Amanda Nunes wins big, Jon Jones squeaks decision at UFC 239

By Greg Beacham,  AP Sports Writer

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Amanda Nunes won in spectacular fashion. Jon Jones barely hung on.

Both champions still emerged from UFC 239 with their belts around their waists.

Nunes stopped Holly Holm late in the first round to defend her bantamweight title, and Jones squeaked out a split-decision victory over Thiago Santos to defend his light heavyweight title on Saturday night.

A two-division champion on a nine-fight winning streak, Nunes (18-4) remained the pound-for-pound ruler of her sport with her usual devastating flair. After she floored Holm (12-5) with a perfectly timed kick to the head, she mercilessly finished Holm with punches on the ground with 50 seconds left in the first round.

“I told my coaches I wanted to knock her out the same way she knocks people out,” Nunes said of her opponent, an accomplished kickboxer. “I did it tonight. She was the only former champion I didn’t beat yet. Now I beat her, and I’m very happy.”

Jones (25-1) had much more trouble with Santos (21-7), who nearly scrapped his way to victory despite injuring his left knee early in the fight. Jones fought cautiously and earned a 48-47 decision on two of the three judges’ scorecards.

“He implemented a game plan I think a lot of people have wanted to for a very long time,” Jones said. “He did a good job. He exploited a hole in my game that won’t be there next time.”

Nunes took a few minutes to find her groove against Holm, who famously knocked out Ronda Rousey with a head kick nearly four years ago. When Nunes felt comfortable, she unleashed a sophisticated array of strikes and eventually caught Holm with a kick that sent her straight to the canvas.

Nunes completed the knockout with punches, sending Holm to her fifth loss in seven fights.

After her fourth successful bantamweight defense, Nunes said she wants to defend the 145-pound belt next. UFC President Dana White is trying to book a rematch with long-reigning featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino, who lasted just 51 seconds against Nunes in December.

“This woman is tough, man,” White said of Nunes. “She’s unbelievable. Pound for pound, one of the greatest of all time. But there will be somebody next.”

Jones was a significant favorite against Santos, a longtime middleweight who moved up in weight last year. But Santos’ power and energy caused problems for Jones from the opening minutes, forcing the champion to be cautious and to use his superior length.

“We all knew Thiago’s best chance was to knock me out,” Jones said. “I played it smart and brought home this gold for my family and team. He was technically a lot more sound than I thought. Thiago Santos is a black belt in Muay Thai. I’m proud of myself, because I stood with a guy who’s been kickboxing way longer than me.”

Santos landed several significant strikes in the first round, but Jones briefly floored the challenger with a big kick in the second.

“I thought I hit him more and out-pointed him, but with my knee like that, it was all I could do,” Santos said. “I knew it was a very close fight. In the condition I was in, I thought I fought a good fight.”

Jones found his rhythm midway through the fight, using his size to keep Santos away. Santos also hurt his knee along the way, although he kept striking even while he struggled for balance.

“I felt like I was winning, so there was no need to take him down,” Jones said. “We were playing a very high level game of chess in there.”