UFC 239 Preview
The Fourth of July has become synonymous with International Fight Week for MMA fans and 2019 is no different. The UFC always puts their best foot forward for their Pay-Per-View event the first Saturday in July following the holiday. It has taken different forms over the years – from three events in three days each with a title fight in the main event in 2016 to The Ultimate Fighter finale on the Friday before to just one big event like UFC 200. No matter the shape it ultimately takes you can be sure it will be an event worth anticipating. This year isn’t the biggest one to date but it still gives us a loaded main card with two title fights involving who I would argue are the best pound for pound male and female fighters in the sports history. On top of that you have contender fights at welterweight and middleweight respectively featuring two big names. The curtain jerker might seem like lesser fare, and it is, but its a fan favorite in what should be a crazy action fight. Last week’s main event between Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos was originally scheduled to be on UFC 239 as well but was pulled off when the original main event for UFC on ESPN 3 (Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler 2) was called off due to injury. The UFC roster may be stretched as thin as ever but I still like that they occasionally make sure to put together an event that can’t be matched by any other promotion.
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Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos – Light Heavyweight Championship
The last time I did an event preview also happens to be the last time Jon Jones fought, UFC 235. Thats not an accident. With the absence of Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Georges St. Pierre the UFC has leaned on Jones as their biggest star. What more evidence do you need other than they literally picked up and moved an entire event with less than a week’s notice – UFC 232 was originally scheduled to take place in Las Vegas, Nevada until the NSAC refused to license him after a positive PED test and eventually took place in Los Angeles, California. Because of that positive drug test that USADA ruled was from the lingering effects of a prior failure, the UFC and the drug agency have changed the way they handle repeat failures that don’t appear to be from new ingestion. Jones continues to test positive when he cuts weight but here we are.
The latest version of Jon Jones seems to be someone who wants to cement his legacy as the greatest fighter the sport has ever seen. The way he wants to go about that is to race to defend his title as many times as possible against up and coming contenders who are either ill prepared or not seen as real threats in one of the weakest divisions in the UFC. At UFC 235 he dominated former middleweight Anthony Smith and on Saturday he’s set to fight another former middleweight in Thiago Santos. Hes already hinted at defending his belt one more time in 2019, most likely against Luke Rockhold or Daniel Cormier, and has said he wants to fight three more times next year – possibly against the likes of Dominick Reyes, Corey Anderson, Johnny Walker, and Aleksandar Rakic. Nothing against those guys, who have finally injected some life into the light heavyweight division, but we could be staring at a Demetrious Johnson type of run for Jones when what the fans really want to see is him challenge himself up at heavyweight. I’m personally just glad to see him as an active fighter and not under suspension rarely fighting.
When it comes to the fight in front of us I’m not anticipating any kind of upset. Santos is a guy who was a huge middleweight and has had a lot of success since moving up to 205 pounds. He has tremendous power and is very aggressive in his attack. In a sense this is like the Anthony Johnson fight that we never got to see in that the challenger has the most realistic puncher’s chance we have yet to see against Jon Jones but there is a clear path to victory for ‘Bones’ as long as his chin holds up. And thats only if Santos is able to hit him with anything other than a glancing blow. We’ve seen from Jones’ fight with Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson that he can take damage and not be affected much at all. I’m expected Jones to toy with Santos on the feet before eventually landing a takedown and controlling the fight. Santos will wear out the longer the fight goes on and I could easily see a middle to late round finish for Jones on the ground.
Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm – Women’s Bantamweight Championship
As clear as I think it is that Jon Jones is the greatest MMA fighter of all time it may be even more obvious that Nunes is the greatest women’s MMA fighter of all time. Her resume is insane with victories over every other all time great women’s fighter you can think of. Cris Cyborg, Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, Valentina Shevchenko (twice), and even brief women’s featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie. Essentially the only big name women’s bantamweight/featherweight that she hasn’t fought and beat is Holly Holm. Well here we go.
