LAS VEGAS — With three vicious knockouts earlier, the crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for UFC 239 were expecting nothing less in the main event.
What they were treated to was a high-level chess match that earned Jon Jones the split-decision victory over Thiago Santos, much to their dislike.
As the jeers rained down throughout the headliner, especially as it neared the end, the champion knew he could not deviate from the game plan.
“It doesn’t feel good to be booed, but not many people know what it feels like to be in there,” said Jones, who notched his 10th total light-heavyweight title defence Saturday night.
“I can’t allow them to make decisions for me, it would be disrespectful to my coaches, to my gift and to myself. That’s a very rookie move to start switching up your strategy because someone is booing you.”
#AndStill the undisputed UFC LHW champion of the world! #UFC239 @JonnyBones || B2YB Nemiroff pic.twitter.com/8UWc70Iqse
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Santos however, was forced to change his strategy.
The native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, appeared to injure his left knee in the first round and it continued to get worse as the fight wore on, when the 31-year-old began to target it with sidekicks.
Jones had nothing but praise for his challenger’s performance, especially with the news of his injury.
“He is the most powerful guy I have ever faced,” said Jones. “Even when I was blocking he had me rocking side to side.”
“I think Thiago represented his team and his country so well — I wish him nothing but the best and when he gets back to Brazil they should throw him a celebration.”
Santos was riding a four-fight win streak coming into the biggest fight of his career, including three straight wins since moving up a weight-class.
During his post-fight presser, the former Brazilian armed forces member assessed his performance.
“Most people including Jones didn’t think I could get past the second round,” said Santos. “I’m happy to have gotten the opportunity to fight for the title and given everything that happened I’m proud of my performance.”
Despite a bit of banter between the two light-heavyweights, Jones shared an intimate moment him and his opponent had inside the cage when the fight ended.
“He [Santos] told me sorry for all the back and forth,” said Jones. “Thiago even invited me to come down to Rio and party. I’ll definitely take him up on that –Rio is a fun place.”