International Fight Week is here! On July 6 in Las Vegas, UFC 239 goes down at the T-Mobile Arena. There are two title fights topping the card, as the incomparable light heavyweight champion Jon Jones defends his title against Thiago Santos, a dangerous Brazilian striker with amazing KO power. The other championship bout features simultaneous two-division champion Amanda Nunes putting her bantamweight title on the line against former champ Holly Holm. Oh yes, and there’s also Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren in a massive welterweight clash.
As we near fight night in Sin City, let’s take a brief look at some of the fighters on UFC 239 who could get the second-half of 2019 started off with some terrific winning scores for your DraftKings teams.
Jon Jones ($9,600) vs. Thiago Santos ($6,600)
Men’s Light Heavyweights
Jones has already defended his title once this year, besting Anthony Smith in a one-sided decision. He won the belt vacated by Daniel Cormier last December when he TKO’d rival Alexander Gustafsson in their highly anticipated rematch. It seems that both inside and outside the cage, the only person who can beat Jon Jones is himself. Looking to score the shocking upset is “Marreta,” who’s gone from fringe contender a middleweight to a serious threat at light heavyweight. The Brazilian’s 3-0 run at 205 lbs consists of a doctor’s stoppage TKO of Eryk Anders, a vicious KO of Jimi Manuwa, and most recently a TKO of Jan Blachowicz in February.
Santos has both powerful kicks and punches. Just for those reasons he has a chance to dethrone “Bones.” However, he can be overly aggressive, prone to getting caught on counters, and it’s a no-contest if Jones takes him down or has him on his back. Simply put, Jones is a substantial favorite and at $9,600 for a reason. Expect the belt to remain in the hands of the champion.
Number of Note: 126 In his last two fights, Jon Jones has out-landed his opponents (Smith and Gustafsson) by 126 significant strikes (184-58). It can take just one for Santos to turn things in his favor, but landing cleanly on Jones is easier said than done.
Luke Rockhold ($8,400) vs. Jan Blachowicz ($7,800)
Men’s Light Heavyweights
Rockhold once reigned as the UFC’s middleweight king, but he’s lost two of his last three fights, including his shock KO to Michael Bisping. Injuries have also prevented him from being more active. On the plus side, he’s finally moving up to light heavyweight, where he has his eyes on Jon Jones. Blachowicz will look to bounce back from his aforementioned loss to Thiago Santos, which had snapped a four-fight winning streak. He should provide a stern test for Rockhold’s debut in the weight class, especially considering nearly all of his UFC losses have been to top-ten opposition.
This is no easy introduction to 205 lbs for Rockhold. Blachowicz certainly has the power to crack his questionable chin, and his cardio has improved considerably. That said, Rockhold is still the far more skilled fighter and he has the wrestling and grappling to make life miserable for Jan. I see Rockhold surviving an early scare, putting Blachowicz on his back, and finishing the fight from there.
Number of Note: 14. Rockhold has won by stoppage in a whopping 14 of his 16 career wins, with six by KO/TKO and eight by submission. Blachowicz has been finished three times in eight losses.
Michael Chiesa ($9,200) vs. Diego Sanchez ($7,000)
Chiesa is making his second appearance at welterweight, having won his previous bout by submitting Carlos Condit at UFC 232. The Ultimate Fighter season 15 winner was a formidable lightweight for years, but the increasingly difficult weight cuts led to him going to 170 lbs. Sanchez, the original Ultimate Fighter, is enjoying a renaissance of sorts. “The Nightmare” comes into this one on the back of consecutive victories over Craig White and Mickey Gall, his first winning streak since 2010-2011. Sanchez is by far one of the most entertaining fighters of all-time, and you know he’ll be down to scrap against “The Maverick.”
With all due respect to White and Gall, Chiesa is a substantially better fighter than both of them. This will give us a true test of how much Sanchez has left in the tank. In all likelihood, it’ll be a fast-paced battle that should see a lot of intense grappling exchanges. Historically, that’s not been the type of fight Sanchez loses, but Chiesa is still big for the weight class and deceptively strong. He’s also more likely to hurt Sanchez on the feet than the other way around. The pick is Chiesa in what should be a Fight of the Night contender.
Number of Note:21. Chiesa pursues takedowns often. He’s completed 21 of them (at a 43% success rate) across 12 UFC fights, with Kevin Lee as the only fighter he’s failed to takedown inside the Octagon.
Edmen Shahbazyan ($9,400) vs. Jack Marshman ($6,800)
Shahbazyan has a lot of promise as an undefeated 21-year-old prospect. After earning a contract through Dana White’s Contender Series, Shahbazyan eked out a split decision over Darren Stewart in his UFC debut. At UFC 235 against Charles Byrd, he returned to his previous form by starching Charles Byrd in just 38 seconds. Marshman arguably maintained his spot on the UFC roster with a split decision over John Phillips, this despite nearly being knocked out in round one. The Welshman is 3-3 inside the Octagon, but he has a wealth of experience that includes 31 overall professional bouts that stretch back to 2010.
Marshman is a very willing brawler who has shown his toughness time and time again. But he’s way overmatched athletically and Shahbazyan has a distinct advantage both in power and wrestling. There are concerns about Shahbazyan’s gas tank based on the Stewart fight, but I don’t think Marshman will be able to exploit that. I see another quick finish for the Ronda Rousey-managed fighter.
Number of Note: 8. Eight of Shahbazyan’s nine wins have been by first-round knockout. Marshman has been stopped in the first round three times, including twice by knockout.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is mookiealexander) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above. I am not an employee of DraftKings and do not have access to any non-public information.