UFC 245 is unquestionably one of the most stacked cards of the year, but a couple of curious match-ups kicking off the PPV may leave fans with mixed feelings when all is said and done
UFC 245 is as stacked a card as you can get.
Three title fights grace the top portion of the event, with a highly anticipated showdown between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington for the UFC welterweight title taking the main event slot. While both men leave a lot to be desired in the likeability department and both have their fair share of cringe-y trash-talking attempts, both men are extremely talented fighters with superb wrestling and cardio and developing striking games. Usman hasn't lost since his second pro fight and is riding a 10-fight winning streak in the UFC, while Colby sports a 7-fight winning streak in the promotion; both men have paid their dues and it's finally time to see who really reigns supreme in the talent-rich welterweight division.
The co-main event sees fan-favourite Max Holloway in his fourth defense of the UFC featherweight title, this time against surging Aussie standout Alexander Volkanovski. Holloway has won an astounding 14-straight fights at featherweight, with his lone loss in the last six years being a close decision loss up a weight class in his bid for a second belt at lightweight. Volkanovski on the other hand is riding a 17-fight winning streak (7 of those wins coming in the UFC) and is a well-rounded challenger sure to put up a great fight against the torrential output of the Hawaiian champion.
The third title fight on the card features female GOAT Amanda Nunes in her fifth defense of the UFC women's bantamweight title against Muay Thai kickboxing legend and former UFC women's featherweight champion Germaine de Randamie. De Randamie presents an interesting challenge for Nunes on the feet as one of the greatest female kickboxers of all time, and should it stay in striking range fans may be in for a technical treat. This is a fight where we may see Nunes (smartly) utilize her underrated grappling and ground-and-pound skills in order to get the job done.
The prelims also boast some great matchmaking, including exciting action-fighter Mike Perry's fight with surging knockout artist Geoff Neal, Irene Aldana's potential firefight with Ketlen Vieira, and a flyweight scrap between exciting finishers in Brandon Moreno and Kai Kara-France.
Unfortunately, there are two fights slated to kick off the pay-per-view portion of the evening that may leave a sour taste in longtime fans' mouths when all is said and done.
Bonafide legends Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber are both fighting on the main card, adding to what is already a stacked lineup. It's who they're fighting (and at what weight) that is concerning, and may very well make UFC 245 a hard card to watch for hardcore fans of the sport.
Urijah Faber vs. Petr Yan
It's no secret that the old are fed to the young in combat sports.
Aging fighters often make for a great litmus test for up and coming prospects - while they don't have the same athletic ability or durability they once had, the old lions typically still have a lot of fight left in them and make up for a lot of that aging with experience and veteran guile.
Younger prospects are thus matched up against aging greats in what is often seen as a win-win for promoters - if the prospect passes the test, they'll have a recognizable fighter's name on their resume and should they do so impressively, they can quickly develop into a star; if the savvy vet is able to beat the prospect, the loss is taken as a learning experience for the young fighter and a chance to grow after gaining valuable experience, while fans can go home happy seeing a vet pick up a win that proves they've still got it.
Of course with how cruel combat sports are in respect to age, those old lions often find themselves taking a ton of punishment or getting finished when those prospects do manage to pass the test.
In Urijah Faber, we have a true enigma in the world of MMA, particularly amongst the lighter weight classes.
The "California Kid" is now 40 years old - he's not as fast or agile as he used to be, his chin isn't as durable as it once was, and the caliber of competition in his division has only gone up in recent years. Yet Faber still finds himself at the top of the division and defying conventional wisdom when it comes to aging in the lower weight classes.
His career longevity is simply astounding - competing in both the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, Faber managed to maintain a top-5 ranking for over a decade in whichever division he fought in, often cementing himself as the #1 contender for extended periods of time.
Although the former WEC featherweight champ was never able to capture gold in the UFC, Faber's domination of everyone not holding a title and his marketability secured him four title shots in his UFC tenure (albeit one was for an interim title).
It was only after 2015 when age really looked to catch up to Faber - he had slowed noticeably, his skillset had ceased to evolve, and he didn't seem to have the fire he once had. It led to some pretty lopsided drubbings against longtime rival Dominick Cruz and upcoming contender Jimmie Rivera, though his trademark toughness kept him from being finished in either bout.
In fact, despite fighting a who's who list of killers for virtually his entire career, Faber was stopped by strikes just three times and never once submitted; a TKO loss early in his career in 2005, his TKO loss of the WEC title back in 2008, and an early and extremely controversial stoppage loss to Renan Barao in 2014. Despite his athletic decline, Faber still managed to do a good job of defending himself and avoiding taking too much damage, even when he was outmatched.
