UFC 245 delivered a stacked night of fights, but a lackluster main card had to be saved by a superb main event and an excellent supporting cast
Fight Pass Prelims
Starting out on Fight Pass, the night started off with a bang as Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Punahele Soriano starched Oscar Piechota in mere minutes to kick off the year's biggest event.
After dropping Piechota early with a flurry in the clinch and nearly finishing him with ground and pound, Soriano's prey managed to work his way back to his feet. Piechota wouldn't be standing much longer however, as Punahele kept up the pressure and landed a brutal left hand that snatched Piechota's soul.
The next bout saw Jessica Eye, just six months removed from a brutal head kick knockout loss to division queen Valentina Shevchenko, bounce back in improved form against sizable favourite Viviane Araujo.
Despite missing weight by a whopping five pounds, Eye looked surprisingly good and was landing solid combinations throughout. Her potshots to Araujo's midsection were particularly effective - Araujo started off strong but faded quickly and the Brazilian's hype train was completely derailed by the first capable striker she faced. Araujo seemed positively perplexed by Eye's straight punches and head movement, but nonetheless was able to stun Eye on several occasions with her single, telegraphed overhands. Instead of pouncing however the Brazilian let her off the hook each time, and as a result had her first loss handed to her in the Octagon.
Things began to heat up again courtesy of another flyweight bout, this time in the men's division.
Mexican standout Brandon Moreno had proven to be an extremely exciting and promising prospect in the developing flyweight stable, though his reckless and looping standup game had put him in trouble when he had faced the elite of the division. Luckily for the young scrapper, Moreno has evolved his striking arsenal in leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.
Facing Muay Thai specialist Kai Kara-France, it looked like Moreno's willingness to stand and trade was going to get him into trouble once again as Kai's sharp right hand dropped Moreno and stunned him on more than one occasion in the opening round of their contest. Refusing to back down, Moreno's persistence and vastly improved standup game paid dividends in the following two rounds as "The Assassin Baby" took over the fight with fluid combinations, constant pressure, and surprisingly slick defense.
Punctuating his combinations with kicks was particularly effective throughout, and by the end of the thrilling 15-minute affair Moreno was walking the New Zealander down, landing combinations at will and doing his best Diaz-flexing impersonation to ignite the crowd. An impressive showing indeed.
In the featured Fight Pass prelim, 20-year-old Enumclaw WA native Chase Hooper put on a show against featherweight journeyman Daniel Teymur, brother of top lightweight striker David.
Hooper's long and lanky frame and rather uncomfortable striking looked troubling at first as a sloppy entry had Hooper taking a massive hook from Teymur, only for Teymur to lock up a tight arm-in guillotine in the opening minute. Hooper stayed composed and got himself out of danger, sticking to his opponent like glue and keeping the fight in tight where he wanted it.
Soon enough Hooper took Teymur's back and locked in a tight rear-naked choke. It looked like a quick and clean finish was Hooper's as Teymur thought about tapping, but instead Teymur, face beet red and turning purple, somehow fought off the choke and turned out of it.
In retrospect, it probably would have been better for Teymur to tap out.
Hooper landed heavy punches and elbows on Teymur as the striker tried valiantly to escape Hooper's clutches, only for Hooper to lock up a mounted triangle. With his head and arm trapped and in no position to defend himself, Teymur ate a barrage of heavy punches and elbows until the referee stepped in to save him, but not before a large cut had opened on his forehead. Sometimes being tough is detrimental to your health.
It was an impressive win for the lanky grappling prospect, but also showed he needs to put some extensive work in on his striking abilities if he wants to compete against stiffer competition. The awkward young adult is now 9-0-1 in his pro career and already boasts a solid following thanks to his appearance on the Contender Series last year. Hopefully the UFC will continue to slowly build Hooper into a contender rather than throwing him to the wolves and wasting his clear potential.
The Televised Prelims
The opening bout on the "main" preliminary card was a rather depressing one. Matt "The Immortal" Brown returned in his second fight since his first "retirement" to face a man who definitely needs to retire, Ben Saunders. Saunders never had the best chin to begin with, but at this point I'd bet on a strong breeze being able to wobble the lanky jiu-jitsu artist.
Having been knocked out eight times in his career already with four of those losses coming in his last six outings, it's no surprise that Saunders would end the bout on his back wondering what just happened.
