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How Jon Jones changed his preparation for UFC 239 bout against Thiago Santos

Size or speed? Differing approaches in pay-per-view main event

Open Workouts For UFC 239 at MGM Grand

Steve Marcus

UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones poses for selfies with fans during open workouts for UFC 239 at the MGM Grand Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Jones will defend his title against Thiago Santos of Brazil in UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday.

Open Workouts For UFC 239 at MGM Grand

UFC women's bantamweight and featherweight champion Amanda Nunes finishes an open workout for UFC 239 at the MGM Grand Wednesday, July 3, 2019. Nunes will defend her bantamweight title against Holly Holm in UFC 239 at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Jon Jones bounded to the scale with an outstretched smile at the UFC 239 official weigh-ins Friday morning at New York-New York.

“Easiest weight cut of my career,” is perhaps the most overused cliché in mixed martials but given how Jones prepared for his title defense Saturday night against Thiago Santos, this might be one instance where the sentiment is genuine.

“I’m lighter than I normally am,” Jones said Wednesday at MGM Grand during open workouts. “My idea was, I’m fighting a guy moving up from middleweight, so I don’t need to be any more powerful or strong for this fight.”

Jones hit the light heavyweight limit of 205 pounds at the weigh-in with Santos tipping the scales at 204.5 pounds to make the headlining bout of International Fight Week at T-Mobile Arena. All the other competitors also came in on target, meaning UFC 239 should go off as planed beginning at 3:30 p.m. today at T-Mobile Arena.

Fighters must constantly pick between packing on muscle to have a size advantage in a bout or focusing more on cardio to cut down and move more fluidly. Jones has often leaned toward the former, and since he’s constantly linked with a future in the heavyweight division, switching his approach is somewhat curious on the surface.

It makes more sense when considering Santos, who’s smaller in stature and fighting for only the fourth time at light heavyweight.

“I need to be able to move really well and have some serious endurance,” Jones said. “I believe if this fight goes anywhere more than two rounds, I think the fight is going to be in my favor but I also think I can finish him in the first two rounds.”

Santos was less animated as he weighed in, sporting a steely glare. He might be at a natural size disadvantage — measuring 6-foot-2-inches to Jones’ 6-foot-4-inches — but it’s been less noticeable this week.

In addition to Jones slimming down, Santos has bulked up. The Rio de Janeiro native has a more chiseled physique than ever before, drawing the notice of fans and Jones.

The perception is that he’s trying to maximize his opportunity to land the perfect punch on Jones and add to his streak with a fourth straight knockout victory.

“I will do my footwork, my power and I will put pressure on him Saturday,” Santos said. “We will see the new light heavyweight champion of the world.”

Consider Jones unthreatened.

“I’m not too concerned with his power,” Jones said. “Every UFC fighter I’ve ever fought has the power to knock me out. It’s about being skilled enough to land the punch. Thus far, no one has been skilled enough to land that punch and I don’t believe anything is going to change Saturday night.”

Jones went on to say that he thought Santos’ weight training may backfire. He knows first-hand.

During his first prolonged suspension from the UFC, Jones took up powerlifting. He returned to the octagon stronger than ever for a UFC 197 matchup against Ovince St. Preux, but it proved to be his most listless performance.

Jones still won every round to take a unanimous decision but moved slower and was less electric than normal. Television microphones picked up on his cornermen blaming it on powerlifting, and Jones later agreed.

“I was bigger than ever and it affected me,” Jones said. “My endurance was not the same. One thing I learned about this is UFC, MMA is an endurance sport — especially when you’re fighting for world championships. It’s a 25-minute endurance sport, so I believe in the first two rounds, maybe his muscles will work to his advantage. Anything after that, he’s carrying extra weight and I think it will work against him.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 702-948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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