In front of 18,359 at the T-Mobile Arena, Jon Jones faced a larger threat to his championship than most expected heading into UFC 239 on Saturday night in the form of Thiago Santos.
The Brazilian fighter took Jones to the limit going five rounds with one card coming back in his favor.
The split decision was the first of Jones’ career with Junichiro Kamijo becoming the first judge to turn in a card against Jones.
Santos proved to more of a technical striker than Jones envisioned and battered the champion’s leg with inside kicks that led to Jones being helped backstage after the win. Throughout the fight, Santos had another opponent in his knee that buckled early and he fought through the impediment.
Jones struggled to figure out Santos in the first two rounds with the first being a clear round for Santos. The second and fifth rounds were the debated ones with three and four being for Jones. The fourth round saw Jones get aggressive with an elbow that cut Santos on the head and drew blood.
The fifth round featured Jones pressuring Santos and controlling the pace of the round with more volume but succumbing to several power shots from Santos. An argument could be made that Santos won the fight 48-47 but the majority saw Jones winning the fight, although it was a closer fight than most assumed heading in.
In the co-feature, Amanda Nunes stopped former champion Holly Holm to retain the bantamweight title. Late in the first round, Holm lifted her right leg and the opening was exploited by Nunes with a head kick that dropped the 37-year old. Nunes followed up with strikes as the bout was called off with Holm appearing distraught.
After her ninth consecutive win, Nunes stated she would like to defend her featherweight championship and speak with UFC president Dana White in the coming days.
There was minimal debate regarding Nunes being the consensus greatest female fighter of all-time before this fight and it was re-enforced with the win.
The most memorable fight of the evening came with a historical significance. Jorge Masvidal scored the fastest knockout in UFC history with five-seconds required before his fight with Ben Askren was called off. Masvidal came out with a thunderous flying knee while Askren was preparing to shoot in and was out before his limp body hit the mat. If anything, the fight was longer than it needed to as referee Jason Herzog sprinted in to separate Masvidal from his opponent.
This knockout will be one of the most replayed in history and will probably be the knockout of the year.
Luke Rockhold’s move up to the light heavyweight division was not met with a successful outcome. After attacking Jan Blachowicz with left kicks in the opening round, the Polish fighter came on strong at the end and then blasted Rockhold with a head kick after it appeared the horn has sounded. However, Herb Dean clarified that the kick was initiated before the horn and was legal.
After breaking from the clinch in Round 2, a left hand from Blachowicz dropped Rockhold and he ended the fight.
It was Rockhold’s third knockout in his last four outings while Blachowicz rebounded from a loss to Thiago Santos and has won five of his last six fights.
In the pay-per-view opener, Michael Chiesa dominated Diego Sanchez for three rounds and earned an easy unanimous decision. The move up in weight agreed with Chiesa, who controlled Sanchez at every turn with constant takedowns and positional control. To Sanchez’s credit, he escaped numerous submissions and never stopped grappling. Chiesa was too strong and always had a dominant position. The judges had it 30-26 across the board as Chiesa earns his first victory at welterweight.
In lieu of a Fight of the Night bonus, there was Performance of the Night bonuses handed out to Amanda Nunes, Jorge Masvidal, Jan Blachowicz, and Song Yadong.
*Jon Jones def. Thiago Santos by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47) to retain the UFC light heavyweight title
*Amanda Nunes def. Holly Holm by TKO at 4:10 of Round 1 to retain the UFC women’s bantamweight title
*Jorge Masvidal def. Ben Askren by KO at 0:05 of Round 1
*Jan Blachowicz def. Luke Rockhold by KO at 1:39 of Round 2
*Michael Chiesa def. Diego Sanchez by unanimous decision (30-26 all)
*Arnold Allen def. Gilbert Melendez by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
*Marlon Vera def. Nohelin Hernandez by rear-naked choke at 3:25 of Round 2
*Yadong Song def. Alejandro Perez by KO at 2:04 of Round 1
*Edmen Shahbazyan def. Jack Marshman by rear-naked choke at 1:12 of Round 1
*Chance Rencountre def. Ismail Naurdiev by unanimous decision (30-27, 29-27, 29-28)
*Julia Avila def. Pannie Kianzad by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)