Well, KO of the Year is locked up. And Breakthrough Fighter of the Year may be as well.
On Saturday night at UFC 239, Jorge Masvidal ran across the cage and jumped into the air – and into our hearts – knocking out Ben Askren with a flying knee just after the opening bell sounded. A few, completely unnecessary follow up punches followed before the referee could intervene. Official time: five seconds, the fastest knockout in UFC history. It was a knockout that will almost certainly earn him some hardware at the end of the year, and may well earn him a title shot next.
Masvidal’s career is fascinating to look at, especially given his recent success. Five years ago, no one would have called Masvidal one of the best fighters in the world, save Masvidal himself. A good fighter, yes; and underrated fighter, certainly, but ultimately he was thought of as an elite journeyman, a gatekeeper to the stars. But that belied the truth of the matter. Since joining the UFC in 2013, Masvidal has gone 11-6 but an astonishing four of those losses have been split decisions that probably should have gone the other way.
Masvidal is one of the most complete fighters in MMA. He’s a very sharp boxer, a good wrestler, and a shockingly strong grappler. This is a man who D’arce choked Michael Chiesa and fought Demian Maia to a standstill. On top of those skills, he’s also a magnetic personality with an interesting story. He started fighting in Kimbo Slice’s backyard fights in Miami and jawed Leon Edwards backstage before dropping the most iconic line of 2019 – “three piece with the soda”. He’s a fighter’s fighter and the only reason his has not blossomed before now is that he has always found a way to lose in pivotal situations. But in the biggest fight of his career, against an undefeated fighter that he actively dislikes, Masvidal didn’t just deliver the three piece and the soda, he brought the whole damn family meal.
Masvidal has always been his own worst enemy, continually finding himself on the wrong end of split decisions because the nonchalance he exudes outside of the cage was also present inside the octagon. Masvidal would casually outbox his opponents but never had the urgency to press the issue, giving his opponents the opportunity to steal judge’s scorecards with aggression. But recently, Masvidal has decided he’s done with that nonsense. Now Masvidal is coming for bodies. It’s a good plan, and he might just pick up a belt along the way.
“I played it smart.” – Jon Jones on his lackluster win over Thiago Santos
“Dana, tomorrow I’m gonna call you and we’re gonna have a talk. I love you.” – Amanda Nunes about what she wants to do next.
“Well that sucked.” – Ben Askren on his 5-second KO loss.
“He’s had a good career. He’s been a great fighter. I’d like to see him hang it up.” – Dana White on Luke Rockhold.
Up: Amanda Nunes. If there was any doubt before Saturday there is none now. Nunes is the undisputed GOAT of women’s MMA.
Down: Jon Jones. Jones’ quizzical performance on Saturday was reminiscent of Anderson Silva’s lackluster affairs against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote but unlike Silva, Jones nearly lost his title as a result, despite fighting an opponent who had one functioning leg. On a night where Jones was promoted as the greatest and most dominant fighter, laying that big of an egg was a horrible look for the man who would be GOAT.
Up: Thiago Santos. Santos didn’t come in like the “wild man” Joe Rogan promoted him to be and was the better for it. He was one judge away from becoming the UFC light heavyweight champion and did it despite clearly injuring his leg early in the fight. Hell of a performance from the massive underdog.
Up: Jorge Masvidal. Now the holder of the fastest KO in UFC history, Masvidal made as authoritative a statement as possible for a title shot.
Down: Luke Rockhold. Rockhold talked a lot of trash about moving up and challenging Jones but those dreams only lasted about seven minutes as he once again got put on a highlight reel, this time by a man who hasn’t knocked someone out since 2014. Rockhold has been knocked out in three of his last four fights and was also nearly KOed by David Branch. His chin is no longer suspect, it is convicted.
Down: Claudia Gadelha. The former strawweight title challenger had about the worst showing imaginable for someone who won every round on all three judges’ scorecards. Gadelha got with a new camp and is trying to be a more measured kickboxer but it seems to be at the expense of her dominant pressure style.
The judge’s couldn’t quite figure out what to make of the main event. Jones won a split decision with scorecards of 48-47, 47-48, and 48-47 but there wasn’t one “swing round” like usually occurs in split decisions. Instead, only two rounds were unanimously agreed upon, with Santos winning the first round and Jones winning the third on every judge’s scorecard.
It’s hard to overstate just how close Jones came to losing his title last night.
Jon Jones vs. Jan Blachowicz. Jones wants to stay busy but there’s not a ton of options for him at this point, especially with the winner of Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic likely facing Francis Ngannou. Blachowicz is coming off the most impressive win of his career and presents limited danger to Jones, meaning “Bones” may feel comfortable opening up and getting a highlight reel win to get the bad taste out of fans’ mouths.
Thiago Santos vs. Anthony Smith. Santos and Smith already fought once before, a Fight of the Night at middleweight. Now with both men coming into their own at light heavyweight, it’s time to run that back.
Amanda Nunes vs. Cris Cyborg/Felicia Spencer winner. Nunes wants to defend her featherweight title and this is an easy No. 1 contender bout. Plus Nunes doesn’t have any clear-cut challengers at bantamweight now.
Jorge Masvidal vs. Kamaru Usman. Masvidal just did something 19 other men were unable to do, and he did it in record-breaking time. Not sure how you deny him at this point, even if it means his friend Colby Covington is getting passed over once again.
Ben Askren vs. Demian Maia. Maia kept himself relevant with a win last weekend and this would be a grappling delight. Or the worst kickboxing match in UFC history.
Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman. Both men have moved to light heavyweight now and both have been knocked out in three of their last four (and dropped in their wins during that time). Their first fight was for the middleweight title. Run it back but as a loser leaves town match.