Jon Jones shook his head in disappointment when the final horn sounded, but he walked away with a win over Ovince Saint Preux in his return to the UFC.
Jones earned the victory via unanimous decision (50-44, 50-45, 50-45) Saturday night at UFC 197 in Las Vegas, Nev., taking home the light heavyweight interim championship.
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Jones (22-1, 16-1 UFC) is expected to face light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier in his next bout to unify the titles. This was Jones’ first fight since he was stripped of the title and suspended last year following a hit-and run incident.
Jones opened the fight at a slow pace, getting a feel for the cage in his first fight since last January. While he wasn’t dominant, Jones was able to open up on Saint Preux and score.
In the second round, Saint Preux (19-8, 7-3 UFC) showed he could occasionally land, but Jones was never really hurt and continued to pick his opponent apart with a variety of kicks.
In the third, the effects of a short fight camp started to show for Saint Preux, who took the fight on three weeks notice.
Jones tried to bring the fight to the ground in the fourth round, but Saint Preux fought off the attempt with an impressive scramble. With about two minutes remaining in the round, Jones again went for the takedown, landing a double leg and bringing Saint Preux to the canvas. From there, Jones was able to maintain a dominant position while landing elbows and punches. Jones nearly finished the fight, but Saint Preux survived.
The underdog kept the fight on the feet for much of the fifth, but Jones landed a massive slam late in the round that caused some damage.
In the co-main event, Demetrious Johnson successfully defended his flyweight title for the eighth straight time, stopping Henry Cejudo in the first round.
Working from a clinched position, Johnson landed a hard right elbow, followed by two knees to the body and a devastating knee to the jaw that sent Cejudo reeling. Johnson followed Cejudo to the mat, landing a couple more power shots that forced the referee to stop the fight at 2:49 of the round.
Johnson improved to 23-2-1 in handing Cejudo his first professional loss at 10-1.
On the undercard, lightweight contender Edson Barboza looked sharp in a unanimous decision over former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis. Sergio Pettis, Danny Roberts, James Vick and former female straw-weight champion Carla Esparza also won fights.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.