MMA Review: #689: UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos

-This was comfortably one of the biggest UFC shows of 2019; so big in fact that the clowns at BT Sport decided to put it on Box Office in the UK despite it starting at 3am! Anyhow, with two title fights and three other killer fights on tap it looked awesome.

UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos

Las Vegas, Nevada

-Your hosts are Jon Anik, Joe Rogan and Paul Felder.

Welterweight Fight: Michael Chiesa vs Diego Sanchez

Diego was actually on a two-fight win streak coming into this one after stopping Mickey Gall to pick up his first finish since 2008 (!) in March. Chiesa had looked fantastic against Carlos Condit in December but of course I went with Diego here, feeling that nobody had ever really outgrappled him before and so Chiesa wouldn’t be the first.

Diego’s entrance is eccentric even for him, as he has a LONE CORNERMAN and comes out jogging to the cage covered by a red towel. No idea what happened to the rest of his team although I know he left Greg Jackson’s crew earlier in the year.

Round One and Diego comes stalking out before getting a single leg. Chiesa grabs the neck as he goes down and looks for a guillotine, but it doesn’t look sunk or anything. Scramble sees Chiesa take the back in a slick move, but Diego gets free and winds up on top. Good job from Chiesa to explode to his feet and he hits a hip throw, but Diego scrambles back up. Big shots land for Chiesa from close range before he clinches, and they jockey for position before Chiesa forces Diego down. He gets the back again and lands some punches before slapping on a body triangle, and Diego might be in trouble. Chiesa can’t quite get the choke sunk as Diego somehow defends, but he’s eating a lot of elbows to the side of the head. Tremendous reversal from Diego allows him to pop up and hit his own takedown, but Chiesa sweeps him and drops some more elbows. Chiesa is just outpowering Diego here due to sheer size. Diego somehow elevates him off for a second but not for long as Chiesa quickly gets back on top. Another scramble sees Chiesa get the back again, and that’s the round. 10-9 Chiesa for sure.

Round Two and Diego comes out swinging only to be taken down right away. Chiesa looks to move into side mount and does so, going into an odd choke attempt from the side, but Diego manages to avoid that only to eat some heavy punches. Diego gives his back and takes some more shots, then stands and they exchange with Chiesa landing the heavier shots. Another takedown follows for Chiesa and he continues to drop punches and elbows. Diego is getting smashed here. He goes for a sweep but can’t shake Chiesa off him, and then attempts a kneebar that doesn’t work either. Chiesa takes the back again and then flattens Diego out to land some heavy shots, and this might be over. Ref takes a close look but Diego keeps on squirming and he manages to survive. INSANE reversal causes the crowd to explode as Diego takes the back, but Chiesa pops right up into the clinch. He’s just too big for Diego to handle. Takedown attempt from Diego is turned into a back-take from Chiesa and he looks for a potential choke while controlling Diego in an odd position. Kimura attempt follows for Chiesa but Diego rolls out of that only to give his back again. Round ends with Diego stuck in an awkward spot. 10-9 Chiesa and Diego needs a finish to win.

Round Three and Diego does open with a hard right hand, but Chiesa grabs his leg and drives him into the fence before taking him down. Scramble from Diego only leads to Chiesa taking his back again, and he controls the arms in a crucifix and looks to isolate the left arm for a kimura. Diego frees himself but again Chiesa winds up on top in the scramble. Another reversal sees Diego get to his feet, but Chiesa hits him with a combo and gets him back down quickly. Chiesa takes the back again and then looks to prep an inverted triangle, but Diego avoids that well. He just can’t shake Chiesa off him though and once again he takes the back with both hooks in. Few more elbows and more control from Chiesa but he can’t choke Diego out and the fight ends there. 10-8 round for Chiesa, so 30-26 overall.

