It’s been almost a year since I’ve done a UFC event preview blog. We are now halfway through 2019 – which will be remembered in MMA history as the start of the UFC & ESPN partnership – and quickly coming up on what is shaping up to be the biggest card of the year so far, assuming all the fighters make it to the opening bell without suffering injuries, failing USADA tests, or any other mishaps.
As UFC 239 approaches, the odds for the two champions on the card, Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes, are getting longer. Jones opened as roughly a -900 favorite against the aging Thiago Santos, but is now closer to -650. Nunes’ dip is less pronounced, going from about -375 to -330 in her bout with dangerous striker Holly Holm. Once fight night rolls round and you want to know a trusted source based on first-hand experiences for UFC betting, look no further than my top sportsbooks lists of sites which are given ratings from users and editors.
The appetizer to the main events, Ben Askren, has seen his odds improve. Initially a -215 favorite against Jorge Masvidal, Askren’s been bet up to -350. Bettors likely see Masvidal, who was taken down four times by Demian Maia, having a huge problem staying off the mat against Askren’s Olympic-level wrestling.
With all that in mind, here is a brief preview of the UFC 239 main card:
While Jon ‘Bones’ Jones is unarguably one of, if not the greatest fighter in the history of the sport, he is just as unarguably one of the most controversial. Whatever trouble Jones manages to get himself into seems to always roll off him like water off a duck’s back – whether it be PED failures, lawsuits or running afoul of the law, he comes out of every scandal virtually unscathed – only to soon become entangled again in a new set of shenanigans. While his troubles have not been an overall significant detriment to his career, they forced him to take an occasional break from action. Because of this Jones has only fought once a year dating back to 2014. This trend has now been turned around, as he will be defending his title for the second time this year and taking his third fight overall in seven months since regaining the title in a rematch with Alexander Gustaffson at the end of 2018.
Jon’s slated opponent Thiago “Marreta” Santos, much like his previous opponent Anthony Smith, started out his UFC career as a middleweight and had a somewhat spotty record prior to moving up to 205 lbs and winning three in a row before getting a shot at Jones. There, the similarities end. While Anthony Smith is a well rounded fighter who is equally adept at taking his opponents out with strikes as he is at making them tap out, the Brazilian Hammer Santos focuses almost exclusively on destroying his opposition with a wide array of strikes thrown with the most damaging intentions. And while Smith was very passive and almost timid in his fight with Jones, which allowed Jon to effectively neutralize Anthony and cruise to a one-sided decision, I don’t feel that Santos will change his ultra-aggressive style for anyone. Unfortunately for Thiago, his aggression may very well play right into Jon’s hand. Marreta’s path to victory is clear: throw everything including the kitchen sink at Bones in hopes of dealing concussive damage. The longer this fight goes on, the less likely are the odds that Santos lands a knockout strike. And I just can’t pick someone whose best chance is a striker’s chance, to beat Jon Jones. Nor have I seen the type of takedown defense or ground skill from Santos that would allow him to survive until the final bell without Bones choking him out or destroying his face with brutal elbows from the top position as he’s done to many of his past opponents.
The real burning question headed into this fight is how many picograms of Turinabol will show up in Jon’s bloodstream this time around. I wonder if there are any sportsbooks taking prop bets on this action.
Prediction: Jon Jones by submission or TKO (ground and pound).
In her last Octagon outing, women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes moved up to 145 lbs to challenge the seemingly unbeatable Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Justino for the featherweight title. Nunes shocked the world, knocking out Cyborg in just 51 second to become the first double champion in the history of WMMA. Nunes is quickly climbing the Women’s All-Time Rankings, where she currently sits at #3 – behind the aforementioned Cris Cyborg at #1 and Ronda Rousey at #2. Since Nunes holds knockout victories over both Justino and Rousey, it should not be long before she surpasses them and reaches the accolades of the greatest female MMA fighter of all time – should she continue in her winning ways.
