The weather is getting warmer, the sun is shining and violence is in the air. Tonight, we will be treated to a pair of highly intriguing title fights during UFC 239. In the main event, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will look to keep his immortal status in tact as he takes on one of his most formidable challengers yet in Thiago Santos. Meanwhile women's bantamweight (and featherweight) champion Amanda Nunes looks to further solidify her position as an all-time great in this sport as she squares off against former bantamweight champion and now challenger, Holly Holm.
This isn't the most stacked card by a long shot. But with Luke Rockhold also making his debut at light heavyweight and Ben Askren having his second UFC affair with Jorge Maasvidal, there's enough going on that makes me curious to see exactly how these fights will play out. If nothing else, I always find Jon Jones fights fascinating so this card will have my full attention and reluctantly my wallet. Let's dive in to these title fights and see what might possibly be in store tonight.
At this point, there isn't much I can say about Jon Jones that I haven't already stated previously. He has one of the most complete skill sets in the sport and knows how to utilize all of his attributes while executing his attacks at an insanely high level. His fight IQ is even more impressive than his physical gifts; Jones rarely makes a mistake or a miscalculation. He gives his opponents nothing to work with and no one thus far has been able to come up with a game plan that can neutralize him. I’m not exactly sure what any challenger in the light heavyweight division could do to dethrone Jones. Honestly, the only two ways I can picture Jones losing is if he fights somebody who's extremely unconventional or someone who has the kind of ungodly power that he'll have to respect. This is where Thiago Santos comes in.
In most instances, you can't outsmart Jones or even get him to make a mistake. But maybe, just maybe, if you had some kind of earth shattering power you could go berserk and possibly knock him out. It's a long shot, but Thiago Santos possesses that kind of strength. Santos is the human embodiment of a wrecking ball. He has shown time and again that when he's in the cage he has no regard for the life of his opponents. Santos fights with such a frightening reckless abandon that he often leaves his opponent staring at the ceiling after attempting to engage in a fire fight with him. Santos will have to figure out Jones's range in order for his power to even be a factor, but if he can find a way inside and cause even a split second fire fight or land a well timed counter then I believe he could put Jones in some real trouble. With the kind of power that Santos possesses, it's all he needs..he just has to find a way to land it. This fight is the definition of a punchers chance.
Prediction: In my heart of hearts, I'm rooting for Santos to pull off this upset win. He's just one of those guys that consistently puts on great fights and it would be amazing to see him hold a title. It pains me to say that realistically I don't think he'll be able to get it done. I hope I'm wrong, but I believe Jones will find a way to neutralize Thiago's power (most likely by taking him down and punishing him with elbows until the fight is over). I'm predicting a 3rd round TKO ground and pound finish from Jones.
In any combat sport when discussing matchups you'll often hear the age old statement that “styles make fights.” And this style clash is one that I've personally wanted to see for quite some time. Amanda Nunes has been nothing short of amazing during her women’s bantamweight title reign—and most recently featherweight after knocking out the seemingly unbeatable Cris Cyborg. Nunes has a deadly mix of aggression, power and accuracy that has carried her on an all-time great four-year tear in this sport. Nunes has the kind of power that can instantly have your feet falling from beneath you. She knows the right moment to pull back and when to unleash. She can pressure her opponents into uncomfortable situations, making them get into an exchange which falls right into her game plan since most of her opponents cannot offensively outgun her.
I find this fight interesting because I honestly think that Holly Holm has the skill set to beat Nunes but I'm not entirely sure if she'll be able to execute. Much of Holm’s offensive output is based on countering (which is something she should have the opportunity to do given how aggressive Nunes is) but if she's going to win, she'll need more than the occasional three-punch combination burst and sidekick to get the job done. Holm is as game as they come and I’ve never questioned her heart or if she's afraid of the moment. My concern with Holm is that she never really dictates what happens in a fight but just merely reacts to what's given to her instead of creating her own opportunities. Against Megan Anderson, Holm showed a new wrinkle in her ground game that we hadn't much seen her utilize before. Even if she can't get Nunes down to the canvas consistently, just being able to mix things up and make Nunes work will do wonders for her in this fight. If there's one advantage she does have, I believe that Holm will have a better stamina to go five rounds and not lose steam. If she can drag this fight out to a round four or five, it'll greatly increase her chances of winning. I don’t think she wins this fight via stoppage unless she lands that vicious head kick that we've seen from her previously. If she can make it a grueling experience for Nunes and steal a couple of rounds in the process, I think she can squeak out a competitive close decision. She just needs to keep her head on swivel, because if she doesn't...Nunes may knock it off.
Prediction: This fight can go in so many directions. I could see Nunes winning via TKO, Holm winning via an uneventful but close split decision, or Nunes winning a boring decision due to her offensive output. With that said, I think people are underestimating Holm’s skill set and overlooking what she's capable of. I'm going out on a limb with this one (so if you're a betting man don't listen to me) by predicting Holly Holm winning a five round fight via split decision.
As I stated above, by no means is this the most stacked card. The importance this card is how victories could add to the legacy of each champion. We don't often think of it in real time as we watch, but Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes are both adding chapters to their stories that one day will be critical as we decide where they rank historically among the all-time greats. If you have some friends who are willing to split the cost of the pay-per-view with you and everyone goes in on some quality chicken wings while you watch, then it’s worth the price of purchase. In the event that you miss it, just give my podcast a listen and I'll be sure to break it all down for you.
Fights to look out for:
Luke Rockhold vs Jan Blachowicz
Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal
Alejandro Perez vs Song Yadong
Claudia Gadelha vs Randa Markos
Main Card: 10:00 PM on PPV (ESPN+)
Preliminary Card: 8:00 PM On ESPN
Early Prelims: 6:15 PM on UFC Fight Pass
Michael "CerealSensei" Williams is the host of the Dojo Talk Podcast. He is an avid fight fan, author, hip hop enthusiast, and part-time gamer. You can find him roaming the Twitter streets at @CerealSensei and you can listen to the Dojo Talk Podcast on Soundcloud.