Rarely does a UFC event come around that carries hype like this card and delivered at every turn. It’s safe to say the curse of the international fight week event was truly broken this year in Vegas. Was this the most entertaining card we’ve ever seen? Certainly there has been more important nights in the analogues of the UFC but was this all around the most enjoyable watch? The show had everything; a captivating set of diverse story lines, big names, exciting fights, multiple finishes, records broken, history made and a host of new questions yet to be answered. Here we’ll unpack this gift from the MMA gods sifting through the main card to pick out the golden nuggets from the night, and trust me, there were plenty.
Main event: Jon Jones (25-1-0) Def. Vs Thiago Santos (21-7-0) Via split decision
Very few people gave the Wild knockout artist Thiago Santos a shot in this fight. His swing for the fences style seemed like the perfect match for Jones. Being the longer and more technical fighter, Jones would stay on the outside, pick him apart on the way in, take him down and control the fight. This was a far cry from the reality of the fight. Thiago turned up fully prepared, with great cardio, stayed disciplined throughout and pushed Jones to a point where one of the judges scored the fight for Santos, something no other opponent of Jones has been able to achieve. He displayed a style similar to Yoel Romero. A style akin to a dormant volcano. Santos stayed alert defensively and took opportunities to explode with a combination of bombs throughout the fight. This scored well with the judges while making Jones think twice about adopting his usual style of overwhelming pressure and strike output. Both men were caught with big shots and each fighters legs were chewed up by the others kicks. Huge welts appeared almost instantly on the thigh of Jones while Thiago Santos legs buckled numerous times throughout the fight. This was a technical brawl featuring the highest level of MMA striking.
Both men’s stock went up in this fight. With this win Jon Jones proved he could go toe to toe with an expert muay thai practitioner and ties the record for 13 wins in title fights. As for Thiago Santos, he went the distance with Jones and pushed him to his limits. No other fighter except Alexander Gustaffason can make that claim. Another win and his name will be right back in the mix for another shot in a division lacking real star power at this point. Santos could have a case for an immediate rematch. He appeared to severely injure his knee in the second round which he eluded to at length in his post fight press conference. If he lost a split decision with a bum knee, what would he do in five healthy rounds. However this will likely not be the case. Jones stated after the fight that he’s willing to fight the winner of Daniel Cormier vs Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title if the moneys right. A mouth watering affair regardless of the outcome. Furthermore you know the Jackson/Wink duo who coach Jones will adapt to this and alter the game plan if a rematch ever does come to fruition, more than likely involving a lot more wrestling and groundwork to exploit Santos primarily stand up style.
Amanda Nunes (18-4) Def Holly Holm (12-5) via KO (Rd 1-04:10)
This fight had the potential to drastically alter the legacies of both fighters. A win for Holm and she etches her name in the exclusive club of fighters to win gold in 2 divisions, as well as a chance to become more in the sport than “the woman who beat Ronda Rousey”. Unfortunately this was not to be for Holm as Nunes stopped her with a masterfully executed head kick in the first round. The fight was contested on the feet with both women landing pawing strikes early. However the lioness quickly figured out the Holm puzzle, adding the head kick to the end of her punching combinations, a perfect read on her teams part to gain an impressive knockout win. For Nunes, this solidifies her, without a shadow of a doubt, as the greatest woman to ever put on a pair of MMA gloves. She now holds records over all 3 former UFC women’s bantamweight champions, The former featherweight champion (whom she beat for her belt) and the current Women’s flyweight champion. The big five have been slain and the questions is who would dare step foot in the cage against the Lioness after this display? Look for her to face either the winner of Cyborg vs Felicia Spencer at featherweight or Aspen Ladd vs Germaine De Randamie at Bantamweight.
Jorge Masvidal (34-13) def. Ben Askren (19-1) via KO (R1: 0.05)
Labelled the ‘people’s main event’ this bout was fueled by bad blood between the two fighters. The build up saw the clash of two polar opposite personalities consistently taking shots at the character of the other competitor. Askren stated multiple times that his opponent’s macho man persona forced him to take the fight and that he couldn’t properly control his emotions. Whilst Masvidal saw Askren as a boring wrestler and provocateur feeding off the star power of other UFC fighters since he signed for the UFC. The build up caught the eye of the MMA community and the fight itself did not disappoint.
The fight started with Masvidal standing with his hands behind his back, leaning on the cage, talking trash and beckoning Askren to come forward and trade strikes. In an instant Masvidal shot from the cage, charging at Askren and delivered a devastating flying knee to the face of Askren as he looked to take Masvidal down. The fight was over in a record breaking 5 seconds with Askren lying stiff on the canvas with Masvidal taunting his unconscious foe. A dramatic ending to a dramatic story and undoubtedly one of the most shocking moments in UFC history.
This fight sky rocketed Masvidal’s popularity and may well see hime leap frog any potential contender for the welterweight built. As Kamaru Usmann (current champion) is at present sidelined, it’s possible that the winner of Covington vs Robbie Lawlor may face Masvidal for a shot at welterweight gold while the loser could potentially take on Askren.
Jan Blachowicz (24-8) def. Luke Rockhold (16-5) via KO (R2 1:39)
The major question heading into this fight was how Luke Rockhold would look at Light Heavyweight. The former middleweight champ hadn’t fought since his knockout loss to Yoel Romero in February of 2018 and he had no easy task taking on a Polish destroyer in Jan Blachowicz. Many believed Rockhold was taking his opponent lightly as in the build up he referred to current UFC champion Jon Jones on numerous occassions. This may have been a grave error. Blachowicz had been on a tare as of late with four wins against high level competition in his last five bouts. His momentum took a hit with a TKO loss to Thiago Santos in his last fight but losing to a man who would go onto to give Jones one of the hardest fights of his career is nothing to be ashamed of.
The first round saw a few early exchanges from the two, with Rockhold utilizing his famous kicks and holding Blachowicz against the fence for a good portion of the first round. This all changed when Blachowicz delivered a brutal head kick of his own right at the buzzer, leaving Rockhold stumbling back to his corner. You could feel the momentum shift as the second round commenced with Rockhold still looking stunned from the kick. 2 minutes into the second round, Blachowicz delivered a hay-maker of a right hook while stepping back to put Rockhold’s lights out with an impressive KO victory. This is the same shot that saw him drop the title to Bisping and it seems fitting as many believed he underestimated Bisping in that fight.
Look for Blachovicz to go onto challenge for the title next or take on another high profile light heavyweight in a number one contenders bout. On the other hand it’s back to the drawing board for Rockhold. His future in the UFC is looking questionable as Dana White remarked in a post fight presser that he believes he should retire.
Michael Chiesa (16-4) def Diego Sanchez (29-2) via Unanimous Decision (R3 5:00)
This fight saw two ultimate fighter winners square off as the UFC legend and eccentric warrior Diego Sanchez took on Michael Chiesa in the main card curtain jerker. The fight was a one sided affair with Chiesa looking far bigger than Sanchez, using the size and superior grappling ability to control him for the majority of the fight. Chiesa picked up a comfortable decision win and dispatched of this legend with relative ease. However the real showcase story here was reflecting on the storied career of Diego Sanchez. Just one day prior to the event, Sanchez and Clay Guida’s epic brawl in the Tuf finale (2009) was inducted into the UFC’s hall of fame of fights. Sanchez attended this ceremony in the midst of a weight cut, speaking to his determination as an athlete, his passion for the sport and his character as a human being. Having a long and illustrious career, this charismatic journeyman proved that he could hang back then and he can still hang now. A true legend of the sport worthy of his plaudits.