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Does Thiago Santos *Really* Have a Chance Against Jon Jones?

The UFC’s 2019 International Fight Week will be spearheaded by the Saturday night blockbuster UFC 239, headlined by light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defending his title against fast divisional contender Thiago Santos. While the card itself is stacked from top to bottom, the main event seemingly lacks radiance. Could it be because Jones will enter the fight as a 7-1 favorite? Probably, but it’s important to realize in MMA, anything can happen. We’ve seen it before, when Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 or when Matt Serra knocked out Georges St-Pierre at UFC 69. But when one looks at this fight and looks at just who the man on the marquee, in fact, is, it’s hard to envision him getting knocked off anytime soon.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Mar 27, 2019 at 6:37pm PDT

So let me pose this question, as I will, throughout this entire piece: Does Thiago Santos have a chance against Jon Jones? Short answer, of course, he does. The long answer? It’s about as thin a chance as there is in a UFC title fight.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Mar 3, 2019 at 12:15am PST

While looking at this fight from a stylistic standpoint, I encourage you to try and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both men. Let’s start with Jon Jones. His strengths? Well, his reach, his fight IQ, his creativity, his athleticism, his timing, his distance striking, his clinch striking, his wrestling, his anti-wrestling, his Jiu-Jitsu, his cardio, his chin, his speed, his movement, his leg dexterity, his ability to use misdirection and feints, his… you see where I’m going with this. His weaknesses? Well, I guess if there was one, it’d be that he lacks power, but even by that measure, he’s been able to finish 2 of his last 3 opponents (if you count the overturned win against Daniel Cormier) by TKO.

Now let’s look at Thiago Santos. His strengths? Of course, the reason he got this title shot to begin with, his power, as well as his timing, his aggression, his ability to close distance, his chin (although David Branch was able to crack him), his awkward striking style in which he loops punches from outside the pocket, his speed, his clinch work, and undoubtedly his strength, as I would hope would be the case for any man brave enough to get Thor’s hammer tattooed on his chest. Now, his weaknesses? For starters, his cardio is very suspect, as evidenced in both the Kevin Holland and Eryk Anders fights when he was forced to grapple due to being gassed after swinging for the fences early.

A post shared by Thiago "Marreta" Santos (@tmarretamma) on Jul 2, 2019 at 11:33am PDT

And you want to know what’s so wild? That’s really the only weakness I need to reference to make my case here. I could go into the fact that Santos has little to no ground game or that he is one dimensional in his attack, or that he is an undersized light heavyweight, but you see that’s just it, I really, really don’t, because when you’re fighting Jon Jones, one significant weakness is as bad as any others, and one is more than enough to sink the ship. Of course, Thiago Santos has a chance, every fighter has a chance. From an odds perspective, he has a better chance of upsetting Jones than Holm did of upsetting Rousey, Serra upsetting St-Pierre, or Dillashaw upsetting Barao. But you know what none of those underdogs had to deal with? Fighting the greatest combat athlete of this era.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Mar 1, 2019 at 8:16pm PST

Of course, Santos could enter the Octagon on July 6 and land one of those looping overhand rights on the temple of the champion and instantly floor him, there is absolutely no doubt that it could happen. But if I recall all the way back, a long time ago back in… March, we all said the same thing about Anthony Smith. Even I bought a bit into the hype. I remember on fight night telling everyone around me that I just had a “feeling” that we were gonna see a massive upset. Then the fight started, and I instantly realized that the upset I’d been referring to happened in the fight prior. I learned an important lesson that night; never doubt generational talents, never buy into the quick hype trains. In the case of Santos, it’s almost even more trivial than that of Smith’s run to the top. Santos has had three fights at 205; Eryk Anders, arguably a natural middleweight who just snapped a 3-fight skid last weekend, Jimi Manuwa, who is now retired, and Jan Blachowicz, who’s good, maybe even great by some measures, but not a championship level UFC fighter. And those three wins, somehow, have now ensured him a shot at the title, once again shining a light on the current state of the rigidity of the light heavyweight division, and its presumed current crop of top contenders.

Keep in mind this isn’t an indictment of Santos as a fighter, clearly, he’s talented enough to earn a title opportunity, but what this does is exactly prove my point about Jones and the light heavyweight division as a whole. Jones is so good, and the division is so shallow that even a middleweight with one top 10 win could earn a light heavyweight title shot whether it’s warranted or not. Whether or not that’s a good precedent to be setting remains to be seen, but at the moment, it’s hard to envision one of these former 185ers being much of a challenge to the man considered by many, including myself, to be the most well-rounded mixed martial arts talent of all-time.

So, once again, I’ll pose the question, does Thiago Santos really have a chance against Jon Jones? The answer? A puncher’s chance. And when you’re fighting one of the greatest to ever do it, a puncher’s chance means you really have no chance.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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