What’s Next for the Winners at UFC 239?
By Ben Jessop
The UFC once again took over the T-Mobile arena in Las Vegas to showcase their biggest card of the year. UFC 239 was stacked from early pre-lims to the main event and it did not disappoint. Whether it was the impressive UFC debut of Nohelin Hernandez who albeit lost to Marlon Vera, the rising English star in Arnold Allen taking down a UFC veteran in Gilbert Melendez or the three KO’s in a row throughout the main card, there is no way that any fan can say UFC239 disappointed.
In this article I will work through the main card and have a look at what could be next for the winners.
Diego Sanchez vs Michael Chiesa
The main card kicked off with a welterweight bout between Michael Chiesa and UFC Hall of Famer Diego Sanchez. Despite the UFC awarding Sanchez with his HOF award that weekend, the celebrations did not continue once he got into the octagon. Really, from start to finish Chiesa dominated. The size difference between Chiesa and Sanchez was really apparent, Chiesa didn’t take any time to take down Sanchez and held him there until the final bell called. Sanchez didn’t give up though but in the mix of Chiesa’s incredibly fluent transitions and the difference in size, Sanchez just didn’t have any options to change the way the fight was going.
Chiesa has already stated that he won’t accept anything less than a top ten opponent next, and after this performance it is hard to argue. He would be leap frogging a lot of people to get that slot, the likes of Leon Edwards, Demian Maia, Neil Magny etc. A couple of names jump right out to me, you could argue Robbie Lawler after his controversial loss to Ben Askren or perhaps Stephen Thompson who’s on a two fight skid after suffering losses from Darren Till and Anthony Pettis. For me, personally, Stephen Thompson is the man to take on Chiesa. He’s in desperate need of a win and Chiesa will be looking to add another big name to his win column before he has any chance of getting near that incredibly tightly stacked top five.
Jan Blachowicz vs Luke Rockhold
Luke Rockhold made his debut at light heavyweight this weekend against powerhouse Jan Blachowicz. Despite Rockhold being extremely confident with his weight and performance at this new weight class, it was proved to be quite overwhelming with Blachowicz dictating the fight from the start. The start of the second round became all too much and a minute and a half into the round, Blachowicz landed an absolute bomb that basically shut Rockhold out completely, but nothing one more punch wouldn’t cement as a KO victory.
With the light heavyweight guarded by Jon Jones at the very top of the pile, the top five are all scrambling for their chance at the title shot and with Blachowicz currently sat at #6, he’ll be joining in the madness to get his shot at Jones, though I’m not quite sure he’ll be next to get his turn. Alexander Gustafsson has seemingly retired after his last loss against Anthony Smith, Thiago Santos is severely injured after his bout this weekend against Jones. Ranked #1 is Daniel Cormier who is tied up with a rematch against Stipe Miocic so the only option for Jan Blachowicz at this point is newly top five ranked Dominic Reyes. Reyes will be looking to continue his unbeaten UFC record after his win against Volkan Oezdemir back in March of 2019. A win for either man cements them with an opportunity to be knocking at Jon Jones’ door in the bid for get that gold.
Jorge Masvidal vs Ben Askren
Well, I’m pretty sure everyone reading this knows exactly how this one played out. A new record in the UFC for the fastest knockout. After a big, long and aggressive build up with Ben Askren taking digs at Masvidal for weeks about how he was going to take him to the ground and beat him up for three rounds, and the same came the other way from Masvidal to Askren. But the night was to be Masvidal’s, and as soon as the bell tolled Masvidal contemplated Askren’s immediate takedown attempt and launched a flying knee that landed flush on the side of the head of Askren, knocking him unconscious immediately. Jorge created some controversy by landing two monster strikes even though Askren was unconscious and stiff in the legs from the flying knee. Some people saw them as unnecessary and willingly dangerous to an opponent that could not defend – something Masvidal has disputed in his post-fight pressers.
Masvidal is calling for his chance at the title, having caused an enormous noise within the division, first with his knockout earlier this year against Darren Till in London and now this unbelievable KO of the new UFC golden boy in five seconds. It is hard to argue the logic and I think Masvidal now holds all of the cards and should hold out until he’s offered the title shot but Dana White has mentioned he’s not even going to talk about whose next for the shot whilst Usman is still not cleared to fight. It will be interesting to see how the welterweight division plays out over the coming months.
Amanda Nunes vs Holly Holm
The co-main event was a championship bout between undisputed female GOAT Amanda Nunes and contender Holly Holm.
The fight didn’t make it out round one. Holly looked good, having good movement and landing a few strikes to Nunes. But in the grand scheme of things, it was only a drop in the ocean as Nunes piled on the pressure before landing a monstrous head kick to KO Holm. It was the ending most people had predicted, although not many thought it would come in the form of a head kick. Double champ Amanda Nunes has really just cleaned out two entire UFC divisions and taken on every contender so when looking at what’s next for her, it’s difficult to pick a fight that makes sense.
Realistically, there is only one fight that offers Nunes enough to consider putting everything back on the line from her dominant position and that’s a rematch between Cris Cyborg who was widely regarded as the female GOAT before Amanda Nunes took a steamroller to the UFC’s roster.
It will be down to Dana and the UFC to try and make this fight, and it will be at Nunes’ beck and call because unless she’s content, two whole divisions are stuck in the mud.
Jon Jones vs Thiago Santos
UFC 239 was headlined by a second championship bout, this time at light heavyweight where we saw contender Thiago Santos take on seemingly unstoppable Jon Jones for the title.
The fight was somewhat underwhelming, both fighters had a strict game plan that they stuck to. Jones knew he couldn’t engage in a firefight with Santos – it’s one punch and the game is over if he connects.
The fight mainly consisted of intense flurries of leg kicks, which left Jones having to leave the arena via wheelchair. Santos occasionally decided to go hell for leather but Jones’ expert distance control kept him just outside of range. Midway through the fight, Santos suffered an injury to his knee which left him unable to place any large amount of pressure onto it but this did not dissuade him. Even with a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus, Santos continued to throw leg kicks and absorb them in between switching stances. In the end, Jones was victorious via split decision and it was by far the closest contest he’s had whilst retaining his title.
Some people are calling for Jones to face Blachowicz next, but I don’t see that happening. The issue that holds up Jones is the inevitability of the UFC trying to make the trilogy of Jones vs Cormier. Although Cormier faces Stipe Miocic this August I believe the outcome of this fight determines Jones’ path. It’s hard to call what’s next for him, but whoever it is, it’s bound to be a big one.