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UFC 239: The View From The North

E. Spencer Kyte does a deep dive into the entire UFC 239 card


The light heavyweight title is on the line as Jon Jones looks to defend his belt for the second time this year by taking on surging Brazilian finisher Thiago Santos.

At the close of 2018, Jones said he wanted to be active and dominant and he’s made good on both counts thus far. In December, he ran through Alexander Gustafsson to reclaim the vacant light heavyweight strap and in March, he outworked Anthony Smith to push his unbeaten streak to 16 fights. Now the soon-to-be 32-year-old goes searching for his 10th career successful title defense as he looks to earn his third victory in 27 weeks.

In order to get there, he has to get through Santos, a menacing former middleweight who is 3-0 since moving to the 205-pound ranks, collecting three stoppages and three bonuses along the way. “Marreta” is a marauder — an aggressive striker with devastating power and a willingness to wade into the fray, confident that he’ll land the more punishing shot. Thus far, he’s been correct, but doing so against Jones is an entirely more difficult task.


Saturday’s co-main event is an historic clash in the women’s bantamweight division, where current champion Amanda Nunes puts the belt on the line against former titleholder Holly Holm.

Nunes, who returns for the first time since blitzing Cris Cyborg in December to claim the women’s featherweight crown, is seeking her fourth successful title defense, but a win over Holm would also give her victories over all three of the women to previously hold the title. Added to her featherweight title win over Cyborg and twin triumphs over flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, close as they may be, and Nunes’ case for being the greatest female fighter of all-time would be pretty unassailable.

As for Holm, she’s looking to make history herself by becoming the first two-time women’s bantamweight titleholder. There haven’t been a lot of former champions who have managed to reclaim gold over the last several years, but the 37-year-old standout is coming off a dominant win over Megan Anderson and a head-kick finish in her last bantamweight appearance, setting the stage for what should be an outstanding lead-in to the light heavyweight main event.

UFC 239: Media Day Faceoffs
UFC 239: Media Day Faceoffs


You could have these two stand in the center of the Octagon and fire verbal jabs at each other for 15 minutes and it would be wildly entertaining and a great addition to this weekend’s fight card, but instead, they’ll do that in the run-up and get about the business of punching each other in the face on Saturday instead.

Masvidal returned from a 16-month hiatus to inject himself into the welterweight title conversation in March with a second-round stoppage win over Darren Till in London. “Gamebred” has always been one of the slickest, craftiest, most underrated talents in the sport, but now he’s starting to get his due, and with a win at UFC 239, he could find himself fighting for the title before the year is out.

A week earlier, Askren made his highly anticipated UFC debut against Robbie Lawler, weathering an early wave of punishment before rallying to latch onto a tight bulldog choke. While the stoppage was controversial as Lawler appeared to be out, but was clearly still lucid when the hold was broken, Askren moved forward with a victory and is now arguably one more win away from challenging for the UFC welterweight title.


All the attention heading into this one is going to be on Rockhold, the former middleweight champion who is returning for the first time in 16 months and moving up a division, but overlooking Blachowicz would be a mistake.

The Polish veteran was on a four-fight winning streak before running into Santos earlier this year in Prague and possesses the full complement of tools needed to make Rockhold’s divisional debut an unpleasant experience. Whether standing up or on the ground, the 36-year-old Blachowicz has shown an ability to make opponents uncomfortable and create finishing opportunities, and that will be no different this weekend in Las Vegas.

Rockhold has only fought three times since winning the middleweight title from Chris Weidman at UFC 194, sandwiching a win over David Branch between knockout losses to Michael Bisping and Yoel Romero. Healthy and no longer subjecting himself to the punishing weight cuts required to make the 185-pound limit, UFC 239 represents a potential fresh start for the 34-year-old Californian, who is one of the most complete and naturally talented fighters in the sport when he’s firing on all cylinders.

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More than 14 years after winning the middleweight competition on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter, Diego Sanchez continues to make the walk to the Octagon. After being written off numerous times during a four-year stretch that saw him go 3-6, the “Nightmare” enters Saturday’s main card opener on a two-fight winning streak and coming off his first stoppage victory since June 2008.

Chiesa declared his intentions to move to welterweight while standing on the scales in advance of his fight with Anthony Pettis last year during International Fight Week. He missed weight, got submitted in the second round and departed for a new division. In his maiden journey as a welterweight, the TUF 15 winner submitted Carlos Condit with a one-armed kimura, and now he looks to add a win over another Albuquerque-based veteran to his resume in his sophomore appearance as a 170-pound fighter.


Originally scheduled to take place last November at the TUF 28 Finale, this featherweight clash has been re-booked and resituated as the final preliminary card pairing of the evening this weekend.

Melendez is back for the first time since UFC 215, where Jeremy Stephens battered his lead leg with a punishing barrage of kicks and handed “El Nino” his fourth consecutive loss. Overall, the 37-year-old former Strikeforce lightweight champion is 1-5 in the Octagon and enters Saturday’s contest in dire need of a victory.

Allen arrives in Las Vegas with a 5-0 mark in the UFC and having won seven straight overall. The youngster from England has been flying just under the radar in the featherweight division for the last couple years, but a win over an established veteran like Melendez would likely put Allen in the mix for a Top 15 opportunity next time out.


