After a quick detour to Chicago, the UFC big show returns home to Las Vegas for UFC 239. Light heavyweight Champion Jon Jones headlines, taking on Brazilian powerhouse Thiago Santos, and then champ-champ Amanda Nunes will meet Holly Holm. Rounding out an impressive card, Ben Askren goes up against Mr ‘Three Piece and Soda’ himself, Jorge Masvidal.
Jon Jones (C) vs Thiago Santos (2)
Will we discover that Jones has tested positive for turinabol in the lead-up to the fight? Probably. Will it mean anything? Probably not. It sometimes feels like Jones has poured so many performance enhancing drugs into his system that his blood is permanently tainted. This is clearly not the case, but it’s a metaphor for the cloud that will always hang over his career, no matter what he accomplishes. Jones is in fantastic shape at the moment, having put paid to Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Smith in his previous bouts with relative ease.
Thiago Santos is no joke, however. His most recent victory came against Jan Błachowicz, catching him with a stinging left that turned his lights out. Before that, an award-winning, back-and-forth slugfest with Jimi Manuwa during which enough bombs dropped to warrant a UN investigation. Despite his power and a black belt in BJJ, Santos is a serious underdog because he’s not great on the ground. Expect Jones not to fall into the trap of trying to trade with him and instead take Santos down as soon as possible. Unless Santos has been hiding his jiu-jitsu skills, expect an early Jones TKO victory.
Jon Jones to win – 1/9
Thiago Santos to win – 17/4
Amanda Nunes (C) vs Holly Holm (1)
Two giant-killers meet in the women’s bantamweight division. Having absolutely thrashed Cris Cyborg (one of the most dominant fighters in WMMA, full stop) on her way to winning the Women’s Lightweight title, Amanda Nunes proved how dangerous she could be. They were throwing hands straight from the bell, but Nunes, a huge underdog, was more accurate and more powerful. Once, twice, three times, she clipped Cyborg and wobbled her. The fourth time, Cyborg folded like a garden chair and that was that – the Queen was dead: long live the Queen.
Holly Holm knows just how that feels. When she knocked out Ronda Rousey in November 2015, it was of the greatest hype train derailments in MMA history. Let’s not forget, before Holm completely demolished her, people were talking about Rousey as if she was unbeatable by either man, beast or god. However, Holm’s reign proved to be short and forgettable as she immediately lost the title to Miesha Tate, and has won only two of her last six fights. The most recent of these was an unconvincing points victory over Megan Anderson. Unless Holm has a masterplan to neutralise Nunes’s power, she’s going down in Round 1.
Amanda Nunes to win – 1/4
Holly Holm to win – 12/5
Ben Askren (4) vs Jorge Masvidal (5)
Ben Askren made his long-awaited UFC debut in memorable fashion in March. His fight against Robbie Lawler was certainly eventful, with Askren getting dropped on his head and being subjected to Lawler’s patented ground and pound, and still not letting go of his man. He won the fight via stoppage, but Lawler’s immediate reaction suggested that maybe referee Herb Dean had gotten it wrong. Askren’s Twitter wind-up game is strong – whatever he said to Jorge Masvidal, it’s upset him a lot.
Masvidal was last seen at the O2 in London, surviving an early knock down and then going on to starch Darren Till. He was also involved in a backstage scuffle with Leon Edwards, his explanation for which led to the now infamous ‘three piece with soda’ comment. Askren has the slight betting edge due to his extraordinary wrestling skill and absurdly hard head, but Masvidal is a cagey, veteran fighter who is bound to have something in his arsenal to deal with Askren’s tenacity. It’s not likely to be pretty and he will take some knocks along the way, but expect Askren to grind out a submission victory.
Ben Askren to win – 5/12
Jorge Masvidal to win – 33/20
Rest of the Card
It’s been over a year since we saw Luke Rockhold fight in the UFC. He’s now taken a step up in weight to Light Heavyweight to meet Jan Błachowicz. Fan favourite/professional maniac Diego Sanchez takes on Michael Chiesa, and then on the preliminary card, Diego’s dance partner for one of the greatest fights of all time, Gilbert Melendez takes on English up-and-comer Alfie Allen in the lightweight division.
Watching UFC in the UK
It was announced in June that this, and several other upcoming UFC main events will not be broadcast as standard on BT Sport as they have been. Instead, they quietly announced that UFC 239 will be broadcast on BT Sport Box Office, making it a pay-per-view event costing £20. This has not gone down well with British fans who already have to wait until 3am before the main card even starts. While there are some big names on this card, the main event fights are likely to be very one-sided and consequently short, so many may decide to stay away. It remains to be seen whether BT will regret this decision.