The future of women’s featherweight division in the UFC is still rather muddy, so for the time being Nunes will drop back down to 135 lbs to defend her bantamweight title against another former champion, Holly Holm. Holm comes from an extensive boxing and kickboxing background, but has not found quite as much success in the MMA world. While she will always be remembered for handing Ronda Rousey her first loss, Holly has not been very consistent in her UFC career. She looked lackluster in her first two UFC bouts, was not able to successfully defend the title, and lost three in a row immediately following the Rousey fight. Despite this she received another two shots at the nascent featherweight title, coming up short in decision losses to Germaine de Randamie and Cyborg. After defeating Megan Anderson in another decision, Holm is set to receive her third title shot in the last five fights. At 37 years old, Holm is 6 years older than her opponent. She is also less experienced in MMA than Nunes; however if consider boxing, Holly has been involved in professional combat sports since 2002. While Holm hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down, at some point all these years of sparring and fighting will inevitably add up. Holm would have to catch lighting in a bottle again like she did with Rousey; this is a possibility but overall Nunes looked like a much better fighter than Holm in recent years. I believe this one will go the distance.
Prediction: Amanda Nunes by decision
In a bout that will likely determine who gets the next shot at the welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, we have two 34-year old fighters who are seemingly coming into peak form late in their careers. Though they are the same age, Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal has been competing in professional MMA for six years longer than Askren – not to mention his experience in bare-knuckle backyard fights under the umbrage of the late Kimbo Slice. Jorge has had a long, winding MMA career, alternating between lightweight and welterweight divisions and fighting in just about every major MMA promotion you could think of, before finally ending up in the UFC. Sixteen Octagon appearance later, Masvidal is in line for a top contender bout after an impressive knockout of Darren Till – despite losing decisions to Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia in his two previous fights.
Undefeated Ben “Funky” Askren has long been lauded by some MMA fans as the uncrowned king of the welterweight division after George St. Pierre’s retirement. While Masvidal was fighting in Florida backyards, Askren was winning NCAA championships and setting collegiate wrestling records. When Masvidal was fighting in the now defunct Sengoku promotion in Japan, Askren was competing in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Once Askren transitioned from competitive wrestling into MMA, he was quickly signed by Bellator where he eventually won the welterweight title, and successfully defended it four times. Despite being a champion with a 9-0 record in the promotion, Bellator decided not to renew Askren’s contract when it expired; this led Ben to One FC where he went 6-0 (1 NC) then retired from MMA – making his comeback this year when UFC finally decided to make him an offer. Quality of competition has been a major criticism of Askren’s MMA career. Facing and defeating former champion Robbie Lawler in his Octagon debut has somewhat quieted the critics, however the fight was marred with controversy due to the nature of the stoppage by the referee Herb Dean.
This is a classic striker-vs-grappler matchup the likes of which we rarely see in modern MMA. The outcome of the fight largely depends on whether Masvidal will be able to keep the fight standing for three rounds (or land a knockout blow sooner). If I were a gambler, I would bet that he can’t – and will be taken down and dominated by Askren from bell to bell.
Prediction: Ben Askren by decision
This is a rather difficult fight to predict. Jan Blachowicz is a well-rounded but very inconsistent fighter, who has a hard time putting away high-level opponents. Luke Rockhold shows flashes of brilliance but seems to be somewhat of a glass cannon. He is also moving up a division, has not fought since February 2018, and was brutally knocked out by Yoel Romero in his last fight. But… he is fighting Jan Blachowicz, and from everything I’ve seen of both men, the best version of Rockhold is far superior to the best version of Blachowicz. Too many unknown variables here, and I’m not at all confident in my pick, but what the hell… not like I have to put my money where my mouth is!
Prediction: Luke Rockhold by TKO
Unlike Rockhold/Blachowicz, this is a fairly easy fight to predict, though I am having a hard time envisioning how exactly it will play out. Diego Sanchez, whose claim to fame is being the only fighter from Season 1 of ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ who is still actively competing in MMA, is coming off a two-win streak for the first time since 2011. Michael Chiesa recently made a successful welterweight debut with a second round submission of another veteran Carlos Condit. The majority of Chiesa’s wins have come by the way of submission, while Sanchez has never been submitted. Sanchez has been looking chinny of late, but Chiesa does not have a single KO or even TKO win on his record. On top of all that, Sanchez recently switched training camps, away from his on-and-off-again home of Jackson-Wink MMA. So yeah, lots of variables here as well. But all that said, I don’t see Diego Sanchez getting a win over a halfway decent opponent in 2019, and while Chiesa might not be elite, he is at least halfway decent.
Prediction: Michael Chiesa by decision