Preview: UFC 239 ‘Jones vs. Santos’

Jones vs. Santos

By Tom Feely Jul 3, 2019

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 239 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

International Fight Week has arrived, and as usual, the Ultimate Fighting Championship has put together a strong card for the occasion. Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes are dominant champions, each with interesting fights on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Jones faces someone wild enough to provide some excitement in the UFC 239 main event, while Nunes tries to fill in the last piece of her generational legacy in the co-headliner. Beyond the marquee attractions, the main card is filled with recognizable names, while the prelims see a fascinating mix of veterans and rising prospects. It may not pop as much as UFC 238 in terms of full-blown action, but few shows this year are as well-matched from top to bottom. That sets the stage for the possibility of some impressive performances.

Now to the UFC 239 “Jones vs. Santos” preview:

UFC Light Heavyweight Championship

Jon Jones (24-1) vs. Thiago Santos (21-6)

ODDS: Jones (-525), Santos (+415)

It has been about six months since the latest Jones scandal, so it seems about time for another, but until then, the Greatest of All-Time contender has been a shockingly normal champion. It took nearly four years, a hit-and-run accident, multiple failed drug tests, tainted male enhancement pills and the UFC moving an entire card to Los Angeles on a week’s notice, but Jones finally regained his status as undisputed light heavyweight champion in December, as he defeated Alexander Gustafsson in a one-sided rematch of their epic 2013 title fight. Since then, at a time when other champions are maneuvering for the biggest money fights or advantageous style matchups, Jones has just been willing to fight as often as possible against the top contender available. Based off this latest comeback, we have probably seen the last of Jones as a creative and dynamic athlete. When he came into the UFC years ago, “Bones” was willing to throw spinning back elbows and try flashy low-percentage techniques, but in the last few months, Jones has looked patient and practiced. With both Gustafsson and recent challenger Anthony Smith, Jones simply took what the opponent gave him. Against Gustafsson, that turned into an increasingly one-sided beating and a third-round finish on the ground, while Smith was content to stay defensive and survive. Jones can keep chugging along like this for a while, and his career figures to have a long tail that should help his case on all-time lists. There is not an obvious contender on the horizon who seems capable of beating him, unless Jones finally decides to make a long-awaited move to heavyweight. In the meantime, Santos is the next man up and should at least make things fun.

It has taken a few years, but it is still stunning to see Santos as a legitimate UFC title contender. Santos first showed up on the UFC radar on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter Brazil” but did not make his proper promotional debut until a few months later, as he got the call as a late replacement and was submitted by Cezar Ferreira in just 47 seconds. Santos rebounded with a win over Ronny Markes that represented one of the biggest upsets of 2014, as he was a 6-to-1 underdog. Rather than just being a fluke that saved Santos’ job, it turned out to be the start of a successful middleweight run. Santos remained fairly one-dimensional, as his style is mostly based around kicking -- and, to a lesser extent, punching -- opponents hard, but it still proved enough to win nine out of his last 12 fights at 185 pounds. Near the tail end of 2018, Santos finally decided to move into thinner waters at light heavyweight, which only made sense. The aforementioned Smith was establishing himself as a top contender at 205 pounds, and it was a loss to Santos that prompted “Lionheart” to move up. Santos experienced similar success, scoring knockout finishes of Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz. Now comes the hard part.

Again, Santos is enough of a wildman to make the fight exciting, but this is firmly a Jones win on paper. There probably was not a time where Santos would be likely to catch Jones cold, but it definitely is not now, as “Bones” is more patient to wait out opponents and peck away at victory than ever. Santos’ range kicking could give Jones trouble, but the Gustafsson rematch showed that the champion has become much more comfortable in recent years facing someone who can match his range. Jones should be able to beat Santos to the punch when the challenger throws his wild strikes, and he should also be able to cause some damage in the clinch or score takedowns when needed. While this figures to be mostly one-way traffic, it will be fun for as long as it lasts. Jones is still a pleasure to watch inside the cage, and Santos’ finishing ability should at least bring some tension to the proceedings. The pick is Jones via third-round stoppage.

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