Judges go 30-26 all round for Michael Chiesa. Basically this was a totally dominant showing for him, as he outgrappled Diego throughout and did everything but finish him off. Maybe if he’d continued to look for strikes rather than chokes he would’ve, too. It looked like Chiesa was just too big and strong for Diego to handle. I want to see him against a big striker next to see how he’ll get on against someone who won’t engage him in the grappling areas, but if he can get past that then he could be a legit contender.

Light-Heavyweight Fight: Luke Rockhold vs Jan Blachowicz

This was Rockhold’s first fight up at 205lbs and his first in fact since his KO loss to Yoel Romero well over a year beforehand. It looked like a tough fight for him too as despite some questionable wrestling skills, Blachowicz had the kind of KO power that had troubled Rockhold in the past. I was taking Rockhold though, feeling he could get Blachowicz down and work him over on the ground.

First round begins and Rockhold doesn’t look undersized at all. Big left head kick opens things for him and he throws two body kicks to follow. Blachowicz comes back with a couple of kicks of his own as they trade off, but a jump kick from Rockhold leads to a takedown attempt. Blachowicz works to defend it well but Rockhold forces him to his knees and gets a front headlock. Guillotine attempt doesn’t work and so he switches to a double leg attempt, then a single leg, but Blachowicz remains vertical. Elbow lands inside for Blachowicz. Crowd begin to boo the inactivity as Rockhold lands a couple of knees to the body. Another strong elbow lands for Jan. Left breaks for Blachowicz before Rockhold glances with a left head kick. Both men exchange some kicks before Jan glances on a right hook. Striking exchange continues with both guys glancing on big shots, and with seconds to go Rockhold gets stunned BADLY by a head kick in a trade and wobbles around on the buzzer. 10-9 Blachowicz largely for that big ending.

Second round and Rockhold opens with a big left hook, but he takes a shot coming forward and has to back up a bit. Couple of heavy leg kicks land for Blachowicz. Nasty right hand connects for Jan. Clinch from Rockhold and he moves Blachowicz into the fence again to look for the takedown. Blachowicz continues to defend, and they break off and from there Blachowicz DESTROYS ROCKHOLD WITH A LEFT HOOK! Rockhold is done as he hits the ground and Jan seals the deal with some follow-up shots.

Brutal knockout from Blachowicz, and a pretty great performance from him too as he stopped the takedown, hurt Rockhold with most of his strikes and finished him off violently. Rockhold looked good in portions but evidently his chin just can’t cope with clean shots any more – he would’ve been KO’d in the first had there been more time and the finish was disgusting – and it’s probably time for him to retire and focus on his modelling career. Why take any more punishment? Fantastic knockout from Blachowicz at any rate.

Welterweight Fight: Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal

This had become a HUGE GRUDGE MATCH with both guys sniping at one another in interviews, unsurprisingly given the abrasive style of both. Despite Masvidal coming off one of the best wins of his career over Darren Till, I was taking Askren here as I figured he could do the same thing that Demian Maia had done to Masvidal back in 2017 and outgrapple him for a decision.


Post-fight Askren is STIFF AS A BOARD and takes AGES to come around while Masvidal mocks him going to sleep, totally badass stuff. Replay shows Askren ducked for a takedown and ate the knee cleanly. The whole fight went FIVE SECONDS – a UFC record – but Askren was unconscious after like three and took two needless punches while he was out, too. Best KO of the year by a MILE and easily the best moment in Masvidal’s career. People say the UFC doesn’t make stars any more but Masvidal just proved that idea wrong here. Insane stuff and a must-see moment for any MMA fan. Jesus Christ.

UFC Women’s World Bantamweight Title: Amanda Nunes vs Holly Holm

After her star-making KO of Cris Cyborg at UFC 232 made her the UFC’s latest double champion, everyone was wondering what would be next for Nunes, and it turned out to be this – a Bantamweight title defense against Holm, who had of course knocked out Ronda Rousey to become a huge star herself back in 2015. Holm hadn’t fought since her 2018 win over Megan Anderson – at 145lbs – but this was definitely a tricky fight for Nunes due to Holm’s striking skill. Still, after seeing Nunes destroy well, EVERYONE, I was taking her to retain.

