There was plenty of hype leading into UFC 239 given that it was headlined by the top two fighters in the organization who just happen to also be in the conversation as far as being heralded as the greatest of all time in Jon Jones and Amanda Nunes.
The 18,358 who gathered at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and the millions who watched the event live around the world were definitely not disappointed.
The main card kicked off with the ageless wonder Diego Sanchez facing Michael Chiesa. With the partisan crowd cheering and egging Sanchez on, Chiesa controlled and dominated the contest from the ground with his grappling and jiu-jitsu.
Despite the 37-year-old Sanchez’s determination and will to survive and withstand Chiesa’s superior grappling, there were no magic tricks up his sleeve this time around as all three judges had the fight 30-26. The crowd still appreciated his efforts, however, as reflected by the loud cheers each time Sanchez broke free from a submission or attempted to reverse things around against the 31-year-old Chiesa amidst the occasional cheers of “Diego! Diego!”.
The second fight on the card featured former middleweight champ Luke Rockhold going up against Jan Blachowicz in his first fight at light heavyweight.
Although Rockhold had some encouraging moments in the first round, the fight was almost stopped seconds before the end of the first round after Blachowicz appeared to have dropped him with a left hook just moments before the bell.
Blachowicz would land another combo in the second round and drop Rockhold for good with another left hook as Herb Dean rushed in to stop the contest at the 1:39 mark.
Next up was the highly-anticipated welterweight clash between Jorge Masdival and Ben Askren who had been trading insults and barbs several weeks leading into fight night.
Masvidal promised a long and painful night for Askren, but could only live up to half of it as he sprinted across the cage and landed a flying right knee that caught Askren flush on the jaw as he shot in for a takedown attempt. Five seconds was all it took, and with that, Masvidal cemented himself and Askren in the record books with the fastest knockout in UFC history.
In the co-main event of the night which featured the two women who destroyed Ronda Rousey’s UFC career, Amanda Nunes further solidified her claim as greatest female fighter in UFC history with a perfectly-timed kick to the head that knocked out former world boxing champ and UFC bantamweight champ Holly Holm at 4:10 of the first round.
The UFC women’s bantamweight and featherweight champion was all smiles throughout the short-lived fight as if waiting for the right time to hand Holm her devastating surprise shot. Holm looked stiff and hesitant and simply wasn’t able to loosen up before eating Nunes’ surgically-precise right kick that sent her crashing to the mat.
“A lot of people kept telling me that I’m the greatest and they send me letters and tell me that when I sign autographs and I have to believe that now,” Nunes said after the win. “They believe I’m the greatest and I have to believe that too. I am the greatest. Look at what I’ve done. I deserve everything that has happened in my life.”
With retirement talks circling around her prior to facing Holm, Nunes quashed those rumors, at least for the time being, when she mentioned her desire to defend her 145 belt after the contest.
“This feels amazing. People say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but this belt is going home with me. During my warmup, I knew I was going to get her. I told my coaches I wanted to knock her out the same way she knocks people out. I did it tonight. She was the only former champion I didn’t beat yet. Now, I beat her and I’m very happy,” Nunes told the crowd.
“I definitely want to defend my 145 pound belt next.”
Finally in the main event, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones got more than he bargained for against Thiago Santos, who almost squeezed out the upset, but ultimately went home empty-handed as the judges scored the fight 48-47 for Jones twice, while the third had it 48-47 for Santos.
The Muay Thai black belt from Brazil had success in chopping down Jones’ legs throughout the contest with his leg kicks, which ultimately led to the champ having to be carried away after the fight.
“He was just technically a lot more sound than I thought,” Jones said. “He’s a black belt in muay Thai and I stood and fought with a guy who has been kickboxing way longer than me.”
It was the longest fight of the night, but was also the least exciting as the blood-thirsty crowd, spoiled by the previous bouts’ outcomes, peppered Jones and Santos with boos when action stagnated as both men went about their psychological chess match inside the octagon. Jones opted to play it safe and calculated even when Silva appeared to have hurt his right leg in the first round.
“I was winning so there was no need to go for a shot,” Jones said. “We were playing a very high-level game of chess in there. Any time you out-kickbox a black belt in muay Thai, you shouldn’t hold your head down.”
Jones escaped by the narrowest of margins, and if it weren’t for the apparent leg injury to Silva, the challenger could’ve snuck out the upset decision win.
“We all knew Thiago’s best chance was to knock me out,” Jones said. “I played it smart.”
Jones lives to fight another day, but not without a scare. And definitely not without a few leg bruises and lumps as Silva connected on several blows and did as well as anyone has against Jones in five full rounds.