Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back in action this weekend in the biggest way possible, bringing mixed martial arts (MMA) fans a championship tripleheader on Sat. night (Dec. 14, 2019) inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The UFC 245 pay-per-view (PPV) event will be headlined by the welterweight showdown between Kamaru Usman (champion) and Colby Covington (challenger), as they settle their long-standing beef that includes manager, Ali Abdelaziz, for reasons not quite understood.
In the co-main event, which carries much less drama, reigning featherweight champion, Max Holloway, will put his 145-pound title on the line against streaking division standout, Alexander Volkanovski, who earned his spot by winning seven straight fights.
In addition, Amanda Nunes returns to the Octagon to rematch Dutch kickboxer Germaine de Randamie in a rematch that was complete unnecessary but hey, at least “Lioness” is out there defending her titles, unlike some of the other two-division champions. Not naming any names but it rhymes with Menudo.
Now that everyone has weighed in and all three title fights are official, let’s go ahead and deconstruct the match ups below. And for good measure, we’ll also take a closer look at the remaining main card fights featuring Jose Aldo vs. Marlon Moraes and Urijah Faber vs. Petr Yan, with both contests taking place in the bantamweight division.
Let’s get to work.
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman (15-1) vs. Colby “Chaos” Covington (15-1)
When you take away all the nonsense surrounding this fight, most of it generated by Covington, you’re left with one of the more evenly-matched title fights in recent memory. Two collegiate wrestling powerhouses with 15-1 records who rose to power against many of the same opponents. In addition, both Usman and Covington are coming off career performances against ex-champions. “The Nigerian Nightmare” dominated Tyron Woodley for 25 minutes in such a lopsided performance, it was hard to believe that was the same “Chosen One” who finished the likes of Darren Till and Robbie Lawler. Speaking of the “Ruthless” one, he was beaten pillar-to-post by the master of “Chaos” in a five-round affair that showed a new side to Covington’s evolving game. Not only did his volume punching demonstrate (gasp) legitimate technique, he had the balls to stand in front of one of the most savage strikers in welterweight history and let his hands go.
Covington threw a staggering 514 punches in their ESPN headliner back in June.
Still, it’s safe to say both athletes are wrestlers first and fighters second. Usman was a three-time All-American and captured the NCAA Division II national championship back in 2010. Covington was a two-time All-American and two-time Pac-10 Conference champion from 2010-11. In UFC, Usman landed 28 of 83 takedowns (51%) against 48 takedowns in 112 attempts for Covington (52%). It should be noted that Usman has yet to be taken down in 10 trips to the cage, whereas Covington has been dragged to the mat five times in his UFC career. In a fight that is as evenly matched as this one, believe me when I tell you that stat could (and probably will) be the difference in this fight. As good as Covington has been with his grappling, Usman appears to be the stronger of the two and the more punishing in the clinch.
It will be interesting to see how long this contest stays upright. Fights like this can be weird in that somehow the guy who shoots first is seen as “giving up” because he was unwilling or unable to continue banging it out on the feet. Both champion and challenger are powerful athletes but that power has not translated to knockouts, a trend I do not expect to change here. That said, Usman will likely have the tougher time in the stand up, simply because Covington is able to pressure with punches that as we saw in the Lawler fight, cannot be taken lightly. Fortunately for “The Nigerian Nightmare,” this fights starts with his Plan B, so when that starts to break down he can resort to Plan A, where he is the most effective and expected to have a slight advantage. They say football is a game of inches and we can probably insert a similar comparison here. Being just a little bit better is not going to win Usman any street cred, but that’s okay, it only has to win him three cageside judges in Las Vegas.
Final prediction: Usman def. Covington by unanimous decision
145 lbs.: UFC Featherweight Champion Max “Blessed” Holloway (21-4) vs. Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski (20-1)
How much stock we put into the rise of Alexander Volkanovski is directly proportionate to how much faith we have in Jose Aldo as an A-level MMA fighter at this stage of his career, because if you look at the pile of rubble behind “Junior,” you quickly realize that Volkanovski doesn’t have a win over anybody currently ranked in the Top 15. Does that diminish his previous performances? No, he’s certainly been impressive and his hype has been well deserved. But let’s also be realistic here. Volkanovski is not getting ready to take the cage opposite Jeremy Stephens or even Yair Rodriguez. He’s about to step to the greatest UFC featherweight of all time and a Hawaiian destroyer who racked up 14 straight wins with 10 violent finishes. If it seem like I’m nitpicking the challenger well, I am, because Holloway is that damn good and the tiniest of mistakes are the only thing “Blessed” needs to make this a blowout.
