allows Jones to control the pace of any fight he’s in.

Reyes showed improved takedown defense against Chris Weidman, which is worth noting even considering his size advantage in that matchup. However, should Jones put a heavy emphasis on takedowns, it’s difficult to imagine Reyes staying upright for long. And on the ground, Reyes will have to focus solely on defense and recovery unless he’s become a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt overnight.

Talk of Reyes’s athleticism has piqued the interest of those hoping for an upset. He’s incredibly agile for a fighter with his measurements, and his footwork has been the key to his dynamite finishes along with his accuracy. If Jones leaves an opening, Reyes absolutely has the potential to put him down.

Unfortunately for Reyes, Jones’s defense is near impenetrable, and even in fights where he appears to do little (Thiago Santos, Anthony Smith), his opponents still have to grind just to get points up on the board. I don’t see Reyes winning a decision, or finding Jones’s chin with a decisive strike, so I have to go with the champ retaining.

Pick: Jones

Valentina Shevchenko vs. Katlyn Chookagian

As in most of her fights, the three keys here for Katlyn Chookagian will be volume, volume, and more volume. She has to be constantly advancing and constantly throwing, not letting Valentina Shevchenko breathe. She has to score points in the clinch.

And she has to do all that against one of the best strikers in the UFC.

There’s a reason that Shevchenko is once again entering a title defense as a massive favorite and it has more to with her dominance than any knock on Chookagian’s skills. Everyone knows what Chookagian brings to the table. She’s an active striker with top-notch cardio. On paper, that isn’t enough to dethrone Shevchenko.

As long as Chookagian isn’t as tentative as Liz Carmouche, fans should be in for a more entertaining affair—a low bar, I know—but it will be Shevchenko who leads the dance as usual. She’ll have a counter for everything Chookagian does and if she gets a chance to show off her submission skills, then Chookagian is in even more trouble.

Shevchenko by decision.

Pick: Shevchenko

Juan Adams vs. Justin Tafa

As long as Juan Adams remembers what he’s best at, he should be fine. If he goes into a broke Cain Velasquez impression, he’s in trouble.

There’s nothing wrong with a young fighter expanding his game and it’s understandable that Adams would try out some wrestling in his last fight against the stand-up focused Greg Hardy, but with his reach he has so much potential to be an effective fighter at range and Tafa is the perfect opponent for him to refine his skills against.

Tafa is a great counter-puncher, which should only be an issue of Adams is overeager. “The Kraken” has to show he can utilize his length to punish Tafa, while also being wary of a surprise takedown as Tafa is comfortable working on the mat.

Adams is in bad need of a win here after a pair of underwhelming performances, and I think he gets back on track, probably by KO.

Pick: Adams

Mirsad Bektic vs. Dan Ige

Winner of four straight, Dan Ige is definitely a sleeper at featherweight. But the same was being said about Mirsad Bektic before his recent loss to Josh Emmett.

It’s no secret why this fight landed on the main card. Both guys have crisp striking, legitimate wrestling skills, and they both make good use of combinations and have the consistent output needed to win decisions. Bektic has been more susceptible to the knockout, which is something to keep an eye on.

Bektic is so technically sound, but he’s prone to these weird lapses in concentration that led to his lone losses. At his best, he looks like a top-10 featherweight. However, it’s Ige who’s been performing at that level already and I favor his consistency.

Pick: Ige

Derrick Lewis vs. Ilir Latifi

Size matters.

Derrick Lewis towered over Ilir Latifi when they faced off earlier this week and while there’s no discounting the skill and toughness that Latifi showed at 205 pounds, heavyweight is another world entirely; one that’s populated by monsters like “The Black Beast.” Lewis doesn’t get the credit he deserves for being a solid technical striker in addition to being a master of the ancient art of “swangin’ and bangin’.”

I’m also expecting Lewis to show off his neglected ground-and-pound game, which has been difficult to implement against some of the big boys he’s faced in recent years. If Latifi brings the heat early, look for Lewis to get a body lock and drag him down to the mat before going to work with heavy shots from up top.

Whether it’s standing or on the ground, I expect a Lewis knockout victory here.

Pick: Lewis


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