UFC 239 (and International Fight Week 2019) has wrapped up, and I think it’s far to say that Jon Jones escaped with a split decision win over Thiago Santos. I scored it 48-47 for Jones but can see how you’d get to 48-47 Santos, as the Brazilian’s vaunted power and kicks remained a danger even after he messed up his left knee in the opening round.
What transpired was a glorified kickboxing battle with basically no meaningful attempt by Jones to wrestle, even with Santos compromised and getting beaten up on the other leg too. As much as I’ve praised Jones for always fighting smart, this was about as overly cautious and sub-optimal a bout I’ve ever seen him produce. He still had his moments on offense and had his fair share of damaging kicks against Santos — Joe Rogan and Paul Felder I think also flipped out far too much over shots thrown by Santos that didn’t actually land — but it was hardly a convincing night at the office for one of the most dominant fighters we’ve ever seen. I truly believe that Jones’ lack of quality offensive boxing and the fact that Santos is the most consistent volume power kicker he’s ever fought played major factors in him looking less than stellar. Santos should be commended for his efforts while injured, and you wonder if we see a rematch given how close this contest was.
Meanwhile, two-division champion Amanda Nunes surely cemented herself as the greatest women’s MMA fighter of all-time with a terrific display against Holly Holm. Who could’ve foreseen Holm, known for multiple head kick knockouts (including her signature win vs. Ronda Rousey), getting wiped out with a head kick herself? Nunes planted Holm late in round one and landed a couple of punches to force the stoppage. She is truly special and her resume speaks for itself. Amanda Nunes beat Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Holly Holm, and Cris Cyborg all in the opening round! That’s insane! Her 135 lbs belt remains in her possession, now we’ll see if she’ll defend the 145 lbs belt against the Cyborg vs. Felicia Spencer winner.
More thoughts below:
Jorge Masvidal WRECKED Ben Askren in record-setting fashion. Askren dropped for a takedown, Masvidal flying kneed him into unconsciousness in three seconds. Officially, the win was recorded in five seconds, as Masvidal landed two more punches after Askren went out, and Jason Herzog was rushing to get there to stop the fight. That’s one of the most astonishing things I’ve ever seen in combat sports. It’s the KO of the Year, one of the greatest KOs in UFC history, and one of the greatest KOs in MMA history. “Gamebred” produced something iconic on Saturday night. Will it lead to a title shot against reigning welterweight champ Kamaru Usman next? Probably depends on what Colby Covington does vs. Robbie Lawler next month, but he talked all of that shit about Askren in the lead-up and backed it all up and then some.
Luke Rockhold’s light heavyweight debut... well it was pretty shitty, wasn’t it? He looked terrible against Jan Blachowicz, who rocked him with a head kick just as round one ended, then knocked him out by a vicious left hand for the umpteenth time. I think we can write him off as someone who’ll ever return to title contention or become champion again. His defense is as bad as ever, he looked sluggish, and his chin can’t hold up against that kind of power.
Michael Chiesa turned Diego Sanchez into his personal grappling dummy. The only thing you can laud on Diego’s behalf was that he lasted the distance and can still say he’s never been submitted, but that was scarcely competitive. Chiesa was a huge lightweight, is a huge welterweight, and he looked way bigger than Diego. A total outclassing that I suppose does have the caveat that at least it wasn’t Sanchez getting his brains splattered with another KO.
We need to talk about Diego’s choice of coach after splitting up with Jackson-Wink MMA. What the hell is this crackpot stuff? Unsurprisingly, the little corner advice we heard from Josh Fabia was “non-advice,” as Joe Rogan put it. And he was literally Diego’s only cornerman. That’s... a problem.
Rising English featherweight talent Arnold Allen completely picked apart the remnants of former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. It was arguably his best UFC performance to date as he improves to 6-0 inside the Octagon, but I’d really like to see Melendez retire. He looked so slow, hesitant, and every bit the part of a severely declined fighter. It was not good to watch and it sucks seeing a legend like Gil look a shell of himself.
Marlon Vera is one hell of a finisher. Newcomer and last-minute replacement opponent Nohelin Hernandez was giving the Ecuadorian bantamweight a competitive scrap, but Vera stunned Hernandez with a knee midway through round two, rapidly gained full mount, then back mount, and forced the tap with a rear-naked choke. That’s as slick as it can get. Hopefully Sean O’Malley’s drug-testing issues are solved soon because I’d love to see that fight get rebooked.
Veteran strawweights Claudia Gadelha and Randa Markos engaged in an extremely tepid and uneventful kickboxing match. Gadelha won by decision and I am not going to waste any more words after 15 minutes of that tedium.
The first KO of the night came courtesy of 21-year-old Chinese bantamweight up-and-comer Song Yadong, who belted Alejandro Perez with a wicked right hand that sent Perez to sleep in just two minutes. That’s a seriously good win against a ranked opponent, and suddenly we have a new top-15 fighter at 135 lbs. It’s an embarrassment of riches in this division.
Middleweight prospect Edmen Shahbazyan bulldozed Jack Marshman and he did so in just 72 seconds. He beat Marshman up with ground-and-pound after a takedown, seamlessly took the back, and sunk in the rear-naked choke. Don’t laugh, but Edmond Tarverdyan has an intriguing young fighter on the rise!
Chance Rencountre scored a big upset over touted welterweight prospect Ismail Naurdiev. It was a slow start for Chance but he used his size, wrestling, and grappling to shut down “Austrian Wonderboy” for most of the contest to pick up a deserved decision victory.
Women’s bantamweight Julia Avila won an entertaining prelim opener against late notice replacement Pannie Kianzad. The scores might have said 30-27, 30-26, 30-26 but it was a bit closer than suggested. Avila really pulled away in the second-half of the contest, hurting Kianzad multiple times and dropping her in the final round. That was a good UFC debut for “Raging Panda.”