The UFC recently announced the first batch of bouts for the upcoming UFC 239 blockbuster card that takes place July 6 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. In last week’s MMA Odds and Ends, I gave my initial thoughts on the two title fights at the top of the bill featuring Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos for the UFC light heavyweight title and Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm for the UFC women’s bantamweight title. I also gave my thoughts on an intriguing light heavyweight matchup between Luke Rockhold and Jan Blachowicz.
Well, it appears the UFC wants to truly have a special card for this year’s International Fight Week event, because according to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, two more exciting fights have been booked for UFC 239. One is a welterweight matchup between Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal, and the other is a heavyweight bout between Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos. Below are my initial thoughts on the fights
Ben Askren vs. Jorge Masvidal, UFC 239
Welterweight contenders Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal meet at UFC 239 with a potential title shot on the line. UFC president Dana White initially told reporters following UFC 235 that the promotion planned a rematch between Askren and Robbie Lawler, but once Lawler was booked in a rematch against Tyron Woodley at UFC on ESPN 4 it opened the door for Askren to fight a fresh face. Many figured the UFC would take the bait and book Masvidal against Leon Edwards following their backstage scuffle at UFC London, but the promotion has instead decided to match Askren and Masvidal up in a potential No. 1 contender’s bout.
Askren (19-0, 1 NC) had an odd UFC debut against Lawler, but ultimately did end up getting his hand raised. After surviving a hard slam and an early onslaught of ground punches, Askren was able to put Lawler in a bulldog choke, coaxing a phantom tapout out of referee Herb Dean. Fans did not want to see a rematch, however, and the UFC ultimately listed, giving “Funky” a fresh opponent. The former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champion is undefeated in his career and is currently riding a five-fight win streak that includes four victories via stoppage. With his ability to talk a big game, Askren has quickly becoming fan favorite amongst UFC fans, and the promotion has evidently taken notice.
Masvidal (33-13) is 10-6 overall in the UFC and is coming off of arguably the biggest win of his career, a brutal KO victory over Darren Till in the main event of UFC London. Masvidal had become a gatekeeper at 170lbs and had no fought in over a year following back-to-back decision losses to Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia. But we all know MMA is a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” sport and the win over Till raised Masvidal’s stock to the highest level it has his entire career. He was due for a big fight, and the UFC believes this matchup against Askren is the best fight possible.
I love this matchup, and I’m glad the UFC decided to book it as it’s an intriguing fight between two veterans of the sport who are looking to get a title shot. Given Askren’s undefeated record and his impressive wrestling pedigree, I think you have to give him the status of betting favorite heading into this bout. But with Masvidal having solid takedown defense and a superior striking attack, he’ll be a live dog once again.
Francis Ngannou vs. Junior dos Santos, UFC 239
As well, a heavyweight bout between Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos is slated for UFC 239, with the winner likely stepping into the role of No. 1 contender to champion Daniel Cormier’s belt.
Ngannou (13-3) is 8-2 in the UFC and is coming off of back-to-back knockout wins over Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez. After two awful performances against Derrick Lewis and Stipe Miocic, it appears Ngannou has found his groove again in the heavyweight division.
Dos Santos (21-5) is 15-4 in the UFC and is currently riding a three-fight win streak over Lewis, Blagoy Ivanov and Tai Tuivasa. The former UFC heavyweight champ is starting to look like his old self once again, and at this point could be in contention for a UFC Hall of Fame spot.
Both men are on a roll right now, but given the fact Ngannou has taken far less damage in his career and has the hype train behind him again, I’d venture to guess he’ll be a small favorite here.
Great fight, and UFC 239 is starting to shape up as the best card of the year even without Conor McGregor available to fight.