International Fight Week comes around again, hosted in its spiritual home of Las Vegas. It’s the biggest week in the MMA calendar, bookended by the annual Fighters Only World MMA Awards and what is traditionally the biggest card of the year. UFC 239 is no exception to that rule.
As always, I’ll be giving you my picks for the best bets on the card and 5Dimes will be providing the odds.
Rockhold v Blachowicz:
Luke Rockhold makes the step up to 205 after a sour end to his tenure as a Middleweight. In the space of three years he went from being the best 185lb fighter in the world, to a man who has his soul stolen by Yoel Romero. The Romero loss had a sense of foreshadowing as his chin was exposed by Michael Bisping two fights prior. As well rounded a fighter as he is, the chin is the first thing to go and a step up in weight was probably the only option left.
Jan Blachowicz has spent his entire fighting career at 205 and knows exactly what is required to win, but also what his capabilities are at this level. Once a submission machine in MMA, he has evolved his game somewhat into a grinding pressure fighter who is happy to win a tough decision. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always make for exciting TV and it would struggle to sell a single PPV.
If Rockhold can get this fight to the ground then he may have some success, but Blachowicz is no slouch in that department and he may come unstuck. For me this is a fight that can clearly end on the feet if either fighter manages to back up the other against the cage. I’m going to pick Jan for the upset win, mainly because this is a tough intro to the division for a fighter short on confidence.
Recommendation: Jan Blachowicz – 2 units at +185 (9/5) @ 5Dimes
Askren v Masvidal:
After years of flirting with Dana White on social media, Funky Ben Askren finally made his UFC debut. It was a debut borne of a trade of sorts for Demetrious Johnson, and one that didn’t go completely as predicted. Askren was a relatively heavy favourite who won via contentious submission due to a neck crank that may, or may not, have been synched in. it wasn’t even that the ending was a mercy stoppage, Lawler was having the best of the fight up to that point and there is an argument that he could have been stopped earlier in his favour. Until the fight is re-run, if ever, then it will simply be a blur on the record of the funky one.
Jorge Masvidal is quickly becoming one of my favourite fighters in the UFC, and it began with his vicious knockout of Darren Till. It wasn’t the knockout itself that won me over, but his humility in front of a partisan crown and the shenanigans of the ‘old three piece with a soda’ that he delivered to Leon Edwards post-fight. Every few years the UFC sees an unexpected veteran run to a title shot, and at age 34 and with no previous opportunities behind him this could be Masvidals year.
This is relatively easy to break down, if it goes to the ground then Askren takes a lopsided decision, but if it stays on the feet then it sways heavily toward Masvidal. We saw against Lawler that the levels Askren is facing now are higher than his stints in ONE and Bellator and I’m going to take a flier on Masvidal as the odds of +180 (9/5) are far too good to pass up for me. I’d also take a small play on Masvidal by KO/TKO at +325 to fully press up on the advantage.
Recommendation: Jorge Masvidal – 2 units at +180 (9/5) @ 5Dimes
Recommendation: Jorge Masvidal by TKO – 1 unit at +325 (9/5) @ 5Dimes
Jones v Santos:
Jon Jones, apart from being the undisputed GOAT of MMA, is arguably the most divisive individual the sport has ever seen. If he isn’t dominating his division with reflective ease, then he is out tarnishing his legacy with increasing stupidity. In short, I love the guy. I just wish he could bury the demons and focus on what makes him great – his talent.
Jones has dominated every single man he has ever faced, including Daniel Cormier, twice. His skills are not up for debate and physically he is made for this sport with his long rangy arms and legs, his wrestling talents and his martial arts prowess. All of these are natural talents as Jones has never really excelled at any specific discipline outside of the octagon.
Thiago Santos is the latest man to feel he has the chance to solve the Jones conundrum. Santos is a natural 185’er who has experienced a high level of success at 205lbs. He has four wins on the bounce at 205, with the last three coming by stoppage. His power seems to have been unlocked and he has demonstrated a propensity to get the finish. The biggest question over his head is whether he can hang with the elite in the division as so far, his wins have come over fighters who are best described as good, but not elite. The potential exception here is Anthony Smith who Santos beat at 185lbs, a rematch at 205 would probably yield a different result.
I personally do not see how Santos wins this fight. Well, I do, but I don’t see it happening. Santos is an explosive striker and has a punchers chance of finishing Jones, but I simply don’t see Jones standing still long enough for the punch to land. Jon Jones betters Santos at every statistic we could throw together and I feel it is only a matter of time before the class shines through. Jones inside the distance is the play, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him toy with Santos for 5 rounds to get some practice in.
Recommendation: Jones Inside the Distance – 2 units at -212 (1/2) @ 5Dimes