Looking Back at UFC 239 and What Could Have Been

UFC 239
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JULY 06: Jon Jones of the United States is kicked by Thiago Santos of Brazil during their UFC Light Heavyweight Title bout at T-Mobile Arena on July 06, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Throughout his career, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has rarely been challenged inside of the cage. Outside of it, he’s obviously dealt with his fair share of issues. But in competition, he’s displayed the type of dominance that is somewhat unparalleled in the sport. That wasn’t the case on Saturday night in the main event of UFC 239, however.

For the first time since his five-round thriller with Alexander Gustafsson in 2013, Jones was faced with a legitimate challenge.

Prior to his pay-per-view headliner against Thiago Santos, many felt as if Jones would once again cruise to another successful title defense. After all, Santos, despite winning four in a row leading up to his bout against “Bones”, is a former middleweight who has been seen as a dangerous but fairly average fighter.

UFC 239
Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos

Once the fight began, however, the Brazilian quickly showed that he was there to win. An aggressive fighter known primarily for his aggressive kicking game, Santos came out firing but remained patient and used a strategic game plan.

Over the course of five rounds, “Marreta” used a wide variety of kicks to attack Jones to both the body and the legs. In fact, Jones was unable to walk out of the Octagon on his own following the fight due to Santos’ attack.

In addition, the Brazilian continuously threw big shots and refused to let Jones walk all over him. At the end of the fight, it was clear that the contest had been incredibly close. In fact, many fans and some media members had felt as if Santos had done enough to steal the title away from Jones.

When the decision was read, however, it was Jones who had been given a split-decision victory. Overall, the bout was an intriguing one, as it was a riveting five-round fight that was both incredibly close and incredibly strategic.

In addition, it was a breath of fresh air to see Jones finally matched against a difficult test. What’s so unfortunate, however, is that Santos was forced to fight on essentially one leg.

The Injury

Early on in the fight, it was clear that the Brazilian had suffered what appeared to be a knee injury to his left knee. Although he remained strong and continued to kick with the injured leg throughout the fight, Santos was clearly impacted. Most notably, the injury affected Santos’ stability, as his knee gave out on him multiple times.

Earlier this week, ESPN reported the severity of Santos’ injury: a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and meniscus. While this makes the Brazilian’s performance all the more impressive, it’s also incredibly unfortunate that we didn’t get to see the best version of him

What Could Have Been and What Lies Ahead

The fight was an intriguing back-and-forth contest regardless, but who knows what would have happened had “Marreta” been fully healthy. For the first time, perhaps we would have seen a fighter capable of clearly beating Jones. Or, perhaps we would have seen “Bones” forced to dig deep, overcome adversity and truly display his greatness.

With so many questions surrounding the fight and a feeling of “what if?”, a rematch could be of much interest. In rematches against both Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier, Jones made clear improvements and performed much better. Perhaps he’d do that against Santos. At the same time, however, it’d be intriguing to see just how special of a performance Santos could put on against Jones at full health.

At some point, it seems necessary that we get the answer to these questions.

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