Crowd are red-hot for this one and fully embrace Nunes as a star. Fight begins and both girls come out throwing feints from distance before the crowd start chanting for Holm, surprisingly enough. Body kick lands for Nunes as Holm jabs at the legs with some kicks of her own. Low kick sees Nunes stumble as she eats a short right hand counter. She seems fine, though. Low kicks land for both before Holm blocks a powerful head kick. Right hook glances for Nunes. Holm’s movement is keeping her safe right now. Clinch from Holm sees both girls land knees, and Nunes trips Holm down before she pops right back up and separates. Crowd are totally split now. More kicks to the leg from Holm connect. Clean left hook connects for Nunes. Body kick into a right hand land for her too. BIG RIGHT HEAD KICK sends Holm crashing down and IT’S ALL OVER! Unbelievable.

Replay shows the kick literally came from NOWHERE and was insanely quick; Holm never had a chance of blocking it at all. Ridiculous knockout from Amanda Nunes who has to be considered the greatest female fighter of all time now given she’s now beaten EVERY OTHER former female UFC champ at Bantamweight and Featherweight. Not as good a KO as Masvidal’s – and I’d say Nunes’ KO of Cyborg was better too – but this was still an absolute classic and Nunes remains a MACHINE right now. Again, who says the UFC doesn’t make stars any more?

UFC World Light-Heavyweight Title: Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos

This was another ‘challenger of the month’ type affair for Jones, after he’d turned back the challenge of Anthony Smith in March. Santos was unbeaten at 205lbs with three big wins – all finishes too – but despite his crazy striking power and wild style I just didn’t see him getting past the all-round skills of Jones and took the champ to win by submission. It was insane to see Marreta even fighting for a UFC title really given his initial struggles on TUF Brazil and stuff. No steroid controversy for Jones either this time, thank god!

Round One and Jones stalks forward throwing some kicks from distance. Santos comes back with a couple of his own and they seem happy to fight from range here. Big low kick almost takes Jones off his feet. Leg kick answers back for Jones. They trade some more low kicks and Santos misses with a wheel kick too. Body kick is caught by Jones and he goes for a takedown. Santos blocks it and narrowly avoids a spinning elbow before landing another low kick. Santos is looking great so far. Big head kick glances for Jones. Wild punches miss for Santos but another low kick connects to the calf. Combination lands for Marreta and Jones’ mouthpiece goes flying, causing Herb Dean to call time to replace it. Kicks land for both men and then a couple of right hands connect for Marreta. Another counter combo glances for Santos as Jones tries an oblique kick. Spin kick glances for Jones and then he eats another low kick. Round ends with Jones missing a big spin kick. 10-9 Santos, surprisingly enough!

Round Two and Jones pushes forward, but as Santos throws a low kick his knee gives out. He swings some wild punches to force Jones back, then throws a body kick too, but his movement looks a little off. It looks like he might’ve recovered as Jones surprisingly doesn’t go for any offense himself, rather he just continues to look to close him down. Oblique kick to the body lands for Jones. Stiff jab follows but Santos comes back with a kick to the body. Big body kick lands for Jones to knock Santos down as it looks like his leg is definitely still hurt. Two minutes to go now and Jones narrowly misses a head kick. Left hand connects for Santos. Big combo glances for Santos as Jones does an excellent job of slipping. Head kick follows but Jones partially blocks it. Front kick to the body from Jones connects. Wheel kick misses for Santos and Jones slips a left hand too. Spin kicks miss for Jones too and that’s the round. 10-9 Jones to even things up.