Brown did what he had to to win, but the former top contender looked pretty impressively bad in the 9:55 it took him to do it. Brown shockingly took the fight to the ground early by tripping Saunders, only to be stuck in various leg triangles by Saunders and forced to fend off submissions for the entire first round.
After rocking Saunders with the first shots that landed in the second, Saunders tied Brown up and once again Brown followed him onto the mat. This time he did some damage with some ground and pound, but why Brown didn't just stand up and force Saunders to fight in his realm I have no idea.
Near the end of the round a wobbled Saunders was thrown to the ground and knocked out unceremoniously, earning him his fourth straight loss and fifth KO loss in seven outings. Even if Saunders continues to fight, it won't be in the UFC as the loss ensures he'll be cut from the promotion. Brown on the other hand has won two in a row against shot fighters, and still has what it takes to beat lower-end guys, but really should consider hanging up the gloves as he's clearly nowhere near the fighter he used to be.
A typically middling middleweight bout ensued between Ian Heinisch and Omari Akhmedov, which Omari took home on the scorecards. Heinisch's rushed striking really needs some improvement if he wants to make a splash in the division, but at least his wrestling scrambles are exciting.
Next came the biggest winner of the night: Irene Aldana.
I've been a big fan of Aldana and her teammate Alexa Grasso since they first came onto the scene in Invicta FC. Aldana is a solid boxer who sticks to the fundamentals and is never afraid of a good old-fashioned fist fight. Her grappling defense has seen steady improvement over the years and her boxing base has also grown in leaps and bounds, turning her into a bonafide contender.
Although she's been on the wrong end of two extremely close split decisions during her 4-3 UFC tenure, Aldana has continued to improve and always makes for an exciting addition to any card.
Ketlen Vieira on the other hand had already solidified herself as a title threat in her four UFC outings, taking out former title challengers Sara McMann and Cat Zingano back-to-back to improve her record to a sterling 10-0. Her size, athleticism, and well-rounded game were expected to be too much for Aldana and saw Vieira as a sizable betting favourite.
Come time to fight, both ladies threw down in the middle of the Octagon, Aldana's footwork and movement at odds with Vieira's snappy combinations. Both women landed solid blows throughout the opening stanza; Aldana scored with her right hand and some sharp bodywork, while Vieira landed punches and leg kicks of her own when Aldana stayed in the pocket.
Aldana's movement and fluid hands looked to slowly be giving her the advantage over the first few minutes, her sharp right straight connecting and heavy shots to the body scoring points for the Mexican standout. Out of nowhere an exchange of left hooks sent one fighter flopping to their back.
Set up beautifully by the liver shots she had landed earlier, a crisp left hook from Aldana landed flush on Vieira's exposed chin, sending the #2 bantamweight in the world crashing to the canvas. A few follow-up shots shut Vieira's lights completely off and the division found itself a new top contender.
The performance was a brilliant one by Aldana and even though it was a head shot that put Vieira down, it was Aldana's committment to working the body early which found her the knockout blow.
Body work is still enormously under-utilized in MMA. Fighters like Junior Dos Santos, who sets up his famous overhand right with relentless body jabs, have proven just how effective it can be but it's still rare to see fighters utilize body work effectively. For fighters worried about being taken down especially, body work can be particularly effective - not only can it sap your opponent's cardio, but should your opponent time a shot with your punch, you've already lowered your level to throw the body shot and often even find yourself with an automatic underhook, giving you an advantage in stopping the takedown.
I can't say enough good things about Aldana's tactics in this bout - and the fact she used my favourite punch, the left hook, to put Vieira out shows that she's a woman after this writer's own heart.
The final prelim saw Geoff Neal announce himself as a scary proposition for anyone in the stacked welterweight division.
Although Neal was the favourite heading into the bout, Perry's renowned for his toughness and iron chin. Perry had never been knocked out or TKO'd and showed remarkable grit in several of his prior engagements, turning the brash slugger into a fan favourite in the process. Against Neal however, Perry's defenses were simply overwhelmed.
Having prepared extensively for Neal's superb straight left hand, Perry had clearly put a lot of focus on stopping straight strikes for his high-profile match-up on Saturday. Instead, a left high kick went right around his defense and stunned the hard-nosed brawler. Neal pounced and went to town on Perry, landing a series of shots before putting Perry down with his vaunted left straight.
It was an extremely impressive finish and one which should earn Neal a top-flight opponent in his next outing.
The Main Card
And here we get to the depressing portion of the event.
