Time will tell whether or not it was a trend or an anomaly, but Jon Jones looked mortal for 25 minutes.
The polarizing Jackson-Wink MMA superstar successfully defended his Ultimate Fighting Championship light heavyweight crown in the UFC 239 main event, where he escaped with a split decision over Thiago Santos on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. All three judges scored it 48-47: Michael Bell and Derek Cleary for Jones, Junichiro Kamijo for Santos.
Jones seemed content to play with fire on the feet -- he whiffed on his only takedown attempt -- and though he was the advancing party for much of the match, he was less active in terms of output. According to preliminary FightMetric figures, Santos nearly doubled the champion in attempted strikes (166-90) but landed 16 fewer. Statistically, Jones did his best work in the third and fifth rounds, as he controlled range, picked his spots and connected at an efficient 75-percent clip.
In the aftermath of UFC 239 “Jones vs. Santos,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Jon Jones vs. A Top 10 Heavyweight: The 205-pound weight class has been a moneymaker for Jones, but it has nothing left to offer him at this stage of his career. On a 17-fight unbeaten streak, he must look elsewhere to further his legacy, and heavyweight beckons. The fact that he appeared vulnerable against Santos would only add to the intrigue surrounding a move to a new division, where Jones would be at a weight and power deficit more often than not. Six of the UFC’s Top 10 heavyweights -- Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos, Derrick Lewis, Alexander Volkov, Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez -- do not currently have opponents. Pick one.
Amanda Nunes vs. Cristiane Justino-Felicia Spencer winner: Add Holly Holm to the growing list of world-class fighters who have been victimized by Nunes. The “Lioness” retained her undisputed women’s bantamweight championship with another dazzling performance, as she cut down Holm with a head kick and follow-up punches in the first-round of their co-main event. Nunes has rattled off nine consecutive victories since she ran out of gas and succumbed to a volley of third-round punches and elbows from Cat Zingano at UFC 178 in September 2014. Justino will confront the undefeated Spencer in the UFC 240 co-headliner on July 27.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Rafael dos Anjos-Leon Edwards winner: Masvidal could not have handled business any better, as he wiped out four-time NCAA All-American wrestler Ben Askren with a flying knee just five seconds into their welterweight showcase and handed the former Bellator MMA and One Championship titleholder his first professional defeat in record time. It goes in the books as the fastest knockout in UFC history. Masvidal, 34, has emerged as a dark horse contender at 170 pounds with back-to-back highlight-reel knockouts of Askren and Darren Till. Dos Anjos and Edwards have been booked opposite one another in the UFC on ESPN 4 main event, set for July 20 in San Antonio.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Anthony Smith: Unwilling to serve as a steppingstone, Blachowicz knocked out Luke Rockhold with a crushing left hook in the second round and spoiled the former 185-pound champion’s long-awaited debut in the light heavyweight division. Blachowicz brought it to a close 1:39 into Round 2, as the Polish standout won for the fifth time in six appearances and positioned himself for another high-profile opportunity. Smith last competed at UFC Fight Night 153, where he submitted Alexander Gustafsson with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round of their main event and sent the Swede into retirement.
Michael Chiesa vs. Gunnar Nelson-Thiago Alves winner: Chiesa has the look of a rejuvenated fighter. In his second appearance at 170 pounds, “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 winner steamrolled Diego Sanchez to a unanimous decision in their three-round welterweight feature. All three cageside judges scored it 30-26. No longer hamstrung by the drastic weight cut that accompanied his competing as a lightweight, Chiesa has been dominant in consecutive victories over Sanchez and Carlos Condit. Whether or not he can rise out of the middle tier remains to be seen, but he has his arrow pointing in the right direction. Nelson will face Alves at UFC Fight Night 160 on Sept. 28 in Copenhagen, Denmark.