Jon Jones returns this weekend (Sat. July 6, 2019) in an attempt to defend his light heavyweight title for a record tenth time. Standing across the octagon from him will be vicious knockout artist, the No. 2-ranked light heavyweight in the world, Thiago Santos.
Of course, most are picking Jones to defeat Santos, but don’t be surprised if it goes the other way. Santos’ power isn’t something anyone at 205 pounds can take, and weirder things have happened. Continue reading for a full and in-depth breakdown of this stellar matchup.
It’s very interesting to see Jon Jones come back and fight the up-and-comers of the division, rather than the legends he’s already fought. Though “Marreta” is older than “Bones,” he’s still more of an up-and-comer. Santos is a former middleweight, and is 3-0 thus far at light heavyweight, just like Jones’ most recent opponent, Anthony “Lionheart” Smith.
There are a few factors that make this fight interesting, and a few plausible outcomes that could happen, more so for Jones than Santos, however. I feel Jones has a chance to finish Santos in multiple ways, but Santos’ chance against Jones would be one of those heavy hands landing flush on the champion’s chin.
The Career of the Champion
Jon Jones made his MMA debut in 2008, and within four months, made his UFC debut. His last fight before joining the UFC, he won the USKBA Light Heavyweight Championship via TKO in round two. He then picked up back-to-back unanimous decision victories, one over the undefeated Andre Gusmao, and one over “The Ultimate Fighter: Season One” Finalist Stephan Bonnar (all before his first year of MMA was said and done).
Then, at just 15 months into his MMA career, he fought at UFC 100 and finished Jake O’Brien in round two via guillotine choke. By this point he was 9-0, and was about to be handed his first, and to this day, his only defeat. We all know he has a disqualification loss to Matt Hamill, and it was evident Jones was dominating that fight. In my opinion, the fight probably should’ve been stopped before he even had the chance to throw the illegal elbows.
Since then, Jones has been, perhaps, the most dominant fighter we’ve ever seen, aside from one fight. He quickly rebounded from his loss with two first-round TKO’s, before submitting Ryan Bader via guillotine choke at UFC 126. Two of those fights saw him easily out-wrestling successful NCAA Division I wrestlers in Vladimir Matyushenko and Bader.
We knew initially that he was a huge talent, but this showed us just how special he may become, and that only grew in his next fight.
Jones was granted a title shot against the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and the 2005 PRIDE Gran Prix winner, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. This was one of the most dominant performances I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and also one of the most shocking, especially at the time.
Not many people were picking Jon Jones to beat “Shogun,” who absolutely dominated the Brazilian, and really put him through hell that night. He would finish the fight in round three via TKO, and become the youngest champion in UFC history.
Jones would defend his title against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (rear-naked choke, round 4), Lyoto Machida (guillotine choke, round 2), Rashad Evans (unanimous decision), Vitor Belfort (americana, round 4), and Chael Sonnen (TKO, round 1); all before having his biggest test to date, Alexander Gustafsson.
No one thought Gustafsson had the slightest bit of a chance to beat Jones, but he pushed him to the absolute limit and almost did enough to take the title from him. Jones would take the unanimous decision victory, and also defeated Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier via unanimous decisions as well, before getting stripped of his title.
“Bones” came back after almost a year-and-a-half away from the sport to pick up a unanimous decision over Ovince Saint Preux for the Interim UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, a fight most weren’t too impressed with. He dominated the fight easily, but it wasn’t the Jon Jones we were used to seeing.
Jones once again ended up getting stripped and took about the same amount of time off as his first suspension. The Jackson-Wink MMA product returned to the main stage to rematch Daniel Cormier at UFC 214, and won the fight in round three via KO (head kick and punches), but was again stripped of his title, and this time his win was overturned.
Around this time, the mixed martial arts community truly started to lose hope for Jones, most already had, but this time it was different. He just couldn’t get it right. Eventually, a year-and-a-half later, he returned to rematch the man who gave him the hardest test of his career, Alexander Gustafsson, for the vacant UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, considering Daniel Cormier vacated his title to stay at heavyweight.
Jones came in with a different game plan than he did for their first fight, but Gustafsson didn’t, and this played into Jones’ favor quite nicely. He would pick up a third-round TKO stoppage over “The Mauler” to reclaim his title, and defended it against Anthony Smith via unanimous decision at UFC 235. Now, here we are, awaiting UFC 239.
The Career of Thiago Santos
“Marreta” has been in the UFC for a few years now, as he was a product of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2.” He went 2-2 on the show, and debuted in the UFC with an 8-1 record. He lost two of his first three fights inside the Octagon, before going on a four-fight win streak with three knockouts.
Santos then dropped two in a row, before going on another four-fight win streak, this time with all four wins coming via knockout. The two most impressive of these wins were against Jack Hermansson and Anthony Smith. He finished both with body kicks, followed up with punches.
After this, Santos would get starched in round one by former WSOF “Champ Champ” David Branch, before defeating Kevin Holland via unanimous decision. There wasn’t too much to say about the Holland fight, considering Holland was making his UFC debut, and Santos really didn’t fight like himself.
However, Holland does have a great ground game, and Santos showed us a side of him we haven’t really seen too much of before – his grappling. He out-wrestled Holland for all three rounds. This marked his last fight at middleweight before he made the jump up to light heavyweight for his next fight.
Santos fought Eryk Anders in the main event of UFC Fight Night 137 and won via TKO (referee stoppage) at the end of round three. This was a great debut in a new weight class for the Brazilian. Not because of how he did it, but because of who he fought.
Yes, he looked incredible in this fight, but Anders was also a middleweight that moved up, and I think that helped Santos get used to the weight class a bit easier. Santos KO’d Jimi Manuwa in his next fight early in round two, and did the same to Jan Blachowicz early in round three in his next outing.
Thiago Santos has shown a little bit of a pattern in his UFC career. He hasn’t ever won more than four in a row, and he’s on a four-fight win streak now. This is the third four-fight win streak he’s had in the UFC. Will he be able to make it five in a row for the first time ever? The problem with that is, he’s fighting, perhaps, the best fighter to ever grace the octagon.
Breakdown: Jon Jones (24-1) 1 NC vs. Thiago Santos (21-6)
The reach and build of Jon Jones will always be something nearly impossible to overcome, but all it takes is that one shot from the right person throwing it, and boom, it’s over. Jones has been cracked a few times before (emphasis on the word “few”) but has never even gotten stunned. He has one of the best chins in the entire sport, and also doesn’t get hit much in any of his fights. “Bones” is probably the best defensive mixed martial artist ever, and he has a better arsenal of kicks than anyone in the sport as well.
I’d say that’s what the evolved Jones has become – a defensive and tactical fighter that throws all sorts of kicks to keep his opponents at bay. He doesn’t really take chances like he used to, at least not as often. However, with that being said, he really doesn’t need to. “Bones” probably has the best physical gifts and fight IQ of anyone in the sport. Jones also holds a black belt in Gaidojutsu, which is pretty much Greg Jackson’s MMA system.
Thiago Santos holds a black belt in Muay Thai, and is also quite experienced in Capoeira. “Marreta” is only two inches shorter than the champion, but has an 8.5” reach disadvantage against him. However, Santos often times lunges in with hooks to make up for distance, and has a good diversity of kicks himself.
Of Santos’ losses, he’s never really been out-wrestled, which may be an interesting aspect of the fight to keep an eye on. If this fight stays on the feet, it’ll be very interesting to see how it plays out. They’re both incredibly dangerous individuals, and there’s good reason they’re in the spot that they are in come this weekend.
How do you see Jones vs. Santos playing out this weekend?