UFC 239 Preview: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos
By: Jesse Donathan
This weekend’s UFC 239 is one of the best cards of the year, available on ESPN+ pay-per-view (PPV) it features a stacked lineup of fights sure to deliver plenty of bang for your buck to those who enjoy watching the best athletes in the sport of mixed martial arts today compete. The main event features the unstoppable Jon Jones versus the feared KO artist Thiago “Marreta” Santos in a showdown for the light heavyweight crown. The co-main event features women’s two-division champion Amanda Nunes versus the legendary Holly Holm in a bantamweight championship affair. Also on the card is undefeated wrestling sensation Ben Askren who will take on the bruiser Jorge Masvidal and Luke Rockhold debuts at light heavyweight to challenge All-Violence First Team selection Jan Blachowicz.
A battle between the Ultimate Fighter 1 middleweight tournament winner Diego Sanchez and The Ultimate Fighter: Live winner Michael Chiesa is also set to take place at UFC 239. Sanchez is enjoying a two-fight winning streak in a long, storied career while Chiesa last tasted victory in his late 2018 welterweight debut against the always tough Carlos Condit by submission following a tough run in the UFC’s lightweight division. The card is scheduled to be held at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada July 6th, 2019 with the main card kicking off at 10pm.
Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos
Seemingly, the only man that can beat Jon Jones in the light heavyweight division is Jon Jones (24-1, 10 KOs). Perhaps the greatest fighter the sport has ever known, Jones’ career has been riddled with troubles both in and out of the ring including a series of performance enhancing drug failures which will forever haunt the light heavyweight kings enduring legacy. Though officially there is no news of a current Jon Jones positive drug test result, there are many on social media who believe it’s only a matter of time before news breaks of an impending positive test for Turinabol metabolites in Jones’s system. While we all certainly hope that isn’t the case, anything short of a dominant performance against the challenger Thiago “Marreta” Santos will come as a surprise to many.
With a record of 21-6, the Rio De Janeiro, Brazil native Thiago Santos is a fierce striker with 15 KO/TKO victories to his credit. Santos comes to bang, a born finisher “Marreta” last tasted defeat just over a year ago at UFC Fight Night 128 in a middleweight contest to David Branch. A fighter you do not have to look for in the cage, Santos went out on his shield against the always dangerous Branch, losing by KO to the Team Renzo Gracie Jiu-Jitsu competitor. Whether or not the weight cut had an effect on Santos’s performance remains to be seen, but since that time the Brazilian dynamo has rattled off four straight victories to earn his turn in the Jon Jones demolition rodeo.
Viewed by many as a lamb being led to slaughter, Santos’s style is custom made for the mobile and diversified striking master Jones who should be able to pick Santos off with relative ease. Likely not news to Thiago Santos, we can expect a game plan from the Brazilian that centers around closing the distance and sealing the deal early against Jackson-Wink MMA representative. Otherwise, look for Santos to fade early and become ripe for the picking to a Jon Jones who will look begin to look like the Predator out there in the cage. It doesn’t take Ms. Cleo to predict someone is going to the hospital after this fight and there is a pretty good chance its not going to be Jon Jones.
Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm
Ric Flair once said, “To be the man, you gotta beat the man.” And that is exactly what UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes (17-4-0, 12 KOs) did in stopping the sports most feared female competitor Cris “Cyborg” Justino in just under a minute at UFC 232. It was as emphatic as it was convincing, Nunes left no doubt who the better fighter was that night in capturing Justino’s featherweight title in route to becoming the sports first female two-division champion. Since that time, Nunes has been showered with praise as perhaps the sport’s greatest of all-time competitor, despite the fact “Cyborg” went undefeated and was feared in the sport for an unparalleled 13-year run. Nunes will meet “The Preachers Daughter” Saturday night; former UFC bantamweight champion Holly Holm in UFC 232’s co-main event.
A member of the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame, Holm is among the most decorated boxing champions the sport has ever seen who ended her career with an impressive 33-2-3 record. Holm is the real warrior princess, most notably associated as the woman to dethrone UFC superstar Ronda Rousey at UFC 193. This feat alone will forever immortalize “The Preachers Daughter” as a UFC legend in her own right. It was a fight that saw Holm enter the Matrix, outclassing Rousey in the standup department in route to the shot heard around the world that sent Rousey crashing to the canvas, unconscious. The victim of a perfectly executed Holm left high kick.
Though Nunes is capable of stopping Holm, “The Preacher’s Daughter” is a professor of the sweet science and comes well prepared to handle her business in the ring or cage. A Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt, it will be to Nunes’ advantage to make this a mixed martial arts contest instead of attempting to outpoint Holm in a standup contest. The fight will be contested in the UFC’s 135-pound bantamweight division, the champion Nunes opened up as the betting favorite to bring both of her titles back home to Florida when its all said and done.
Ben Askren Vs. Jorge Masvidal
A 2008 Olympian, Ben Askren is Dan Hodge Award winner and the undefeated former ONE Championship welterweight champion. Askren arrived in the UFC via a ground breaking, blockbuster trade with ONE Championship that saw the now former UFC flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson traded to ONE in exchange for the rights to Askren. A dominant wrestler who will drag you into deep waters before drowning you, Askren is one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers of our time with a style custom made for mixed martial arts.
In his way is perennial welterweight bad boy Jorge Masvidal. A no nonsense kind of guy, Masvidal is perhaps best known as a street fighter who bested Kimbo Slice protégé Ray in a street fight video that went viral over a decade ago. A top welterweight competitor, Masvidal will stand and bang with anyone in the welterweight division and possesses an impressive defensive submission ability once the inevitable takedown occurs from his often times outmatched opponents. Unfortunately for Masvidal, the kind of grappling Askren brings to the table is not a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu based style of attack, but instead a unique version of American folk style wrestling that has served Askren well in bending his opponents will to his devices. It’s a classic striker versus grappler matchup with title shot implications.
Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Blachowicz
A former KSW light heavyweight champion, Jan Blachowicz (23-8, 5 KOs) is a fighter’s fighter who won the KSW 9 tournament, defeating three opponents in one night to take home the tournament crown. Before falling to challenger Thiago Santos in February, Blachowicz was on a four-fight win streak in the UFC’s light heavyweight division and is looking to rebound Saturday night against former middleweight contender Luke Rockhold (16-4, 6 KOs). Not a fighter to be taken lightly, Rockhold will have his hands full in dealing with a Jan Blachowicz who hasn’t lost back-to-back fights in over two years.
A Ralph Lauren cologne model, Rockhold is making his UFC light heavyweight debut after a career in the middleweight division that saw the American Kickboxing Academy representative fight some of the best in the business. With his eye on Jon Jones, Rockhold faces Blachowicz in a litmus test to see how Rockhold fairs in a new division without the dangerous and taxing weight cuts that accompanied his time in the middleweight division. With his eye on Jon Jones, Blachowicz will essentially be filling gatekeeper duties in order to find out what if anything Rockhold has left in the tank in a bid for light heavyweight title contention.
A complete mixed martial artist with a nasty ground game, Rockhold possesses the ability to compete anywhere Blachowicz wants to take the fight. It should be a competitive contest that answers a lot of questions about Rockhold’s future in the promotion. If Rockhold can’t get it done at light heavyweight after fleeing the UFC’s middleweight division, taking super fight’s against elite UFC competition may be among the only options Rockhold has left outside of hanging them up and looking for a cage side commentary position.