Good morning, fight fans! Your usual keeper of the MMA Gradebook, Kevin Wilson, has the week off, but with International Fight Week capped off by a typically loaded Ultimate Fighting Championship offering from Las Vegas, your humble guest columnist steps in to pinch-hit.
This is another card that desperately needs the Gradebook, as Saturday’s card offered a stark mix of thrilling finishes and frankly dull one-sided beatdowns. Here are all 12 fights from UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos, rated for, as Mr. Wilson says, “competitiveness, showcase of skill and technique, finishes, and the story and heightened drama of the contest.” Whenever possible, I’ll rate the fights without spoiling the outcomes.
Veteran bantamweight Kianzad welcomes Invicta FC transplant Avila to the UFC. Charmingly, Avila’s nickname is “Raging Panda” and her declared style, back in the Invicta days, was “competitive snuggling.” Sadly, as introduced by Bruce Buffer, she’s just a “mixed martial artist” now. Equally sadly, the introduction was pretty much the most suspenseful part of the fight. A straightforward sweep in which the loser was game, but rightfully lost all three rounds. [2.0]
“The Austrian Wonderboy” Naurdiev takes on relative late bloomer Rencountre -- who debuted in the UFC at age 31 -- in a battle of rising welterweights. Even more so than the opener, this one was a straight-up wipeout. I’d say this: watch the first round and if you enjoy it, keep watching, because you’re going to get more of the same. [2.0]
Now we’re cooking with gas! The British paratrooper and the 21-year-old Dana White's Contender Series export meet in an effort to get onto the suddenly-crowded middleweight ladder. The winner here wipes out the loser in very short order; it’s the first of what will end up being four first-round finishes tonight, and a very impressive show of transition between phases of MMA. [3.25]
Same as with the Marshman-Shahbazyan fight, this bantamweight affair benefits from the simple fact that any fight that ends in less than a round is not asking for much of your time. Blistering finish that netted the winner a “Performance of the Night” bonus on an evening with no shortage of deserving candidates. [3.5]
This fight should have been better than it was. It promised more: former title challenger Gadelha, trying to show that her days of contention aren’t over, and Markos, looking to finally break through after alternating wins and losses (in generally entertaining fights) seemingly forever. Instead, this one was a bit of a dud. Competitive throughout, but a slow-paced affair that left me less excited for either woman’s next fight. [1.75]
Proof that a fight doesn’t have to be close in order to be enjoyable to watch, rising bantamweight star Vera stakes his three-fight win streak -- all by finish -- against Hernandez, a UFC newcomer who stepped up on two weeks’ notice. The winner ran game here, with an impressive workrate even by 135-pound standards, and a fantastic arsenal of offensive techniques on display. [3.5]
I cannot for the life of me understand why the UFC chose to close the prelims with this fight. They had to know how it would go, as former Strikeforce champ Melendez, once arguably the top lightweight in the sport, dragged a four-fight losing streak into the cage against Allen, a young and hungry fighter who had heard the final horn three times in his five previous UFC fights. The fight delivered exactly what it promised: a dismal, one-sided shellacking, with Melendez too tough to be finished and too shot to offer any hope of a comeback. [1.25]
The main card opens with what is, on paper, a less depressing version of Melendez vs. Allen, as Sanchez, while clearly not the fighter he was eight or 10 years ago, has had a minor career resurgence in the last year. Unfortunately, he was booked to face Chiesa, who had been a top-10 lightweight right up until he decided to move to 170 and announced his presence with a dominant performance against Carlos Condit in December. Would “The Nightmare” continue his unlikely run, or would “Maverick” continue to rise towards contention in his new division? The fight was one-sided and only became more so as the rounds went on, but you never felt the loser was completely out of it until the final half a round or so. [2.25]
This fight promised to answer some pressing questions about Rockhold: Would the move to light heavyweight solve the problems that had seen the former champ hit a ceiling at 185, namely a suspect chin and gas tank, or would it only expose that chin to even bigger hitters, while diminishing the size advantage he once enjoyed? Blachowicz, as a solid top-10 205-pounder and very much a known quantity in the division, seemed the perfect test. This fight was competitive right up until it wasn’t, and it ended up with yet one more losing fighter knocked stiff on a night full of nasty finishes. [3.5]
I imagine this fight has been spoiled for you already. If it hasn’t, I want you to close your Twitter and Facebook tabs immediately and go watch it. Of all the fights you have ever heard described as “don’t blink” affairs, this is the one that most deserves it. It’s one of the most brutal finishes in the history of the sport, and gets my vote as the all-time greatest example of the specific technique on display. Yowsers. [4.0]
This was a high-stakes affair for both women for different reasons. Two-division champ Nunes was looking to lodge her first defense of the bantamweight belt since adding the featherweight strap to her mantel, extending her greatest-of-all-time résumé in the process, while former champ Holm wanted to prove there was still plenty of life in her at age 37 and with a new six-fight contract in hand. Going in, the fight felt closer and more tense than the long odds would seem to indicate, probably due in part to the indelible image of Holm knocking out Ronda Rousey in one of the biggest upsets in MMA history; it’s hard to count someone out completely after that. The fight was a cracking affair for as long as it lasted, and the finish was emphatic -- it would have been the knockout of the night on just about any other night. We can't help it if the display graphic spoils this one just a bit, but just know the whole thing is worth your time. [3.5]
When you have a fighter like Jones, who has yet to suffer a true in-cage defeat, there are really only two ways to make his fights interesting. Either he must do spectacular things to his opponents, or the audience has to believe that the opponent has a chance to catch him, hurt him and perhaps finish him. It’s the reason his fight with Anthony Smith was so dull; it became apparent very early on that Smith had nothing for him, and Jones was content to chip away at him without overextending himself. I won’t spoil the ending of this one, but I will say this: Santos had me believing he could catch, hurt and perhaps finish Jones, more so than anyone since Alexander Gustafsson in their first meeting, and maybe even more than Gustafsson. There’s some dissension among fans in the wake of this fight, but it was pretty riveting viewing. It’s definitely the most exciting Jones fight since UFC 165. [3.75]