A breakdown of the fights on the main card of Saturday’s UFC 239 card at T-Mobile Arena, with picks from the Review-Journal’s Adam Hill and Heidi Fang:
Jon Jones (24-1, 1 no contest) vs. Thiago Santos (21-6)
Class: For Jones’s light heavyweight title
Line: Jones -700
Storyline: Jones is the best light heavyweight in UFC history and quite possibly the best fighter in any weight class ever to compete in the organization. He has taken on the best of the best the division has had to offer and rarely has been challenged. Jones has been so dominant that it’s difficult to imagine him getting beaten over the course of a full five-round fight. When the end of his reign does come, it’s most likely going to happen by way of a big knockout strike or getting caught in a submission. Santos has the ability to pull off the former. He has 15 knockouts in his career, including three straight since moving up to 205 pounds, and his power could be the great equalizer in making up the gap of ability in this bout. Jones is the better fighter and still will be regardless of the outcome, but that doesn’t mean Santos doesn’t have a chance.
Hill’s Pick: Jones by third-round submission
Fang’s Pick: Jones by second-round knockout
Amanda Nunes (17-4) vs. Holly Holm (12-4)
Class: For Nunes’s women’s bantamweight title
Line: Nunes -425
Storyline: Nunes holds both the women’s bantamweight and featherweight titles and has defeated every woman to ever hold either title in UFC history. Except Holm. Nunes has the chance to complete that sweep on Saturday and after eight straight wins against mostly elite competition, is a big favorite to do so. Holm is a former world boxing champion who has proven to be unafraid of the big moment when she stunned the world with a knockout of Ronda Rousey in 2015 to take the title. Holm is still looking for a worthy follow-up and has the chance to find it here. She is at her best against aggressive opponents when she can counter-strike and Nunes will certainly come forward. If Holm can withstand the early flurry and settle into the contest, she could give Nunes fits. Nunes has proven vulnerable to fatigue at times in her career.
Hill’s Pick: Holm by decision
Fang’s Pick: Nunes by decision
Jorge Masvidal (33-13) vs. Ben Askren (19-0, 1 no contest)
Line: Askren -220
Storyline: There’s no mystery to this fight, which might be the most anticipated bout on the card. Askren is a former Olympic wrestler who is more than happy to rely on that elite skill to remain undefeated in MMA and capture titles in Bellator and ONE Championship. He also is a skilled agitator that has appeared to get under Masvidal’s skin ahead of this bout. Masvidal will be at an advantage when the fight is contested standing up, but he must control his aggression or risk getting off balance and opening the door for Askren’s multitude of takedown techniques. Askren, long considered the best fighter outside the UFC, finally made his organizational debut in March and ran into all sorts of trouble against former champ Robbie Lawler before rallying for a submission victory. The winner here is expecting to get a title shot later this year.
Hill’s Pick: Askren by decision
Fang’s Pick: Askren by decision.
Luke Rockhold (16-4) vs. Jan Blachowicz (23-8)
Class: Light heavyweight
Line: Rockhold -250
Storyline: Former middleweight champ Rockhold steps back in the cage for the first time in 16 months and makes his light heavyweight debut. He said the weight cuts to 185 pounds combined with the realities of the business and a disappointing end to his title reign in 2016 started to drain him of his passion to compete. The 34-year-old says he is rejuvenated in his pursuit of a belt in a new division. He won’t get a friendly welcome to light heavyweight in Blachowicz, who had a four-fight winning streak snapped with a knockout loss to Santos in February. Rockhold is incredibly talented and athletic with the ability to win fights with his striking or ground game. This fight should tell a great deal about how his game will translate at 205.
Hill’s Pick: Rockhold by second-round submission
Fang’s Pick: Rockhold by third-round knockout
Diego Sanchez (31-11) vs. Michael Chiesa (15-4)
Line: Chiesa -375
Storyline: Chiesa got his first win in nearly three years when he made his welterweight debut with a submission of Carlos Condit in December. He had only lost two fights in that span, but endured long stretches of inactivity because of injury and unfortunate circumstances outside the cage. Free of the brutal weight cuts to lightweight, Chiesa looks to build on the momentum. He draws one of the most intense competitors in the sport in veteran Diego Sanchez. A return to a wrestling-focused attack has helped Sanchez find some success in the twilight of his career, but Chiesa should at the very least neutralize that advantage with his strength and wrestling ability. It’s still the best path to victory for Sanchez, who is likely to be at a disadvantage on the feet, particularly at longer range. If there is one edge for Sanchez, it could be in cardio.
Hill’s Pick: Chiesa by third-round submission
Fang’s Pick: Chiesa by decision
Adam Hill/Las Vegas Review-Journal