UFC 239: Analysis and Predictions

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Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos

Light Heavyweight Title Bout

Jon Jones (24-1) (-650) (Champion)

Thiago Santos (21-6) (+475) (#2 Ranked)

The light heavyweight division has been shallow for a very long time, but it looks like we might finally be starting to turn a corner.  There are a lot of young prospects on the rise, and while Thiago Santos shouldn’t be confused with an elite prospect, he has certainly shown himself to be very a dangerous opponent.

What makes this fight interesting is that Santos is both a power striker and a fighter who is willing to put himself in a lot of danger to land shots.  This gives him a punchers chance against pretty much anyone.  He’s also a pretty smart fighter ( by brawler standards at least ) and he’s a guy that tends to at least show a bit of restraint in his brawling.  I’m really excited to see this style in the ring against Jon Jones

It has been a long time since Jon Jones has fought a brawler like this and while he certainly has the tools to deal with Santos, it’s going to be interesting to see how effectively he uses them.  Certainly he needs to back up, stay at range, and use his length and kicks to slow Santos down in the first round or two.  However, I’m really curious to see how effective he is at fighting while backing up.  This is something we haven’t seen Jones do a lot, and may present some weaknesses.  The big question in my mind is whether or not Jon Jones will get lured into a brawl.  He has shown a tendency in the past to want to fight opponents at their strength, and if he decides to slug it out with Santos this fight could really be up for grabs.

I give Santos a puncher chance here, but I think this fight will ultimately play out the way most people expect it to.  Jones backs up and lands jabs and kicks at range through the first couple of rounds while Santos swings at air and gets tired.  Jones finishes the job somewhere in the 3rd.

 Jones by 3rd Round TKO

 

Amanda Nunes (17-4) vs Holly Holm (12-4)

Bantamweight Title Bout

Amanda Nunes (17-4) (-380) (Champion)

Holly Holm (12-4) (+315) (#2 Ranked)

On paper this might seem like an easy fight for Amanda Nunes.  Holly Holm has been up and down her last few fights, with her only wins coming against lesser competition.  Meanwhile, Amanda Nunes has notched huge wins over Chris Cyborg and Valentina Shevchenko.  However, those who have followed Holm for the last several years know she is a far more talented fighter than her record shows.

Much like the Jones / Santos main event, this is fight is another very interesting stylistic matchup.  Holly Holm is a high level counter striker.  She went the distance with Chris Cyborg because of how good she is at this.  Interestingly, the one fighter who came the closest to defeating Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko is also a counter striker.  Nunes has to be careful in this fight, if she attempts to blitz Holm the way she did Cyborg, it could cost her in a big way.

All of that being said, Nunes has shown herself to be an intelligent fighter, and I think most likely she will fight a smart fight against Holm and this will turn into a defensive point fight.  Unfortunately the means that his may be a slow outing that doesn’t earn either fighter many fans.  I expect a lengthy feeling out process followed by a striking match that happens mostly on the outside.  Nunes will ultimately land more clean shots en route to a rather slow decision.

 Nunes by Unanimous Decision

 

 Jorge Masvidal (33-13)  vs Ben Askren (19-0)

Middleweight Bout

Jorge Masvidal (33-13) (+180) (#4 Ranked)

Ben Askren (19-0) (-220) (#5 Ranked)

To me this is one of the hardest to predict fights on the card.  Both of these fighters have been in the game a really long time, but they’ve fought in separate organizations their whole career, with no shared opponents.  Add to that the fact that Masvidal is coming off a career defining KO victory over Darren Till, and Ben Askren is coming off a stunning comeback win in his UFC debut, and you have a fight that’s incredibly hard to predict.

The one thing we know for certain is what both fighters strategies will be coming into this fight.  Ben Askren will do everything in his power to get this fight to the ground, and Masvidal will do everything in his power to keep it standing.  Masvidal is a well rounded fighter, but Askren is about as unbalanced as you can get: he’s one of the best wrestlers in MMA, but a mediocre striker.  So the ultimate question is how much success will Ben Askren have getting this fight to the ground?

It’s really hard for me to bet on fighters who depend on a single aspect of MMA to win fights, regardless of how dominant they are in that skill set.  It feels like it’s just a matter of time before the division figures out a counter strategy; you simply can’t be one dimensional in MMA.  I’m betting the Masvidal is spending every day and night between now and early July drilling his takedown defense against top wrestlers, knowing that’s the only way he can lose.

Masvidal will get taken down a few times in the 1st round, but Askren will have slowed substantially in the second and the takedowns won’t come as easy.  After a few failed attempts, Askren will start to get lit up on the feet.  After that it will be a slow steady decline.

 Masvidal by TKO in Round 2

 

 Jan Blachowicz (23-8) vs Luke Rockhold (16-4)

 Light Heavyweight Bout

Jan Blachowicz (23-8) (+190) (#6 Ranked)

Luke Rockhold (16-4) (-230) (#3 Ranked MIddleweight)

This is another intriguing and difficult to predict matchup.  Luke Rockhold makes his light heavyweight debut against longtime division journeyman Jan Blachowicz.  Jan is a solid fighter at 205 with a well rounded game, and a particular dangerous submission arsenal.  Jan has been in and out of the top 5 lately but I think that’s mostly a reflection of how shallow the division is more than anything.  He tends to struggle against the top of the division, but is game against everyone else.

Rockhold for his part has had some rough recent outings at 185.  Getting Koed by Yoel Romero and Michael Bisping in his last 3 fights.  He’s still an elite fighter, but I’m really not sure what to think of him at 205.  He was already a massive middleweight so the weight class change makes sense, but he was also a guy who has chin problems in recent fights and there are a lot of power strikers at 205.

This is a tough call, but I think Rockhold’s speed advantage is what will ultimately win him this fight.  I believe he is going to touch up Jan on the feet pretty readily, and I believe he will do a good job of staying out of range of the power strikes.  I don’t believe Jan’s grappling will be a factor in this match as Rockhold has shown himself to be a talented enough grappler to neutralize that threat.

Expect Rockhold to be cautious at first, but then start to land big late in the first as he starts to figure out the timing on Blachowicz.  Power will start landing in the 2nd and that will be the end.

 Rockhold by 2nd Round TKO