His durability and smarts both inside and outside the cage were a big factor in his longevity. Fans never had to worry about Faber backing out of fights due to injury thanks to his smart approach to training, nor did he ever allow himself to get out of shape or lazy. He took amazing care of his body throughout his career, and it's a big part of why he could come back at a high level and still compete with young athletes even at 40.
For his "farewell" fight at the end of 2016, Faber looked rejuvenated; his fire looked to be back, the 'snap' back in his punches that had been missing over the last few years, and he even added new wrinkles to his game like a solid left hook, which he previously seemed explicitly determined to never use. He battered fellow vet Brad Pickett from pillar to post to take home a dominant decision win and hang up the gloves in his hometown of Sacramento.
It looked like the perfect ending to a long and illustrious career. But as it almost always goes in combat sports, eventually the fire to compete became too difficult for Faber to ignore any longer.
After over two-and-a-half years away, Faber would return to face a hungry young prospect in Ricky Simon.
Many fans were not excited about the match-up, and betting lines heavily favoured Simon. Sporting a solid wrestling background with great athleticism, Simon was (and is) seen as a great young prospect with plenty of potential.
Unlike most, I was actually very excited about Faber's chances in the fight. Even though he had lost a step, Faber was still a freak athlete - though a step behind younger championship-level fighters, his speed was still more than enough to compete with mid-tier competition, and his wrestling and scrambling ability were far superior to what Simon had displayed thus far.
Where I saw the biggest advantage for Faber was in the striking - Simon was still extremely raw as a striker, relying more on aggression and strength than technique and skill. Even Rani Yayha, one of the worst strikers you'll find (he is an amazing jiu-jitsu practitioner, but as one-dimensional as anyone you'll see in modern MMA) managed to hurt Simon on the feet and get the better of him in many exchanges during their bout.
Veteran smarts and Simon's overaggression proved to combine for a brilliant return to action for the California Kid (or if you prefer, the Califonia Middle-Aged Man). Although an early exchange scared many as Faber looked to be wobbled off a grazing punch, Urijah maintained his composure and shortly after Simon's wild aggression made his chin an easy target for Faber's powerful overhand right. Faber dropped and finished Simon in just 46 seconds to announce his triumphant return to the bantamweight shark tank.
Still focused on achieving his long-elusive goal of UFC championship gold, Faber is now fighting another (much more polished) prospect in Petr Yan.
While I was excited about Faber's ability to beat Simon even at 40 years of age, I'm much less thrilled about his chances against Petr Yan. Yan is a great example of the modern Russian MMA prospect - a great wrestling and grappling background with power on the feet and a slick striking arsenal. Where many other prospects from Russia focus more on the grappling aspect of MMA, Yan is a striker first and foremost, primarily utilizing a pressure-based boxing attack to overwhelm opponents and land combinations punctuated by heavy kicks.
The 26-year-old is 5-0 in the UFC already and continues to look better and better with each appearance. Where Urijah is often able to outshine prospects through smarts and his well-rounded skill set, Yan is already an experienced fighter beyond his years and is more than capable in all areas of the game. His wrestling and scrambling ability should prove enough to force Faber into a striking match, and although Faber will likely still have a speed advantage, Yan's slick boxing and combination work is likely to give Urijah fits on the feet.
Faber's cardio, which has also paid dividends in the past against certain prospects, is unlikely to help him here either, as Yan is known for his ridiculous pace and has shown to only get stronger as the fight goes on.
Simply put, it's a tough stylistic match-up even for a prime Urijah, and as much as I'm a fan of the California Kid, I find it hard to see much hope for Faber getting his hand raised against Yan on Saturday barring a surprise KO or submission should Yan make an error in judgement.
Faber is a brilliant finisher through and through, and should Yan give him an opportunity, Faber will waste no time in finishing him. With as skilled and experienced a prospect as Yan however and at 40 years old, it just isn't a good match-up for the legend.
Jose Aldo vs. Marlon Moraes
While we may very well see Faber's UFC title aspirations be thrown out for the final time, Faber's smarts will likely prevent him from absorbing too much punishment or getting knockout out cold.
In Jose Aldo's drop down to bantamweight, a much more depressing ending is likely.
In contrast to Urijah Faber's success at an advanced age, Jose Aldo's career has seen a decline already despite being just 33 years of age.
After a decade of sheer dominance, Aldo's historic reign over the featherweight division came to an abrupt end in 2015 in a shocking 13-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor, which saw the typically reserved champion uncharacteristically lunge at his opponent and put himself in harm's way in the opening seconds of the fight.