In my preview of the card, I talked about how Faber matched up pretty poorly with Petr Yan at this point in his career. I expected Yan to put the pace on the MMA legend, but ultimately for Faber's toughness and veteran guile to allow him to at least surive to a decision.
It looked like that was the likely outcome after a close first round saw Yan giving the California Kid (now a middle-aged man) ample respect early, choosing to potshot here and there and avoid committing to anything Faber could counter.
In the second round, shit hit the fan. Yan's strength and skill proved way too much for an aged Faber, whose punches didn't even seem to register when they did find a home and whose celebrated grappling was easily nullified the few times Faber found himself in the clinch. Yan began to piece Faber up, and a brutal combination dropped Faber hard in the second frame.
Faber recovered as best he could, weathering a barrage from Yan and working his way back to his feet, smiling and trying to play off the damage. But a 40-year-old simply can't recover from getting rocked like a younger man can. A brutal elbow sent Faber down again and this time opened up a bad cut along with causing a hematoma under Faber's eye.
Faber was getting trounced and had been dropped twice, but he managed to make it out of a hellish second round. His ridiculous warrior spirit was on full display, but that can only go so far against a hungry young killer.
Yan kept up his assault to start the final frame and looked for a knee in the clinch; as Faber pulled away, Yan instead flicked out his leg and extended it into a kick, his foot catching Faber clean and sending him to the floor for the third and final time. While Faber woke up after hitting the ground, it was the first time in his lengthy career that he had been cleanly stopped by strikes.
In his 30 fights inside the WEC and UFC, Faber had been dropped a total of four times. He had been TKO'd a total of three times in those contests, with one of those being an extremely early and controversial stoppage. Against Yan, Faber was dropped three times in just under eleven minutes of action.
While it was a showcase for Petr Yan, it was a sad and brutal loss for a legend in Urijah Faber. Here's hoping Faber rides off into the sunset before he takes any more damage - luckily for Urijah he had taken very little for the vast majority of his career, but should he stay in it much longer that's sure to change.
In Jose Aldo's highly anticipated bout at bantamweight, the former featherweight kingpin's performance was a mixed bag. It looked like the cut was a very bad idea in the opening moments as a head kick from Marlon grazed the top of Aldo's head and wobbled him, but the King of Rio shook it off and settled in.
Moraes is a monster in his own right and landed some solid shots early on Aldo, who looked slower and stiffer than he did in a few years ago back in his prime. But the legend still has what it takes and quickly began to find his range, ramping up his attacks and finding a home for his right hand.
A powerful right wobbled Moraes and Aldo went into beast mode, chasing Marlon across the cage like a starving hyena. Marlon tied up and surprisingly hit a stellar hip toss on the notoriously hard to take down Aldo, who was as surprised as anyone; Moraes finished the last few seconds of the round resting on top, but it was clear who carried the momentum into the second round.
Aldo set right back to work in the second, showing off his superb footwork as he stalked Marlon around the cage, constantly pressuring Moraes and cutting him off at every turn. Aldo threw his hands regularly, cracking Marlon with combinations and sharp right hands. Moraes managed to land some slick counters here and there, but Aldo seemed to eat the fearsome striker's punches with little issue; so far, his weight cut seemed like a success.
In the third, Aldo kept up the pressure, but he seemed to become annoyed by Moraes' constant running. He stopped firing as much, allowing Marlon to get back into it with counters as Aldo tried to back him into a corner. It was a very close round and one in which perhaps Aldo had thought he had already done enough to win, or had simply become frustrated with Moraes' incessant running.
His cardio and chin had held up, and even though it wasn't nearly as impressive as his form of old, Aldo's drop to bantamweight appeared to be a success. Until the scorecards were read, that is.
Two judges scored it in favour of Moraes, and just like that Aldo has now lost two in a row. Fans weren't happy and plenty of fellow fighters complained about the decision on social media, but officially Moraes went home with the win. It was a disappointing outcome for Aldo.
Even more disappointing was once again Jose's complete unwillingness to kick.
Once the most feared leg kicker on the planet, Jose Aldo had entire lengthy articles written about his insane leg kicks and how much damage he could do over the course of a fight, yet in the past few years he has thrown exclusively his hands and has attempted only a handful of kicks in his past few fights combined. He threw exactly one leg kick against Marlon, a naked one without any setup, and that was it.
