Insight the Octagon: UFC 239 from Las Vegas

By Lou Finocchiaro  () 

Saturday’s UFC 239 from Las Vegas is a highly anticipated fight card with two five-round championship bouts and numerous other highprofile matchups on the slate. In today’s Insight the Octagon we’ll take a look at each championship bout.

UFC favorites in 2019 stand 137-79-2 (62.8%) so while investing in underdogs is a goal, I regard obtaining value as much more important (see last week’s Ngannou release at a paltry -220). Betting value together with fighters that (as I handicap them) are prepared to present their absolute best effort on fight night are releases I’ll ultimately side with.



Light Heavyweight Title (205 pounds)

We discussed Santos a few fights back when he came into Europe and starched a game Jan Blachowicz, a fight we were on the wrong end of. Santo’s has had three fights at the heavier Light Heavyweight class now and he’s finished all three opponents. Fighters cutting less weight I believe can hold advantage over fighters that aggressively cut and Santos is but one example of fighters whose power, explosion and the ability to take a shot IMPROVE once they move to a more natural weight class. Santos is Capoeira-based with strong Muay Thai but also has recently gained his black belt in Jiu-Jitsu. He’s an ex-paratrooper for the Brazilian armed services who has explosive power who’s always moving forward and aggressively launching spinning kicks, damaging leg kicks and power hooks.

Santos’ punches can be wide and he often holds that chin out there as he’s pumping power shots. Santos ability to win this fight rests with his ability to keep this a striking affair, one fought solely on the feet. Though he is a black belt in BJJ Santo in no way wants this fight to hit the mat as he’ll give away dynamic advantage if Jones takes him down.

Jon Jones is really the prototypical template for the perfect human fighter. A world-class wrestling base, a black belt in Gaidojutsu and a blue belt in BJJ are his decorations, but height and obtuse reach advantages with both legs and especially arms (eight-inch edge for this fight) laced with bounteous bad intention are Jones combat superiorities and he employs them well in improving on his title of the most lethal pound-for-pound fighter in history.

The Jon Jones we see Saturday will be the most devastating Jones we’ve seen to date as the burdensome issues of his past and the affect they had on his ability to fight on any regular basis are gone. Jones, who has fought three times in the last seven months, has had the time to concentrate solely on his profession, which I view as bad news for Santos.

There is a clear path to victory for Santos but Jones must contribute. Should Jones decide to stand and bang with “the Sledgehammer,” choosing to defeat him at his own game, then it is possible Santos could touch Jones. But Jones is too smart to employ a strategy that would both give the challenger his most likely chance to compete as well affect Jones’ own ability to move forward into other highly lucrative opportunities. Regarding this fight, Jones has said in interviews that he’ll relish Santo’s bringing the fight to him as this will allow him to use movement and his lethal striking/kicking game to counterpunch Santos as he charges forward, but that’s only the set up. It’s at this point where this fight turns as Jones will clasp onto the incoming Santos then force him to the floor for a comprehensive flogging.

Santos on his part will make the takedowns easier by becoming frustrated at Jones tactics then choosing to rush inward to engage. Jones protects his body and his future earnings by utilizing intelligence and the world-class wrestling Ace he holds up his sleeve. Jones opened -850 and current pricing will force me to peruse other options in this fight. Jones “inside the distance” or “Jones via submission” seem very possible and could well pay a more valuable price . . . but those props are not released until later this week.



Women’s Bantamweight Title (135 pounds)

“Styles make fights” as I learned from the late great Angelo Dundee, and this fight cannot be handicapped effectively by looking at each of these fighter’s recent records, which is how it appears the makers lined this bout. Nunes is a beast (The Lioness) as she holds titles in the Women’s Featherweight (145 pounds) and the Women’s Bantamweight (135 pounds) divisions.

Nunes is big, strong powerful and is versed in BJJ, Capoeira, Judo and Boxing. Nunes is undefeated in her last eight fights dating back to 2015. In her last fight, Nunes knocked out previously untouchable Cris Cyborg, a fighter who had not lost in 14 years and she did it at 145 pounds, which is up a weigh class from her desired 135-pound ideal. Saturday, she returns to the Bantamweight division and I do wonder if she’ll struggle with the weight which is a something we’ll learn once the weigh-ins are complete Friday morning.  

Nunes is an extremely aggressive fighter who works off a powerful hydraulic jab. She is versed everywhere and, in this fight, it will be on the mat where Nunes will hold advantage. The question is will she use the ground to her benefit or will she and has she become intoxicated with her power? I hate to say it but I don’t trust Nunes and many of the Brazilian-based fighters to be overequip with fight intelligence.

Nunes is a force to deal with, but when walking down opponents, she often throws wide telegraphing “Sunday Shots” (another Dundee term) and forges forward too often with her hands cocked at her waist and her face held high and mighty.

Holly Holm is relatively one-dimensional as she is expertly equipped at striking and kickboxing yet she can boast of little to no ground game, so it is critical that she keep this fight standing in order to have any chance at winning.

I believe she’ll get help from Nunes here as I do believe Nunes is going to try to finish Holm as opposed to take the path Jones will, to fight the smart fight. Also, I believe off that dominant performance against Cyborg that the adage “fat cats don’t hunt” may come into play here for Nunes now holds two belts and has been the belle of the ball for months now since that win.

Holm has the ability to employ erratic movement with precision kicks and strikes. She can force the fight forward as well as fight effectively via the counterstrike. Holm can and has fought fiveround championship bouts previously and it is my judgement that Holm will give Nunes all she wants Saturday.

Nunes opened-350 and it remains -350. I believe there will be plenty of parlay-playing public pounding Nunes as we draw closer to this fight and while I am not ready to release Holm, I do feel this fight is mis-priced and I’ll surely have more to say after having the benefit of watching the weigh-ins Friday.

Last week, Francis Ngannou knocked out Junior dos Santos, putting my tally this year at 8-10, -1.9 units.

I’ll have more to say about this card later this week

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