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Perhaps the gap between Jon Jones and the rest of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s light heavyweight division has finally begun to narrow.
“Bones” by the closest margin of his career retained his 205-pound title with a split decision over Thiago Santos in the UFC 239 headliner on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. All three cageside judges scored it 48-47: Michael Bell and Derek Cleary for the heavily favored Jones (25-1, 19-1 UFC), Junichiro Kamijo for Santos (21-7, 13-6 UFC).
Santos never once looked like he was out of his depth. The Brazilian zeroed in on both of Jones’ legs with punishing kicks that resulted in visible damage and kept the champion honest for the better part of two rounds. However, Santos appeared to tweak his left knee throwing a kick in an early exchange, and the injury worsened as the fight drifted into the latter rounds. Jones started to impose his will in the third, where he knocked down the challenger with a close-quarters elbow strike and later opened a small cut on his hairline with another. Nevertheless, Santos was undeterred.
Jones turned up the heat in Round 4 with a steady diet of leg and body kicks but never managed to break “Marreta.” Santos returned fire in the fifth despite his deteriorating condition, met Jones with powerful kicks and flurried on him more than once. Still, his efforts fell short where it mattered most.
Nunes Head Kick Fells Holm
American Top Team’s Amanda Nunes retained the UFC women’s bantamweight championship, as she put away Holly Holm with a head kick and follow-up punches in the first round of their co-main event. Holm (12-5, 5-5 UFC), who had never before been finished by strikes, succumbed to blows 4:10 into Round 1.
Nunes (18-4, 11-1 UFC) fought at a measured pace and waited for an opening to present itself. She caught Holm with her hands down and unleashed a kick to the face that sent her to the canvas in a seated position with less than a minute remaining in the first round. Nunes pursued the Jackson-Wink MMA rep with punches and prompted referee Marc Goddard to intervene to prevent further damage.
The 31-year-old Nunes has won nine fights in a row and continues to pad her resume as one of the all-time greats.
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Masvidal Knee Flattens Askren in Record Time
American Top Team mainstay Jorge Masvidal recorded the fastest knockout in UFC history, as he cut down former Bellator MMA and One Championship titleholder Ben Askren with a flying knee in the first round of their featured welterweight pairing. Masvidal (34-13, 11-6 UFC) sent the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler into another dimension five seconds into Round 1.
Askren (19-1, 1-1 UFC) shot for takedown right out of the gate and paid an unimaginably steep price. Masvidal took flight, beat him to the spot and connected with full force, the impact of the concussive blow echoing through a stunned arena. Askren fell to the ground stiff and unconscious before being met with a few follow-up punches from “Gamebred.”
Masvidal, 34, has rattled off five wins over his past seven appearances.
Blackhowicz KOs Reeling Rockhold
Former KSW champion Jan Blachowicz knocked out Luke Rockhold in the second round of their light heavyweight showcase. Blachowicz (24-8, 7-5 UFC) drew the curtain 1:39 into Round 2, as he recorded his fifth win in six outings and put his name on the list of potential title contenders at 205 pounds.
Rockhold (16-5, 6-4 UFC) centered his efforts on kicks to the legs, head and body, then closed the distance and engaged his Polish counterpart in the clinch. His efforts to secure a takedown were thwarted, and in the closing seconds of the first round, Blachowicz wobbled the onetime middleweight champion with a right uppercut and connected with a head kick at the bell that left him badly dazed. Rockhold never recovered. He tried to draw Blachowicz into close-quarters combat again in the second round. When the two men separated, Rockhold was on the receiving end of a sizzling left hook that sent him to the canvas in no condition to defend himself. Blachowicz followed with a quick volley of punches before referee Herb Dean could intervene.
The 34-year-old Rockhold has lost three of his last four fights, all by knockout.
Chiesa Bullies Overmatched Sanchez
“The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15 winner Michael Chiesa toyed with Diego Sanchez across three uncompetitive rounds and pocketed a unanimous decision in their welterweight feature. Chiesa (16-4, 9-4 UFC) swept the scorecards with 30-26 marks from all three judges.
Sanchez (29-12, 18-12 UFC) never stood a chance. Chiesa consistently bullied him to the mat, transitioned to the back and either assaulted him with punches and elbows or fished for rear-naked chokes. Though his bids to finish were denied by the notoriously resilient Sanchez, the 31-year-old Sikjitsu standout nevertheless controlled the match from beginning to end.
The loss brought an end to Sanchez’s modest two-fight winning streak.
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