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UFC 239, The Morning After: Death of a Specialist

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Here’s what you may have missed from last night!

UFC 239 was a wonderful event. There were truly stellar finishes and displays of talents from top-to-bottom; indeed, it will go down as one of the year’s best cards. The main event may not have been the most action-packed, but it was perhaps the most challenging title defense of Jones’ career. Meanwhile. UFC 239’s co-main event was not so competitive, but Amanda Nunes did deliver an amazing knockout, which was really the best case scenario.

With all the action that went down, there’s plenty to talk about. However, I said before the fight that Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren was my personal main event. If there’s a single bout that will be remembered from this entire event, it’s likely to be Masvidal’s five second — or more realistically, 2.5 second — record-setting knockout win (watch it here!).

From both sides of the equation, it’s a fascinating result. Back in March, Masvidal returned from a 16-month layoff at the age of 34 following consecutive defeats. At the time, 45 damn fights into his professional career, did anyone expect that 2019 was the year that Masvidal finally lived up to his extraordinary potential?

Nah ...

Masvidal seemed destined to be a “what if” in mixed martial arts (MMA). “What if” that one split-decision went his way, or “what if” Masvidal really took his diet seriously? I don’t know exactly what changed for “Gamebred,” but the man has now viciously scored a pair of massively impressive knockouts over two Top 5-ranked Welterweights.

He very well may receive a title shot for his efforts. I’d love to see it. Somehow, he did it without changing camps or changing his core approach to the fight game. Everything has just started to click.

Equally as interesting is the fallout for Askren. When Askren finally joined UFC, he was immediately a divisive figure on every level. Fans either loved his humor or hated his personality intensely. The question of talent was handled in similar fashion: given Askren’s one-dimensional style, there were only ever two outcomes to his UFC career.

Askren was always either going to dominate everyone or get hurt, and it seems we’ve found which it will be.

There is no middle ground with Askren. If he can take down his opponent and hold him there, Askren is likely to win without absorbing a strike. That’s all we saw for most of his pre-UFC career. However, it was also obvious to anyone who watched him attempt to throw a punch that if Askren were forced anywhere but his comfort zone, things would get ugly for “Funky” ... fast.

So which would it be? Robbie Lawler almost gave us the answer when he picked up Askren, slammed him directly on his face, and then briefly separated him from his consciousness with follow-up elbows. Credit to Askren, though, as he denied his comeuppance solely through force of will (and an iffy pair of calls from Herb Dean).

There would be no such miracle against Masvidal, who knew that Askren only ever had one option. If you pressure Askren, he’ll shoot. If you dance around the outside, he’ll shoot. If you casually walk out only to suddenly sprint forward with a flying knee, he’ll shoot.

Askren is the absolute purist shade of specialist. Even fellow Welterweight grappling-based grinders like Jon Fitch, Demian Maia and Jake Shields all did a better job of learning some type of striking (however ugly) to keep them safe on the feet and at least keep their opponents honest. Askren never bothered, never felt it necessary.

He was correct until these last two fights, two bouts in which Askren absorbed pretty massive amounts of damage. At 34 years of age himself, what option is left for Askren? This loss will cost him any aura of invincibility. Is he young enough to return to the drawing board and learn new skills? Will he even admit the necessity of such a move? There’s a distinct possibility that he simply writes the loss off as a fluke and tries the same approach against his next opponent, who will only be more confident in trying to take his head off.

For complete UFC 239 results and coverage click here.