Never getting a chance at redemption after McGregor unsurprisingly ditched the featherweight division and refused to defend his title, Aldo set out to reclaim his throne. After a return to form in a dominant masterclass of boxing and counter-wrestling against Frankie Edgar for the interim title, Aldo would once again be crowned king after McGregor was finally stripped of his belt.
Aldo would then face his worst stylistic nightmare in Max Holloway.
Styles make fights and Holloway's was tailor made to be Aldo's kryptonite. Although Aldo rocked Holloway early and picked up the first round on the scorecards, Holloway's relentless pace and Aldo's determination to always immediately answer any offense with returns of his own systematically sapped Aldo's cardio. Slowing even a little against the torrential output of Holloway spells disaster, as he just continued to pepper Aldo with such overwhelming output that Aldo's body simply couldn't handle it.
The resilient champion fought tooth and nail and showed incredible heart and will in trying to survive and fight back even when he was never given a moment to breathe, but ultimately the ref was forced to save Aldo from his own toughness late in the third round. Aldo's featherweight dominance was officially over and a new era had begun.
In a short-notice rematch after Holloway's original opponent was injured, Aldo challenged Holloway in a rematch just 6 months after he lost his belt. Promising to return to the Aldo of old and implement his legendary leg kicks (which had been conspicuously absent from his fights for the last several years), the rematch looked much the same as Aldo landed great shots early but Holloway's relentless offense and pressure led to a similar third round stoppage.
The once untouchable Aldo had now lost three of his last four and took a tremendous amount of punishment in his last two outings. Despite still only being in his early thirties, Aldo's body had been through the ringer during his lengthy career; injuries had long plagued his title reign and Jose was no stranger to surgery over that time, not to mention his struggles making the cut to featherweight (though he never missed weight and he is far from the largest 145 pounder in the division).
For the first time in years, Aldo was now tasked with having to work his way back up the ladder, as he had done so long ago in his WEC days. And work his way back he did.
Though his reaction time and speed weren't quite as sharp as they used to be, Aldo reminded the world just how dangerous he can be. After getting dinged by a shot from Jeremy Stephens which had him covering up, Aldo decided to bite down on his mouthpiece and brawl with the heavy handed slugger, which is exactly what Stephens was hoping for.
Much to the surprise of Stephens, brawling with Aldo ended up being to his detriment. While Max Holloway showed he has the otherworldly durability required to withstand Jose Aldo's wrath, very few other men could. Summoning the hunger and drive that made him a featherweight's worst nightmare back in the WEC, Aldo let his hands do the talking and cracked Stephens with heavy combinations. The hard-nosed brawler was put on the retreat to the surprise of many, but Aldo was just getting started.
Taking the center of the Octagon and bringing the fight to Stephens, Aldo's slick boxing and superb head movement had Stephens busted up and on the back foot. Firing a lunging left to Stephen's midsection with the intent to send Stephen's liver popping out of his back, one of the toughest men in the UFC was dropped to the canvas recoiling in pain and Aldo swarmed like a rabid dog. Late in the first round the referee was forced to step in as Jose mauled his prey and the legend of "3-round Aldo" was born.
Like many champions, Jose Aldo changed up his tactics after becoming a champion. Having to fight 5 full rounds is taxing on any fighter, let alone one with an explosive style like Aldo's. There's also much more to lose when you're a champion with a belt on the line, and as such, Aldo's wild and aggressive output was tempered into a much more clinical, efficient style.
While he still picked up the occasional finish when it presented itself, Aldo was content with putting on technical clinics on his challengers, picking them apart and staying just a step ahead of them en route to lopsided decision victories. Only his most fearsome challengers were seemingly able to get Jose into a higher gear, most notably Chad Mendes in their second bout which resulted in one of the greatest fights in MMA history.
Returning to the race for contendership breathed new life into Aldo, and even though fans could see he wasn't quite as great as he was in his prime, he was still clearly one of the best fighters on the planet.
He proved this by going toe-to-toe with fellow Brazilian Renato Moicano, a surging contender who was seen as the next big threat to the throne. The two fought on a hair-trigger, firing off quick counters and whipping kicks at range in a tightly contested first round.
In the second however, Aldo decided to kick things up a notch.
A slick left hook in the pocket rung Moicano's bell and left blood in the water, sending the Brazilian legend into a feeding frenzy. Aldo swarmed with violent combinations, landing nasty left hooks to the body along with heavy combinations upstairs which overwhelmed Moicano's defenses. The crowd roared as Aldo chased his prey across the ring, beating on him mercilessly with disgusting ferocity until the ref stepped in to save Moicano from certain death.