Strawweights looking to work their way into title contention collide in the middle of Saturday’s prelims as Windsor, Ontario’s Randa Markos squares off with former title challenger Claudia Gadelha in a crucial fight for both women.

Markos was a surprise semifinalist on Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter and has yet to string together consecutive winning results through 11 trips into the Octagon. She carries a 5-5-1 record and a two-fight unbeaten streak into UFC 239, having most recently earned a first-round submission win over Angela Hill in March.

Long considered one of the top contenders in the 115-pound weight class, Gadelha looks to jumpstart another run at the title in her first appearance since connecting with coach Mark Henry and the crew from Jersey. Though she’s 16-4 overall and one fight to the good through her first nine UFC appearances, the Brazilian standout has struggled over her last three outings and needs a dominant effort to convince observers she’s capable of being a contender again.

Markos Finally Seeing The Payoffs | Naurdiev Has No Doubt On Where He Belongs | Allen Gets The "Big Show" He's Dreamed Of | Shahbazyan Plan Is Simple: Dominate

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Bantamweights on the outside of the Top 10 looking in clash in the opening bout of Saturday’s televised preliminary card fights, and a duo that was originally scheduled to fight in March will finally share the cage together.

After splitting his first two appearances in the Octagon, Perez rattled off a seven-fight unbeaten streak, registering wins over Scott Jorgensen, Matthew Lopez and Eddie Wineland. When Song was forced out of their UFC 235 matchup, Perez stayed on the card and squared off with Cody Stamann, dropping a unanimous decision to the Detroit-based grinder.

Just 21 years old, Song will be making his fourth UFC appearance this weekend, taking a major step up in competition. After earning impressive finishes over Bharat Khandare and Felipe Arantes in his first two UFC showings, the Team Alpha Male representative worked his way to a unanimous decision win over Vince Morales last time out.

The 135-pound weight class is brimming with talent at the moment, but also primed for changes throughout the Top 15, so a strong performance from either fighter here could propel them into an even bigger opportunity later this year.


One of the top young talents to emerge from the Contender Series over the first two seasons, Edmen Shahbazyan looks to complete his rookie year with a third straight victory when he squares off with durable, dangerous veteran Jack Marshman.

The 21-year-old “Golden Boy” was forced to gut out a split decision win in his promotional debut, but got back to his finishing ways last time out, stopping Charles Byrd in just 38 seconds at UFC 235. The Glendale Fighting Club representative has blistering power and is already looking for his 10th victory after only turning pro in February 2017.

With 31 fights and a 3-3 mark in the Octagon, Wales’ Marchman is easily the most accomplished and experienced opponent Shahbazyan has faced to date. The 29-year-old “Hammer” enters off a split decision win over John Phillips in March and in search of his first two-fight winning streak since rattling off seven straight through his promotional debut.


It looked for a moment like Vera wasn't going to get to compete at UFC 239, as his highly anticipated bout with "Sugar" Sean O'Malley was called off just a handful of days before International Fight Week kicked off in Las Vegas. But as they often do, the UFC matchmakers found a replacement and now "Chito" will welcome Hernandez to the Octagon for the first time.

A fan favorite throughout his career, Vera has really found his stride of late, entering Saturday's event on a three-fight winning streak. He's shown considerable improvements since joining Team Oyama and continues to make strides with each appearance, delivering one of his best performances yet last time out when he stopped Frankie Saenz in just 85 seconds.

The American Kickboxing Academy product Hernandez is 10-2 as a pro and arrives in the UFC on a four-fight winning streak. He's fought solid competition on the regional circuit and training with the crew in Northern California is a great way to prepare yourself for competing inside the Octagon.


Welterweights looking to build off impressive showings collide in the second bout of Saturday’s stacked event at T-Mobile Arena as Ismail Naurdiev makes his second trip into the Octagon to face off with Alliance MMA product Chance Rencountre.

After dropping his short-notice debut to underrated welterweight Belal Muhammad last spring, Rencountre rebounded with a swift first-round submission win over Kyle Stewart last time out. The 32-year-old “Black Eagle” has won five of his last six overall, including quickly avenging one of the earlier losses in his career, and he hopes to start a run up the divisional ladder with a strong showing against Naurdiev.

Naurdiev made his promotional debut in February, earning a unanimous decision win over Michel Prazeres in a short notice assignment that came three weeks after he registered a 36-second knockout win. Now the 22-year-old Austrian looks to build upon his impressive showing by extending his winning streak to four at Rencountre’s expense.


Bantamweight hopefuls meet in the UFC 239 opener as Julia Avila makes her first foray into the Octagon against Pannie Kianzad.

The recent TUF finalist Kianzad steps in for Melissa Gatto and hopes to make the most of her second chance to compete inside the Octagon after failing to stick following her loss to Macy Chiasson last November. Kianzad rebounded with a good win over Iony Razafiarison and is the kind of experienced fighter to force Avila to be at her best in order to secure a win in her UFC debut.

“The Raging Panda” was seemingly poised for a shot at the Invicta FC bantamweight title before getting inked to a UFC deal. She already owns victories over Marion Reneau and Nicco Montano and arrives in Las Vegas off a second-round stoppage win over well-regarded prospect Alexa Connors.