Getting back to the Aldo win, it’s important that we acknowledge this was a victory for Volkanovski and not a loss for Aldo. I know on paper they are one and the same, but “Junior” was telling the combat sports media that he lost the fight because he couldn’t pull the trigger and essentially left his opponent unchallenged for most of the three rounds they fought. That doesn’t take into account the evolution of Volkanovski’s game and how “The Great” diversified his attack to keep the former champ befuddled. Is that performance enough to call for a Holloway upset? No, but it certainly puts it within the realm of possibility. We also can’t overlook the tumultuous few years the Hawaiian has experienced, which include health scares and a clear-cut loss in the lightweight division. Until we see otherwise, it’s still appropriate to say the only thing that matters is what happens inside the cage at 145 pounds and to date, there is no evidence that Holloway is anything but flawless.
Holloway boasts a takedown defense of nearly 85 percent. If Volkanovski is unable to secure the takedown, or at least put the champion into a mental space where it becomes a concern, then he’s going to have to spend 25 minutes on his feet with a fighter who holds two UFC records in significant strikes landed. That’s like sending David Samuelson Jr. to the guillotine and hoping the blade gets stuck on the way down. Sooner or later, all those blows Holloway has absorbed are going to catch up to him. It happens to all the greats and is a byproduct of a successful career in cage fighting. Or, a contender who is better than Holloway is going to hit the scene and claim the 145-pound crown with a commanding performance. I don’t think either of those two scenarios is likely for the UFC 245 co-main event and as good as Volkanovski is, which could equate to a pair of rounds on the scorecards, Holloway will simply do more — and do it more often — en route to close (but controversy-free) win.
Final prediction: Holloway def. Volkanovski by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: UFC Bantamweight Champion Amanda “Lioness” Nunes (18-4) vs. Germaine “Iron Lady” de Randamie (9-3)
Amanda Nunes defeated Germaine de Randamie by way of first-round technical knockout when they fought for the “Troops” way back in 2013. In order for us to build a case for the “Iron Lady” in their UFC 245 rematch, we must demonstrate how the Dutch kickboxer has improved to the point where her skill set now surpasses that of the champion.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.
That’s not to say it never happens. Chuck Liddell always had the number of Tito Ortiz, but “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was able to wait long enough for “The Iceman” to lose most (if not all) of what made him great. Nunes, however, is just 31 years old and in the prime of her athletic career. In addition, “Lioness” is no longer the wild, undisciplined striker she was six years ago and the cardio issues that cost her the Cat Zingano fight appear to be rectified. Oh, and she also knocked out a couple of scrubs you probably never heard of in the form of Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm, and Cris Cyborg. No big deal.
As for De Randamie, she did exactly what she was supposed to do en route to securing this championship rematch. Following her Nunes disaster, “Iron Lady” rattled off five straight wins, ending three of them by way of knockout. As Holm learned at UFC 208, the Strikeforce import is a seasoned, technical striker who will steal rounds with consistent output and the kind of “busy work” that judges look for. It’s not unreasonable to think she could play matador against Nunes, who can keep her firearm holstered when facing a striker of equal mettle (see Shevchenko, Valentina).
The easy pick is Nunes by knockout. She certainly has the power and there is no evidence that De Randamie has caught or surpassed the Brazilian bomb dropper in terms of skill. But that would discount other factors like gameplans and fight I.Q. and I have a hard time believing the “Iron Lady” would made the same mistake “Cyborg” made by rushing in to go punch-for-punch. I would instead expect something akin to Holm-De Randamie, or Nunes-Shevchenko, where two formidable strikers limp across the finish line because they spent 25 minutes waiting for the other to engage.