Round Three and again, both men come out throwing kicks. Left head kick glances for Marreta but Jones takes it well. Good leg kick connects for the champ. Body kick partially lands for Santos, but as he circles out his knee wobbles again. He’s definitely injured which sucks a lot. Big combination suddenly lands for him though but Jones manages to absorb it. He comes right back with a step-in elbow that drops Santos for a second, and then looks to follow up as he stands. Flying knee glances for Jones and he grabs the clinch as he pops up before breaking off. Couple of big leg kicks land for Jones. Nice low kick answers back for Santos. Head kick sees him slip, but Jones can’t capitalise. Looks like Santos is bleeding from the head. Spin kick lands to the body for the champ. Head kick follows as he backs the challenger up. Front kick to the body lands hard for Jones. Head kick seems to wobble Santos and he might be in trouble here as Jones continues to snipe at him with his kicks. Couple of leg kicks fire back for Marreta. Big left hook misses for him and the round ends with a spinning elbow that glances for Jones. 10-9 Jones in a big round for him.

Round Four and Santos opens with a sharp low kick and a combo that outright has Jones on the run although it wasn’t clear whether the punches landed cleanly. Spinning back kick connects to the body for Jones. Wheel kick narrowly misses too. No idea why Jones hasn’t just decided to grapple with Marreta yet. Santos’s movement is clearly hampered by the knee injury. He keeps on throwing kicks, but he’s clearly struggling to cut his angles now. Big uppercut narrowly misses for Jones. Hard leg kick follows and Jones avoids Marreta’s counters too. Telegraphed spinning backfist misses for the champ. The pace has slowed down somewhat in this round now. Big flurry from Jones has Santos on the run for a second. Leg kick lands for Santos but clearly hurts him in the process, but Jones doesn’t really follow it up and the round ends shortly after. 10-9 Jones.

Round Five and Santos comes out strongly with a hard body kick. Big exchange sees Santos stun the champ with some power hooks but Jones’s chin is insane and he takes them well. Leg kick connects hard for Marreta. Jones is stalking him continually but not really throwing a lot. Left hook into a head kick and another left hook land for Santos but Jones again absorbs them. Body kick follows but Jones comes back with a leg kick. Side kick to the body connects for Jones. Santos’s leg again buckles and Jones kicks it, but Santos comes back with another. That causes his leg to buckle again, pretty badly this time. He keeps on firing kicks at Jones though, seemingly ignoring the issue. Left hook connects well for the challenger. He’s winning this round for sure. One minute to go and Santos rushes him with some more power punches, but again Jones eats them right up. Low kick sees Santos slip to the ground but he pops back up. Seconds to go now and Jones continues to advance. They circle out though and that’s the fight. 10-9 Santos but I’d call it 48-47 for Jones overall.

Official scores are 48-47 Santos (!), 48-47 Jones and 48-47 for Jon Jones to retain his title, just about. I guess the judge who had it for Santos gave him the second round which was a fair call to be honest, and I’m not sure Jones could’ve had many complaints had he lost here.

Really good fight overall then as Santos took the fight to Jones from the start with his low kicks, and who knows what could’ve happened had he not hurt his knee in the second? Not sure why Jones didn’t bother to go for any takedowns – post-fight he seems to suggest that he was happy to stand and strike – but if he’s content to keep fighting his opponents where they’re best, there’s every chance it catches up with him at some point in the future. This was definitely the closest he’s come to losing since the famous Gustafsson fight in 2013 so kudos to Santos who showed a lot more than I thought he had.

-Show ends with some highlights and discussion of the card and that’s all she wrote.

Final Thoughts….

This was a pretty awesome show, with all five fights delivering in spades and obviously the big highlights being the three ridiculous knockouts in the middle of the card. This was always built as a big show and like with the UFC’s other big shows this year, it was well worth the hype. Two thumbs up.

Best Fight: Masvidal vs. Askren
Worst Fight: None

Overall Rating: ****3/4

Until next time,

Scott Newman: