Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is wrapping up International Fight Week with its UFC 239: “Jones vs. Santos” pay-per-view (PPV) event, taking place this Sat. night (July 6, 2019) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Jon Jones will headline UFC 239 against Thiago Santos, one of the hardest punchers in light heavyweight history. Since “Bones” is considered one of the greatest fighters of all time, and currently holds the 205-pound strap, a “Marreta” upset would turn the division on its head.
In the UFC 239 co-main event, Amanda Nunes looks to cement her place as the best female fighter to ever compete by defending her bantamweight title against Holly Holm. “Lioness” already finished Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Cris Cyborg, making a victory over “The Preacher’s Daughter” the last hurdle in her quest for immortality.
And let’s not forget about some of the other main card match ups, conveniently deconstructed below, including Ben Askren vs. Jorge Masvidal and Michael Chiesa vs. Diego Sanchez, both contested at welterweight. Simply put, this is a stacked fight card that is deserving of its hype.
Before we start breaking down the five-fight main card, which requires a subscription to ESPN+ under the promotion’s new PPV deal, be sure to take a look at the UFC 239 “Prelims” analysis by clicking here and here. Odds and betting lines for this weekend’s “Sin City” brouhaha will post later tonight.
Let’s get to work.
205 lbs.: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones (24-1, 1 NC) vs. Thiago “Marreta” Santos (21-6)
I’ve been deconstructing Jones’ fights for over a decade now and to be honest, I’m running out of things to say. I think we’re all in agreement that “Bones” is pretty much perfect inside the Octagon (and a complete disaster outside of it). There isn’t an offense he can’t nullify, nor is there a defense he can’t penetrate. We’re talking about a fighter who outwrestled Daniel Cormier in his prime and outstruck … well, everybody. The closest we ever came to watching Jones lose, sneaky UFC 152 armbar notwithstanding, was his UFC 165 decision win over Alexander Gustafsson, a bloody reminder that buffets and blow are not part of any successful training camp, even for the greatest of all time.
That makes it hard to build an effective case for light heavyweight wrecking ball, Thiago Santos, who blasted his way into a 205-pound title shot by laying waste to four straight opponents, though I can’t be the only one unimpressed with his trail of bodies: Kevin Holland, Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa, and Jan Blachowicz. I suppose you can go back and tout his win over No. 3-ranked Anthony Smith, but if you want to travel back to 2018, then we should also make a pit stop at his knockout loss to David Branch. Make no mistake about it, Santos is a devastating puncher and there’s no question a clean shot can put Jones to bed, but what will he do differently than some of the other heavy hitters did before him? “Marreta” will need the champ to make a mistake before he does and I guess now is a good time to mention the muscular Brazilian — swinging with a 10-inch reach disadvantage — has never gone five rounds in his MMA career.
Jones is a lot of things, but one thing he’s not, particularly inside the Octagon, is stupid. And when he gets careless or his ego is engaged, Greg Jackson and Co. are there to keep him in check. There’s simply no logical reason for Jones to spend 25 minutes jabbing his way to victory with an opponent who smuggles TNT into the cage. I’m sure he’ll toy with Santos for a bit, using those teep kicks and face-palms to frustrate his shorter, stockier foe, but I would expect a significant amount of cage/clinch work to be unveiled before the challenger can find his timing. That means this fight will get taken to the floor, rather forcibly, by trip or standard shot, and Santos is going to find out why so many fighters before him did everything right and still came up empty.
Final prediction: Jones def. Santos by submission
135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda “Lioness” Nunes (17-4) vs. Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (12-4)
Is Amanda Nunes the greatest female fighter of all time? She’s certainly in the conversation, having smashed and trashed Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Cris Cyborg en route to capturing two division titles. At this stage of her combat sports career, putting away Holly Holm would do more to cement her legacy than avenging her 2014 loss to Cat Zingano, particularly now that “Alpha” is 37 and just 1-4 since thumping “Lioness.” Not that Holm has fared much better in recent years, falling to 2-4 in the wake of her historic win over Rousey, but “The Preacher’s Daughter” does present a very specific challenge — stylistically — that could upend the Brazilian banger.
Nunes has already started talking about how much Holm will “run” in their championship co-main event. I don’t know if that’s to plant the excuse seed or to get under the challenger’s skin and prompt her to stand in the pocket, but you don’t win any points by phone-booth fighting with reckless abandon. Sure, the JUST BLEED fans will stand and cheer, but they won’t be there to pay the rent when that win bonus fails to materialize. Holm has a predictable style and fights best from a counterstance, something that Shevchenko was able to exploit in their FOX affair back in summer 2016. Nunes can strike defensively, as well, as we saw in her Cyborg assassination, but don’t expect the same kind of bumrush from Holm.
This fight will mirror Nunes vs. Shevchenko in many ways. The champion has speed, power, and precision, but will be faced with superior footwork and a moving target. The challenger may not have the stopping power, unless one of those patented head kicks lands, but she can do five rounds without even batting an eyelash and has already withstood the bludgeoning power of Cyborg, so it will take something truly special to put Holm on her back. I have a sneaking suspicion that Nunes is feeling invincible and expecting to replicate her past couple of performances, which is exactly why she’ll give this fight away. Once she realizes the finish isn’t coming, somewhere late in the third round, Nunes will spend less time striking and more time swinging for the fences, to no avail. Unless “Lioness” flips the script and just shoots for a takedown to win by submission a la Miesha Tate, “The Preacher’s Daughter” will jab and stab her way to the judges’ favor.
Final prediction: Holm def. Nunes by split decision
170 lbs.: “Funky” Ben Askren (19-0, 1 NC) vs. Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal (33-13)
I’m glad Ben Askren is finally with UFC because his trash talk is typically fun and engaging, a stark contrast to the ugly, vile exchanges fight fans have become accustomed to. And let’s face it, hype can often elevate feuds and make them more interesting to fans. But let’s be real here for a moment: Askren needs to hype his fights because his performances are pretty lame. His striking is garbage (a fact he won’t dispute) and nobody wants to watch him blanket his opponents until a submission presents itself. Winning ugly is still winning, but it’s also boring and hard to watch. That’s why I don’t have high hopes for his Jorge Masvidal fight on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“Gamebred” is a well-rounded fighter who performs at his peak in the stand up, often putting forth frightening displays of violence, like he did against Jake Ellenberger and Donald Cerrone, as well as Darren Till his last time out. But he’s also susceptible to offensive wrestling, giving up 26 takedowns in his UFC career, including four against Demian Maia at UFC 211. If Ross Pearson and Daron Cruickshank can take Masvidal down, what do you think an Olympic wrestler will do? This entire fight boils down to Masvidal trying to stun Askren, or knock him out, before getting wrapped up and taken to the floor. That doesn’t sound like a rip-roaring good time to me and one of the reasons I’m in no hurry to start handing out “Funky” title shots.
Masvidal has just two submission victories in 33 wins and has gone to a decision a staggering 27 times in his MMA career. This idea that he can execute something from his back or use his guard to turn the tide is just silly. “Gamebred” is a well-polished street fighter who is dangerous everywhere the fight goes, with one exception. And that exception just happens to be the strongest attribute of his opponent. The only reason I’m looking forward to this wrestling clinic is so I can hear the UFC commentators find new and interesting things to say about Askren’s style as the boo birds sing from the rafters. Look on the bright side, at least it’s not a five-round fight.
Final prediction: Askren def. Masvidal by unanimous decision
205 lbs.: Jan Blachowicz (23-8) vs. Luke Rockhold (16-4)
Jan Blachowicz signed with UFC after a pretty successful career in KSW, where the Polish power puncher racked up an impressive 17-3 record with 11 finishes. Unfortunately, Blachowicz could not replicate his overseas success and his Octagon run has been something of a disappointment at 6-5, which includes last February’s technical knockout loss to Thiago Santos. That might sound like harsh criticism for a combatant ranked No. 6 in the world, but it’s not enough to beat guys like Devin Clark and Jared Cannonier, you also have to beat guys like Alexander Gustafsson and the aforementioned Santos. Those are the types of wins that earn title shots instead of light heavyweight debuts from former champions hoping for a fresh start.
I think we can be equally tough on Luke Rockhold, who will abandon his 185-pound weight cut to test his might in the heavier division. Once seen as a sign of laziness, moving up a weight class has paid dividends for ex-middleweights like Santos and Anthony Smith, two hot-and-cold journeymen who went from zero to hero. Honestly, did anyone expect “Lionheart” to earn a title fight against Jon Jones after getting smashed by “Marreta”? I certainly didn’t. That’s why Luke Rockhold has a legitimate chance to become a threat to anyone at 185 pounds. He won’t be undersized at 6’3” and is unlikely to lose any of his conditioning. He may even come out of this transition with a more durable chin, now that he’s not shrinking his brain 24 hours before fight night.
Blachowicz has been a mainstay at 205 pounds, but Rockhold has fought much tougher competition. Aside from holding his own division title, the American Kickboxing Academy (AKA) product has faced — and defeated — four former world champions. Hurting his stock is the fact that all four losses have come by way of knockout, though I wouldn’t imagine he’s in danger of that against Blachowicz, who has just one finish by way of strikes over the last nine years. I like Rockhold in this contest because he’s a more polished version of Blachowicz, and I think that comes from training with so many great fighters at AKA. I wouldn’t count on a finish, particularly after a first-round feeling-out process, but a clearcut decision would not surprise me.
Final prediction: Rockhold def. Blachowicz by unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Michael “Maverick” Chiesa (15-4) vs. Diego “The Nightmare” Sanchez (29-11)
I had Diego Sanchez written off after back-to-back knockout losses to Al Iaquinta and Matt Brown, part of a dreadful 4-7 run that dated back to early 2012. Then “The Nightmare” reversed course with a pair of wins over Craig White and Mickey Gall, who may not be Top 10 foes, but did enjoy significant advantages in both height and reach. Sanchez will face a similar challenge in the form of Michael Chiesa, also a former lightweight, though “Maverick” is probably much more dangerous in terms of skillset than either White or Gall. Hopefully Sanchez doesn’t say anything bad about his mother at the weigh ins, as I would hate to have another Kevin Lee situation.
Chiesa has been consistently inconsistent, putting together a couple of wins and then throwing them all away with a loss, never gaining any real momentum in the 155-pound division. I know the former TUF champ is riding high after a welterweight win over Carlos Condit, but “The Natural Born Killer” has lost five straight and eight of his last 10, so I think it’s safe to say we’re not talking about the same Condit who terrorized the 170-pound division nearly a decade ago. That said, it’s not hard to prepare for Sanchez, who is pretty much the same in every fight. He’s going to come at you full speed and throw everything but the kitchen sink. That style worked when he was able to withstand incoming fire, but now that he’s growing increasingly brittle, that balls-to-the-wall style has become a liability.
This is proving to be a tough bout to call. Chiesa hasn’t scored a knockout in nearly 20 professional fights and he’s unlikely to start here. I do think the submission-savvy “Maverick” controls Sanchez in the clinch but sooner or later the fight will be taken to the floor, presumably by “The Nightmare.” And hey, when all else fails, always bet on the crazy guy.
Final prediction: Sanchez def. Chiesa by split decision
There you have it.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 239 fight card on fight night (click here), starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
For much more on this weekend’s UFC 239 PPV extravaganza click here.