Final prediction: Nunes def. De Randamie by unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Jose “Junior” Aldo (28-5) vs. “Magic” Marlon Moraes (22-6-1)
All the talk leading up to this second main card fight has been centered on the bantamweight cut for ex-featherweight champion Jose Aldo, and rightly so. We’re talking about an athlete who struggled mightily to hit 145 pounds and the expectation was that “Junior” would move up in weight, not down. I know the Brazilian is telling the combat sports media that he’s even faster now and lost none of his power, but those are the same things Chuck Liddell said prior to getting embarrassed by Tito Ortiz under the Golden Boy banner back in late 2018. The truth is, whether or not Aldo wants to believe it, is that nobody knows what to expect when the cage door closes. Well, I should clarify that. We know what to expect from Marlon Moraes: Bad things. Very bad things.
I’m actually kind of shocked that Aldo’s coach allowed him to take such a dangerous fight for his bantamweight debut. I know things didn’t work out for Moraes when he went to war against Henry Cejudo at UFC 238, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s a devastating finisher, racking up 10 knockouts and six submissions in 22 wins. More concerning, at least for Team Aldo, is that Moraes tips the scale at 135 looking jacked and stacked, as opposed to bony and brittle. Cutting to 135 is old news for the “Magic” man which contributes to his blistering speed, as well as his knockout power. That’s important here because this fight is not going to the ground, something you rarely hear in a contest featuring two Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts.
I want to be optimistic about Aldo’s chances here because he’s still just 33 years old and is one of the best featherweights to ever lace ‘em up. But I also can’t ignore some of the problems that we’ve seen over the years, including suspect cardio and a deteriorating chin. Will those be fixed — or exacerbated — by a drop to bantamweight? I’m leaning toward the latter in a fight not unlike the one that saw TJ Dillashaw get smashed at flyweight. A dried out brain doesn’t like to be jostled about and Moraes is going to make contact early and often. If Alexander Volkanovski can land 20 significant strikes against “Junior” in the very first round (95 overall), just imagine what “Magic” will do when the cage door closes in Las Vegas.
Final prediction: Moraes def. Aldo by knockout
135 lbs.: Urijah “The California Kid” (35-10) Faber vs. Petr Yan (13-1)
In order for us to consider Urijah Faber “back,” we must first accept that he didn’t really need to retire in the first place, he just simply needed to take time off to recharge his batteries, repair a shopworn body, and clear the cobwebs from his mind. That would have been hard to accept at age 36 and now here we are at age 40. I’m not trying to be a party pooper because coming off the bench and schooling a young upstart like Ricky Simon at UFC Sacramento was impressive ... then became less impressive when Simon followed that up with a unanimous decision loss to Rob Font. With that in mind, we have two scenarios to choose from. The first has Faber returning to UFC even better than when he left, putting the hurt on a promising young prospect. The second has Faber relying on his tried-and-true toolbox to derail a hype train that was all style and no substance. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
I think what I’m trying to do is temper expectations. Petr Yan is just 26 years old and if you’re thinking “Well, so was Ricky Simon” I’ll gently remind you that Simon entered the Faber fight with just two appearances for UFC over competition not ranked in the Top 15. Yan has already turned away Jimmie Rivera (No. 7) and John Dodson (No. 11), among others. Faber will no doubt fall back on his wrestling in this match up so I guess now is a good time to mention that Yan’s last five UFC opponents are 3-21 in takedown attempts. If the former WEC champ can’t get this fight to the floor while racking up those judge-friendly takedowns, he’s going to have to be faster and more technical on his feet. That’s a tough sell for an old curmudgeon like me, because prior to Simon, Faber’s only two wins since 2014 — a span of six years — came over Frankie Saenz and Brad Pickett. Not exactly the cream of the crop.
Faber is an MMA legend and his success in WEC was the catalyst for introducing lighter weight classes to UFC. Unfortunately, he was unable to reach the mountaintop while competing inside the Octagon, though I can imagine how “The California Kid” must be feeling about those losses to Renan Barao, who suffered one of the great collapses of the modern era. No question Faber remains the sentimental pick, but if we take a critical look at Yan’s performances over the last two years, there’s not a lot to critique. He’s a true mixed martial artist who can do everything — and do it well. Yan is also adept at transitioning from one discipline to another with a high degree of fluidity, leaving Faber in danger when he shoots, strikes, you name it. I do think this one lasts all 15 minutes, but unless Yan completely shits the bed or fights injured, this should be a three-round sweep.
Final prediction: Yan def. Faber by unanimous decision
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 245 fight card on Sat. night RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.
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