Countdown to UFC 239: Is Jon Jones too much for Thiago Santos?

thiago-santos-kicks-jimi-manuwa-at-ufc-231

Thiago Santos, right, kicks Jimi Manuwa during at UFC 231. (Nathan Denette/CP)

For the past several years the UFC has held multiple events during its annual International Fight Week.

The organization scaled back its 2019 festivities with UFC 239 being the lone attraction. It’s quite a doozy, though, and it’s headlined by light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones taking on frightening knockout artist Thiago Santos this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

Santos has always been a feared competitor with notable wins in the 185-pound division over Nate Marquardt, Elias Theodorou and Jones’s most recent challenger, Anthony Smith.

It wasn’t until he stopped depleting his body and moved up to the 205-pound weight class that he finally started generating serious title challenger buzz.

The Brazilian is nicknamed “Marreta” which translates to “Sledgehammer” and it’s a fitting moniker because the 35-year-old has left behind him a trail of bodies, knocking out seven of his past nine opponents.

Santos (21-6) has disposed of Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Blachowicz in his three most recent bouts and was awarded a $50,000 post-fight bonus for each impressive victory.

With an aggressive, attacking style and one-shot knockout power, Santos is capable of making things interesting as long as the fight remains on the feet.

“Nobody wants Jon Jones as the champion anymore, so I will bring that joy to the fans” Santos told the UFC for its popular Countdown show.

Jones (24-1, one no-contest) is set to compete for the third time in less than seven months. The all-time great hasn’t been this active since the early stages of his mixed martial arts career.

“Mentally, technically I feel better than ever,” Jones told ESPN’s Brett Okamoto. “All the moves are just flowing out of me effortlessly in training. … I’m moving really well. My confidence is ultra-high.”

Jones ended a 17-month layoff – which stemmed from yet another suspension due to a failed drug test – in late December with a dominant third-round TKO win over Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 232 in their anticipated rematch.

The champ followed that up by cruising to a five-round unanimous decision over Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in March.

“I’m not injured anywhere and it just feels all like another day at the office for me at this point,” Jones added. “It’s all so familiar. High-pressure moments, tough opponents, facing the next scariest guy who’s been on the tear. It’s all so familiar now. I’m almost too comfortable in this space. I would appreciate being a little more nervous. It would make me feel like I’m more ready, but I am ready and I feel great.”

Can Santos make Jones regret that lack of nerves? If he can, he’d be the first to do so. We’ll get our answer Saturday.

Here is a look at the complete UFC 239 lineup:

MAIN CARD
— Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos
— Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm
— Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren
— Luke Rockhold vs. Jan Błachowicz
— Diego Sanchez vs. Michael Chiesa

PRELIMINARY CARD
— Gilbert Melendez vs. Arnold Allen
— Marlon Vera vs. Nohelin Hernandez
— Claudia Gadelha vs. Randa Markos
— Alejandro Pérez vs. Yadong Song
— Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Jack Marshman
— Ismail Naurdiev vs. Chance Rencountre
— Julia Avila vs. Pannie Kianzad

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