LAS VEGAS — Thiago Santos put on an unbelievable display of courage, fighting more than four full rounds with a badly injured left leg against a guy widely regarded as the best ever in his sport.
For some reason, the crowd at T-Mobile Arena booed throughout the second half of the bout as Santos and Jon Jones engaged on even terms in a spirited battle for the UFC light heavyweight title. Jones eked it out in the closest call of his career, winning by split decision in a fight that could have gone either way.
Two judges had it 48-47 for Jones, while the third had it 48-47 for Santos. Yahoo Sports had it 48-47 for Jones.
Both men were helped out of the cage by their cornermen and needed assistance making the walk to the locker room.
“He was just technically a lot more sound than I thought,” Jones said. “He’s a black belt in muay Thai and I stood and fought with a guy who has been kickboxing way longer than me.”
It seemed the wise move for Jones would have been to use his wrestling and put Santos on his back, where his ability to land a fight-changing punch or kick would no longer exist.
Jones, though, seemed comfortable as he was in command and kept it on the feet.
“I was winning so there was no need to go for a shot,” Jones said. “We were playing a very high-level game of chess in there. Any time you out-kickbox a black belt in muay Thai, you shouldn’t hold your head down.”
Santos seemed to have injuries to both legs and in the end that may be what saved Jones. He kept his belt and his title as the greatest ever by the skin of his teeth, and he was not about to apologize for the bloodthirsty crowd whose appetite was whetted by violent knockouts from Jorge Masvidal, Amanda Nunes and Jan Blachowicz.
“We all knew Thiago’s best chance was to knock me out,” Jones said. “I played it smart and brought home this gold for my family and team.”
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