At UFC 239 on July 6 from the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas (which you can watch on ESPN+), light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will face off against Thiago Santos and bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will look to cement her legacy in a co-main event tilt with Holly Holm. Elsewhere on the main card, the highly-touted Ben Askren eyes a future title shot if he can get past the heavy-handed welterweight Jorge Masvidal. Before the fighters make their way to the Octagon, we’re here to preview the biggest matches and best stories on the UFC 239 card.
Thiago Santos Wants to Make Jon Jones Suffer
For the last 11 years, Jon Jones has conquered every challenger in his path. Approaching his second title defense since winning back the light heavyweight crown, the champion’s gameplan is relatively simple: react and adapt. Jones has been nimble over his UFC tenure, whether he’s striking with precision, working on the ground for a submission or simply wearing his opposition down to a decision victory. So what makes Thiago Santos different than the rest? Santos hopes it’ll be by making Jones “suffer everywhere.”
“We have never seen him with his back against the ground – better yet, with his back to the ground and a hand landing heavily,” Santos said, per MMA Junkie. “That’s something we haven’t seen, how he reacts to a powerful ground-and-pound from the top.”
Santos is powerful and can land devastating strikes regardless of if he’s on his feet or dropping to the floor for ground-and-pound. For the underdog challenger, the latter appears to be his preferred route. But as challengers before him have shown, getting Jones to the ground can be a challenge in its own right.
Can Holly Holm Shock the World…Again?
Five years removed from the biggest upset in UFC history, Holly Holm is tasked with yet again knocking off a seemingly unbeatable champion. This time, Holm heads into the title fight a year removed since her last bout and coming off a minor knee procedure to clean up an injured meniscus.
Despite winning just two of her last six fights, the 37-year-old former champ has all the tools to withstand Amanda Nunes’ fast-paced attack. Holm is a former 18-time boxing champion and prefers to keep the fight on her feet. She withstood Cris Cyborg’s sweltering pressure to send her December 2017 bout to the judges, and there’s no question she’ll enact a similar strategy against Nunes with what she hopes is a different result.
Nunes has shown she’s a different animal though. Matching her hand speed with such precision and strength is remarkable. Nunes needed less than two minutes to knock out the two most dominant women fighters ever: Ronda Rousey and Cyborg. If she’s able to run through Holm, Nunes will have staked her claim to the best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC history.
Ben Askren Looks to Skip the Line
Just two fights into his UFC tenure, Ben Askren is already eyeing a title shot in the packed welterweight division. After submitting Robbie Lawler in controversial fashion, Askren has reason to believe a win over Jorge Masvidal will earn him the next title shot against Kamaru Usman.
“They’re going to wait and see what happens in my fight, and if my fight goes well, and I cut a mean promo, my fight with Marty makes a whole lot more sense than Colby vs. Marty,” Askren told MMA Junkie.
Askren is a polished wrestler, looking early and often for takedowns. He can change levels at a moments notice and can battle through stuffed takedowns to maintain control with the body lock. On the ground, Askren is relentless, looking for submission opportunities or simply ending the fight through ground-and-pound.
Masvidal can be a challenge to take down, though, and he’ll try to halt Askren’s efforts by backing against the cage and offering to fight from the clinch. If Masvidal hopes to stop his unbeaten opponent, he’ll need to keep Askren at arm’s length, using his 2-inch reach advantage to jab away with his spectacular striking. Coming off one of the biggest wins in his career, with a knockout of Darren Till, Masvidal enters UFC 239 with a puncher’s chance.
UFC prelims will be shown live on ESPN at 8 p.m. ET with the main card available on ESPN+ starting at 10 p.m. ET.
Get UFC 239 and 1 year of ESPN+ for only $79.99. Buy now.