After finishing two fighters ranked in the top 5 of the division at the time, it looked like Aldo was intent on doing Holloway's work for him and clearing out all of the contenders in the division until the UFC had no choice but to give Aldo another crack at the Hawaiian.
Facing surging Aussie contender Alexander Volkanovski in his third fight in 10 months, fans were anticipating a barn burner between the two exciting talents in their scrap in Rio de Janeiro. Unfortunately, they didn't get one.
The "King of Rio" looked shockingly apathetic. The first round saw Volkanovski keep to the outside and look to outpoint the former champ; when Aldo did throw shots back they were quick and crisp, but his output was sparse. The second round saw Aldo's output drop off even more; the energy and drive that was so apparent in his recent form was nowhere to be found, even though the skill and athleticism was still clearly there. In the third, despite being down on points, Aldo seemed to be coasting to a decision - stuffing Volkanovski's takedown attempts with ease, he looked content to simply rest against the cage as time whittled down.
It was a shocking performance from Aldo, and one which we'd never seen before - as a champion he was often content with doing only what was required to take home a victory even if he could have done more, but never had we seen Aldo step into the cage and do virtually nothing. Aldo himself was his hardest critic, saying he had never fought so poorly in his life and that his performance was nothing short of embarassing. He said it was a harder loss to take than the infamous 13-second McGregor KO, as at least in his other losses, even if he made mistakes he still tried.
Volkanovski for his part did what it took to win against his toughest challenge yet in enemy territory, and his normally aggressive style should make for a great fight against Holloway later on the UFC 245 card.
For Aldo, the setback severely impacted his hopes for a title shot in the near future.
Rather than looking to continue his earlier rampage through the division, Aldo is following in the footsteps of many MMA fighters over the years in looking for a fresh start in a different division.
Having struggled on many occasions to make the 145 pound limit, Aldo has long flirted with the idea of moving up to lightweight. When he was the champion, Aldo had wanted to capture a second belt, but the UFC held firm that if Aldo wanted to move up to challenge for the lightweight title, he would need to vacate his featherweight title in the process (something they would famously not hold Conor McGregor to shortly after).
The idea was renewed after his losses to Holloway, but Aldo was determined to reclaim his featherweight crown. After his loss to Volkanovski however, it appears that Aldo and his team have reconsidered and are now open to exploring other weight classes.
Rather than moving up however, where the ridiculously deep division and backlog of contenders would likely require multiple wins in order to see Aldo earn a title shot, Jose has aimed his sights on the bantamweight division.
The idea of Aldo at bantamweight isn't a bad one - if he can be anything like his featherweight self, he is immediately a top contender for the belt and matches up exceedingly well with the current champion Henry Cejudo. Jose Aldo is the greatest counter-wrestler to ever compete in MMA, making a match-up with Olympic wrestling gold medalist Cejudo an enticing one for fans.
It's the extra ten pounds Aldo has to lose that is concerning.
His struggles to make 145 are well-documented, but his team insists that working with nutritionists and experts they believe he can make 135 safely. Even if he can make the weight however, just how much is the weight cut going to take out of Aldo? How much is it going to affect his explosion, his speed, his cardio?
Fighters making large weight cuts are nothing new, but over recent years, aging fighters have found a lot more success moving up a weight class rather than moving down.
According to his team, Aldo has turned to an almost-vegan diet in order to slim down. If recent photos of Aldo are any indication (taken more than a week before he's due to weigh-in), there's a good chance we aren't going to see the healthiest version of Aldo on December 14th even if he does successfully make the weight.
The fact that he's fighting savage knockout artist Marlon Moraes just adds to the sense of impending dread fans of Aldo are currently experiencing.
Moraes had made himself a feared contender in the division following three straight dominant finishes over top 10 opponents, but his last outing saw the explosive striker gas out early and mentally shut down en route to a beatdown at the hands of Henry Cejudo for the vacant title. While his cardio and heart were brought into question after that performance, his skill, speed and power certainly aren't up for debate and although he is unlikely to test Aldo's cardio following the tough cut, if Aldo is drained at all it could spell disaster for the former champion.
I'd love for Aldo to prove me wrong and not only make the weight but look better than ever in the cage, but all signs so far are leading to his decision to drop down a weight class being a bad one.
UFC 245: A Missed Opportunity
WEC 48 was the biggest card in the beloved promotion's history.