Holm’s claim to fame is being the first person to beat Rousey which she did in devastating knockout fashion at UFC 193 in 2015. Shes had a rough run since that glorious moment, losing to most of the names on Nunes’ impressive hit list – Tate, Shevchenko, de Randamie, and Cyborg. To be fair that is some great competition and she wasn’t dominated in any of those contests, mixing in some impressive victories in-between. I think it will be a similar story to her recent losses on Saturday night with her losing a competitive but clear decision to Nunes but she has the skills to finally win back her bantamweight belt. Nunes’ has been known to tire as fights go on, although not as much recently, and there have been hints that shes considering retirement sooner rather than later. But I also think its more likely that Nunes catches Holm clean early and sets up a re-match with Cyborg in what should be the biggest women’s fight since Ronda Rousey called it quits.
Ben Askren vs. Jorge Masvidal
I wrote about the first trade in MMA history last October when the UFC sent Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson to ONE Championship getting back ‘Funky’ Ben Askren who had previously announced his retirement after not finding the competition very motivating over there. There was controversy abound in his first fight with the promotion against Robbie Lawler at March’s UFC 235. Officially Askren was awarded a first round submission victory by way of bulldog choke but in real time it appeared as though referee Herb Dean mistook ‘Ruthless’ relaxing his body as him going unconscious. It was especially hard for Lawler to take because prior to that he was putting a beating on Askren, slamming him on his head almost immediately and nearly finishing the fight before it got started. Askren did eventually recover and start to implement his wrestling game but it was hairy there for a minute.
With his undefeated (19-0) record still in tact Askren turned to his other greatest strength after his wrestling. His mouth. Talking trash to any contender that had the ability to see and/or hear he was angling his way towards a title shot, especially since his friend and teammate Tyron Woodley lost his belt to Kumaru Usman (or Marty from Nebraska as Ben would call him). Another good talker took the bait in Jorge Masvidal, who is coming off of a shocking knockout victory over Darren Till in his home country. To top that off he also landed a “three piece and a soda” on fellow contender Leon Edwards backstage after being interrupted during an interview. Masvidal is tough and could finish the job Lawler started but I think Askren will be able to win a wrestling dominated decision. If he does its very possible he will leapfrog former interim champion Colby Covington (who is currently scheduled to fight Lawler in August) as the next title challenger to the welterweight crown.
Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Blachowicz
Following in the footsteps of the aforementioned Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos (and followed himself by former middleweight champion Chris Weidman), Rockhold is moving up to light heavyweight following a string of injuries and bad knockout losses which he has said were mostly due to a very hard weight cut. Being a former middleweight champion himself its very easy to see why the UFC would try to set him up to be the next challenger to Jon Jones’ throne. It doesn’t hurt that he is also a friend and former training partner of Daniel Cormier’s so there is plenty to work with from a story standpoint as well as just the combination of skills they would put on display inside the Octagon. Luke would also give the UFC a guy so unlikable that he would make the problematic light heavyweight champion a bit of a baby face. Blachowicz is a solid fighter who is coming off of a knockout loss to current title challenger Thiago Santos but if Rockhold’s skills are going to translate to the higher weight class at all he shouldn’t be much of a threat to the preferred narrative.
Michael Chiesa vs. Diego Sanchez
Speaking of guys who moved up a weight class and had immediate success… Chiesa was submitted by fellow lightweights who have recently become welterweights Kevin Lee and Anthony ‘Showtime’ Pettis in back to back fights before making the move and submitted former interim welterweight champion Carlos Condit himself. Its tough to say if that win means much because Condit has been a shell of his former self since his all out war with Robbie Lawler at UFC 195 in January 2016. This fight certainly isn’t going to give an answer to that either but it should be a lot of fun and give Chiesa another win in the weight class. Sanchez has shopworn since he was knocked out by BJ Penn 10 years ago. (Sidenote: maybe its time for that re-match if the UFC is going to keep torturing Penn by giving him fights…) The thing is he is so damn tough that he keeps fighting multiple times a year and winning about half of them. When hes given lesser competition to deal with, he usually does. But when hes given real top 25 level guys in their prime he gets beat up which is what I expect to happen here. Although there’s an outside chance that Sanchez, who is actually on a two fight winning streak, pulls off the huge upset since he is so tough and Chiesa’s M.O. Is of a submission grappler.
An auxiliary member of the MMAJA, Bob used to run the baseball blog 'The Oriole Report' before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. 'The Redbox Report' movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by 'The Redbelt Report' MMA podcast in 2016. In 2018 they were merged into 'Phelan to Communicate', a podcast that can be found on iTunes and a blog that can be found at http://PhelanToCommunicate.wordpress.com. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @PhelanToTweet.