Jones had to endure a heavy-handed attack from the Brazilian but in the end he eked out the victory with a split decision in his favor. The judges scored the fight 48-47 two times for Jones with the third official giving Santos the nod by a 48-47 score after five hotly contested rounds on Saturday night.
The fight ultimately went in Jones’ favor thanks to constant pressure and a technical kickboxing attack that put Santos on his back foot for nearly all 25 minutes.
“Thiago Santos is a black belt in Muay Thai. I’m proud of myself actually. I stood and fought with a guy who’s been kickboxing way longer than me,” Jones said after his latest title defense. “I felt like I was winning. There was no need to go for a show, we were playing a very high level chess match in there. I think he made me look bad.
“Any time you out kickbox a guy who is a black belt in Muay Thai, you shouldn’t hold your head down.
Despite stepping into his first UFC title fight, Santos looked calm, cool and composed while facing arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. While Jones was looking to use his distance and the low calf kicks that he peppers his opponents with in nearly every fight but Santos was more than happy to fire back with a few of his own.
Santos cracked Jones’ lead leg with several stiff shots including one kick that twisted the light heavyweight champion around from the impact. As the round continued, Santos was constantly throwing fire with every counter shot, trying to time his best strikes every time Jones moved forward.
A strong start may have earned Santos the opening round but one of his vicious kicks seemed to tweak Santos’ left leg in the second round. It appeared Santos’ leg buckled for a moment but he quickly recovered and began throwing bombs again on the reset.
“In the beginning of the first round, something went out, my knee seemed to go out. I couldn’t move very well anymore,” Santos admitted following the close of the fight. “There’s no whining about it. It is what it is.”
As much as he had to fear Santos’ power, Jones was still the aggressor moving forward with technical combinations and then moving out of the way before the Brazilian could connect with his best punches and kicks.
Perhaps knowing that Santos’ leg was compromised, Jones started throwing his strikes with more confidence in the third round and even uncorked a huge flying knee that nearly connected. Jones was surgical with his offense, just picking and choosing his shots as Santos began to fade ever so slightly.
As time ticked away in the fourth, Jones really began to take over while stalking Santos across the cage while still being cautious not to get caught with a haymaker in return. Santos was definitely hampered by the knee injury that happened earlier in the fight, which kept him from really stepping forward with his most powerful combinations.
With five minutes remaining, Santos was going for broke and really coming after Jones with everything left in the tank. To his credit, Santos popped Jones with some punishing shots but he just couldn’t connect with enough power to put him down.
When the final horn sounded, Jones felt confident that he did enough to win but Santos definitely earned his respect by giving him a real scare after the scorecards were read out loud.
Jones has now earned three victories in the past seven months with this latest title defense against Santos on Saturday night. It’s not clear who he might face next but it’s entirely possible Jones will cross paths with Santos again one day considering how this fight played out at UFC 239.