UFC 239 on Saturday in Las Vegas witnessed the fastest knockout in company history, the closest five-round fight of Jon Jones’ career and yet another dominant performance by Amanda Nunes.
What’s next for Jones, Nunes, Holly Holm, Jorge Masvidal and others from UFC 239? Here’s ESPN’s take.
Jon Jones, light heavyweight
Result: Defeated Thiago Santos via split decision
Next: Jan Blachowicz
Let’s be frank: Jon Jones vs. Jan Blachowicz is probably not a fight you’re clearing your schedule for. But if you think about it, neither was Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos. We all knew Santos was tough and that he had a “puncher’s chance” going into Saturday, but nobody pegged him as “the guy” to beat Jon Jones. He was just “the next guy” in line.
And he nearly pulled it off.
Point is, Santos’ near victory at UFC 239 is a reminder that this sport can always surprise you. Do I think Blachowicz has a good chance of beating Jones? I do not. But he’s next in line, following a knockout win over Luke Rockhold. Young up-and-comers like Dominick Reyes and Johnny Walker need at least one more win. Blachowicz has won five of his past six. He deserves it. The only hitch is if Jones wants to move to heavyweight to face the winner of Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic. But I expect him to stay at light heavyweight for now. And if that is the case, Blachowicz is next up.
Thiago Santos, light heavyweight
Result: Lost to Jon Jones via split decision
Next: Corey Anderson
Tough to call Santos’ next fight until we know the severity of an apparent knee injury he suffered. If he’s able to go in a reasonable amount of time, Anderson makes sense. Anderson hasn’t fought since December so, again, if Santos is out for a while, this probably won’t work. But at the same time, Anderson has made it clear he doesn’t want to fight just to fight. He has won three in a row and has no interest in fighting someone ranked significantly lower than him.
Even though I scored Saturday’s fight live for Santos, I didn’t think it was a robbery and I’m not eager to see an immediate rematch between Jones and Santos. So, a fight between Santos and another ranked contender, such as Anderson, is the way to go.
Amanda Nunes, bantamweight
Result: Defeated Holly Holm via first-round knockout
Next: Winner of Cris “Cyborg” Justino vs. Felicia Spencer on July 27
Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card in Sacramento, California, will feature one of MMA’s top rising stars and a legend making a return. The unbeaten Aspen Ladd will be in her first UFC main event, facing Germaine de Randamie, with bantamweight title implications on the line. Prior to that, hometown hero Urijah Faber will enter the Octagon for the first time in three years to face up-and-comer Ricky Simon.
UFC Fight Night: De Randamie vs. Ladd
• Saturday, Sacramento, California
• Prelims: ESPN+ 5 p.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+ 8 p.m. ET
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Look, this is the fight I want to see, because it’s clearly the best of any option out there — but I’m not holding my breath that we’ll actually see it. If Cyborg beats Spencer at UFC 240, which I predict she’ll do, I still think it will be her last fight in the UFC. It’s the final bout on her contract, and even though it’s certainly possible she could re-sign with the UFC, I think the relationship has run its course.
It’s a shame, because a rematch between Nunes and Justino is a great fight. From a competitive standpoint, it should happen. But I think Justino has certain plans and demands for the next chapter of her career and the UFC is willing to let her walk. We shall see, though.
Holly Holm, bantamweight
Result: Lost to Amanda Nunes via first-round knockout
Next: Cat Zingano
Here’s the good news: Holm is still a star. She’s still highly ranked, even after this loss. This was only the first time she has been knocked out in MMA and she and her team have said she has plenty left in the tank at age 37. The bad news, of course, is she has now lost five of her past seven. And the women she beat — Megan Anderson and Bethe Correira — are at pretty low points of their own careers.
Much of the same could be said about Zingano. She’s still a name. She’s still in the top 10. She also has won exactly one fight in the past four years. This is one of those matchups that was probably always going to happen, it was just a matter of when. The when has come for Holly Holm vs. Cat Zingano.
Jorge Masvidal, welterweight
Result: Defeated Ben Askren via first-round knockout
Next: Kamaru Usman … unless …
Unless Colby Covington beats Robbie Lawler at UFC Fight Night on Aug. 3. Look, what Masvidal did to Askren was the stuff of legends. Five-second knockout — and now we’re seeing videos from his head coach, Mike Brown, of him practicing that exact same flying knee in the days leading up to UFC 239. It was perfect, and I want to see Masvidal in a title fight.
But how long can we deny Covington? He has won six in a row (one of which was an interim title fight) and he has a tough matchup coming up next month against Lawler. If Covington gets it done in Newark, New Jersey, he deserves to be next for Usman. And if that’s the case, get Masvidal in the front row and promote him as the next guy in line after.
Luke Rockhold, light heavyweight
Result: Lost to Jan Blachowicz via second-round knockout
Man. I had a hard time with this one. It does not feel that long ago that Rockhold was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. I mean, you go back four fights … four fights! … this dude was the middleweight champion, riding a streak of five consecutive finishes over the likes of Chris Weidman, Lyoto Machida and Michael Bisping.
But even though that was only four fights ago, it was also four years ago. And during that time, Rockhold has suffered multiple injuries. He has battered his best weapon, the left leg. Yoel Romero broke his jaw. Blachowicz may have broken it again this weekend. Rockhold is only 34, but he has now lost three of his past four. He has been injury plagued. He’s kind of stuck between divisions. UFC president Dana White encouraged Rockhold to consider retirement on Saturday, and I think I agree with him on this one.
Rockhold has parlayed his success in MMA into other opportunities. He doesn’t have to fight. Do I want to see him go to the back of the line at 205 and try to work his way to a title shot — at this point in his career? Not really. He has had a fantastic 12-year career. If he wants to continue, then he should. It’s not like he’s washed up. But I’d also be very happy for Rockhold if he chose to move on.