After UFC parent company Zuffa purchased the organization in 2006, the UFC used the WEC as a place to showcase the lighter weight classes, including the bantamweight and featherweight divisions which the UFC didn't have at the time. Garnering a strong following on the Versus network, the WEC offered superb action for MMA fans but the stigma that lighter fighters couldn't sell pay-per-views remained.
With the widespread popularity of former featherweight kingpin Urijah Faber and a Brazilian smashing machine who had just captured the title and ran through the division in Jose Aldo, a match-up between the two was the perfect opportunity for Zuffa to test the waters and see if the smaller weight classes could deliver PPV revenue worthy of the UFC.
The MMA world was abuzz with the highly anticipated fight between the young Brazilian phenom and the California Kid at WEC 48 back in April 2010, nearly a decade ago.
The fight delivered in spades, with Jose Aldo putting on a striking masterclass against the ridiculously tough California Kid. Easily stuffing the standout collegiate wrestler's takedown attempts, Aldo tore up Faber's legs with his famously brutal leg kicks. He also hammered Faber with slick boxing combinations and his superb defense didn't let anything significant through for the entire 25-minute affair, with Aldo pitching a shutout over five rounds. Faber's toughness became the main talking point, as he was dropped by leg kicks at multiple points and could barely stand yet somehow kept himself in the fight and competitive enough to avoid being stopped by the referee.
The WEC's first and only pay-per-view event was a smashing success and Zuffa greenlit the absorption of the smaller promotion, adding in its weight classes and combining the WEC's lightweight division with the UFC's. The WEC had already been the premier destination for the best fighters in the smaller divisions already, and thus the bantamweight (Dominick Cruz) and featherweight (Aldo) champions were promoted to UFC champions come 2011 when the WEC was officially dissolved and its fighters brought in to the UFC ranks.
Their UFC careers would take them in very different directions - Aldo continued his dominance over the division for years while Faber would drop down to bantamweight and solidify himself as the top contender time and again until eventually "retiring".
As fate would have it, in the midst of Urijah's post-first-retirement comeback and Aldo's journey to a new weight class, both Urijah Faber and Jose Aldo are competing on the same card and in the same weight class. It really seems like a no-brainer to have the two fight each other again, right?
Their fight back at WEC 48 is still talked about today - Aldo at the height of his powers, absolutely wrecking Faber's leg, Faber showing unmatched toughness and grit even in a sport where those qualities are mandatory. A rematch would garner a lot of interest on its own, and would be a much more fan-friendly affair that would serve as a good test for both of them.
For Aldo, we would get to see how he performs at bantamweight without having quite the same level of danger for being on the receiving end of a highlight-reel knockout. Faber is still in the upper echelon in the division as well so it would put him in a good place in terms of a potential title shot should he look impressive.
For Faber, he would get a chance at revenge for their fateful WEC 48 bout and defeating the former featherweight champion would put him in prime position for a title shot as well, even if people would question how much of a role Aldo's weight cut played in the fight. Although Aldo is of course capable of fearsome offense, the new weight class would likely leave Aldo more conservative and a one-sided beating or devastating finish is much less likely for both men here.
As for their current respective opponents, matching them up would determine a clear number one contender. For Moraes, a win over Petr Yan would set him back in the right direction toward a shot at redemption against Henry Cejudo, while for Yan, beating the #1 ranked fighter in the division would secure him a title bid in the near future. Marlon's power and speed would be a major factor in the early going especially as Yan is typically a slow starter, but if Yan could weather the storm, his offensive output and pressure would make him a very tough test for Marlon.
Given Marlon's recent loss to Cejudo, if Marlon won against Yan, the winner of the Aldo-Faber fight could easily be granted the next title shot as well which would sell better than any other options, making it a major win for the UFC.
It's rather peculiar that the UFC instead opted to have two popular legends in the same divison face off against other fighters when pairing them up against each other has more upside for all involved. Especially given that in recent years, pairing up legends (especially in rematches) garners a lot higher viewership numbers than having those legends face off against lesser-known fighters - just look at some of Bellator's events to see how that matchmaking is successful (even if those legends are fifty years old).
As it stands, there's a good chance that we see two legends of the sport lose (possibly in damaging fashion) in back-to-back fights on the main card of UFC 245. If that does happen, even if the three title fights deliver afterward fans are going to go home with mixed feelings about the card and two stars' drawing power are going to be diminished at a time where the UFC needs as many stars as it can get.
It is MMA though, and as we all know, anything can happen.
Here's hoping that both Jose and Urijah can find a way to win on Saturday night, or at least avoid taking too much damage should they fall short. MMA fans have seen enough of our heroes fall; the least the combat sports gods can do is let us down easy.