Jon Jones faced one of the toughest opponents of his career, and the UFC 239 main event was decided by a split decision despite an injury to Thiago Santos.
Jon Jones might just be the greatest fighter of all time. For all intents and purposes, “Bones” is undefeated through 26 fights. His one loss was a disqualification in a bout he was dominating through-and-through. You could even make the argument that Jones has only been truly challenged once in his career and that was in his first fight against Alexander Gustafsson. In total, Jones has nine defenses of his UFC light heavyweight title.
Thiago Santos is a bonafide knockout artist with 12 of his 14 UFC wins coming by KO/TKO. Since moving up to light heavyweight, the Brazilian powerhouse has four-straight wins, knocking out his last three opponents, including Jan Blachowicz.
Jon Jones started the fight with his signature crawl, then landed a front kick to the body of Thiago Santos. Santos landed a beautiful leg kick that took Jones’ balance away briefly. Jones controlled the center of the Octagon as Santos worked on a kick-first attack. The Brazilian mixed up body kicks with calf kicks and looked to accumulate damage on Jones. Jones went for a takedown, but Santos stayed standing and narrowly avoided a brutal spinning elbow from Jones. Santos landed a two-punch combo that knocked the mouthpiece out of Jones’ mouth. After a brief pause in action, Santos landed a superman punch that connected cleanly. Overall a solid first round for the challenger.
Santos came out with a leg kick in the second round, but looked to be hurt a bit after Jones checked it. Jones came forward and Santos fired back with everything he had, but couldn’t connect cleanly. Santos had a misstep and fell backward into the cage unprovoked, then was met with a body kick by Jones that knocked him over. Santos popped back up and got back to work. For an injured fighter, Santos was still throwing bombs and connected well with a head kick and a solid combination. Jones was still as composed as ever, and ended the round throwing a pair of spinning kicks.
Santos still was aggressive in the third round despite the injury, throwing a spin kick early on. Jones stepped up his aggressiveness in the middle round of the fight, throwing a flying knee at Santos after knocking him down with an elbow and pushing forward more often. Santos had one solid combination land, but he was obviously comprised by this injury. Jones also landed a beautiful head kick in the round.
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Santos came out with aggression again in the fourth, landing a slick combination marked by a long left hand. This round was a touch more conservative for both fighters, with Santos hurt and Jones not looking for a finish. The crowd was getting a touch restless, as Jones continued to control the Octagon and Santos’ bursts were fewer and farther between
Santos landed a hard body kick to start the final round. “Marreta” threw heavy punches and connected with a few, but Jones did not waver. The knee injury began to catch up to Santos, as he was having a harder time staying steady on his feet. Jones wasn’t exactly pushing the pace, but was doing enough to keep the aggressive Santos at bay. Santos couldn’t get the big punch but made it close with his bursting combinations.
Jon Jones apologized to the crowd for the fight, but it was an incredibly interesting affair. A rematch with a healthy Thiago Santos would surely be welcomed in the future. Jones wasn’t in great shape himself, as he couldn’t put pressure on his left leg, which was damaged by several leg kicks.
Jon Jones def. Thiago Santos by Split Decision (48-47 x2, 47-48)