A retreating fighter, particularly one circling out repeatedly like Moraes was, is the perfect target for leg kicks. Shogun Rua famously chopped down Lyoto Machida in their first outing almost exclusively thanks to his attacks on Machida's legs as he circled out to avoid Rua's hands. Here, Moraes's retreats were practically begging to be hampered by leg kicks but instead, Aldo refused to throw any. It's extremely perplexing to witness a fighter neglect to utilize one of the most potent weapons he has at his disposal.
In the first of three title fights, Amanda Nunes looked positively dominant in the first round against old foe Germaine De Randamie. Nailing her with an overhand right in the opening moments, Nunes took De Randamie down as expected and delivered some nasty ground and pound, though many of her shots were blocked by De Randamie's forearms. Nunes worked hard to secure a finish, even attempting an arm triangle at one point, but Germaine hung tough and lasted to the second stanza.
It was here that the Amanda Nunes of old showed up - a notoriously strong front-runner who faded when an opponent survived the early onslaught, Nunes went back to her old ways, no doubt expecting Germaine to fold before long. Instead, a tired Nunes started getting pieced up on the feet, the Muay Thai champion kickboxer nailing Nunes with heavy punches, knees and even a flying switch knee to the chin. Nunes turned into a full-on wrestler and took De Randamie down, laying on her for extended periods of time to rest and recover. A nasty upkick when Nunes attempted to land a shot from a standing position hurt Nunes as well, and going into the third the momentum was in De Randamie's corner.
De Randamie's embarassingly poor wrestling defense made it impossible for her to capitalize on Nunes' gas tank however, and Nunes was content to easily toss Germaine to the ground and ride out the rest of the rounds. Nunes was 8 for 8 on takedown attempts, and Germaine looked like she wasn't even attempting to stop them. Nunes even remarked that De Randamie's wrestling defense was better in their first fight (some six years ago) than in their rematch.
It was a poor performance by Nunes but a downright embarassing one for De Randamie, who would likely be holding a belt right now if she had even a modicum of takedown defense.
The co-main event saw Alexander Volkanovski implement a perfect gameplan against champion Max Holloway, chopping away at Holloway's legs as the tall Hawaiian hunkered down in his stance. Holloway looked gunshy and peculiarly inactive throughout the first three rounds, not adjusting his gameplan even as rounds fell to the challenger. In the fourth Holloway picked up the pace and began landing on Volkanovski as the challenger slowed down, and Holloway picked up the fifth round as well, doing well when he opted to stand and trade with Volkanovski rather than staying at range.
It was a matter of doing too little, too late for Holloway, who saw his title slip away to a hungry challenger. Though it was a solid technical fight, it wasn't quite the war fans expected and the decision seemed anticlimactic thanks to it.
The disappoiting main card was then saved by its main event.
In a fight between two highly unlikable fighters who regularly put on boring performances, Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington ignited the crowd by delivering a stand-up war.
Now I should note that it really isn't either man's fault that they're boring; both men are exceptionally talented and their impressive records and winning streaks prove that. However, both fighters are often involved in one-sided fights that go to a decision despite spectators knowing who's going to take the victory from the opening minute, as their opponents simply can't deal with their output.
When matched up against one another, the two standout wrestlers decided to exclusively trade strikes for the entire fight. Both men landed big shots throughout, trading in the center of the Octagon from start to finish. Usman took a less mobile, more accurate approach while Colby took the more active route. Both men connected hard shots and Colby stunned Usman on multiple occasions, while Usman appeared to hurt Covington with shots to the midsection repeatedly.
After Usman's dominant third round, Colby claimed to his corner (which was later proven accurate in his post-fight trip to the hospital) that he had broken his jaw. Covington showed true championship heart by going back out there and leaving it all on the line for the next two rounds in spite of a broken jaw.
The fourth round saw Usman landing a lot early, but Colby soon found himself renewed success off counter punches, letting Kamaru throw first only to ding him in response.
Heading into the final round, scorecards were varied - some had Colby up 3-1, others had it tied 2-2, while other people had it 3-1 Usman. In my opinion, the extremely close fight was either 2-2 or 3-1 Colby depending on how you scored the second round, with the first and fourth rounds clearly being Covington's and the third clearly Usman's.
Regardless, after starting the fifth strong Colby got cracked on the retreat by a straight right hand which dropped him. Springing back to his feet and looking to get one back, Colby refused to wrestle and instead paid for it by taking more shots and ended up getting dropped once again by Kamaru.
Usman landed several shots on the ground as Colby tried to survive before referee Marc Goddard stepped in to call of the fight in the final minute of the title affair. It was a rather controversial stoppage as Usman landed several shots to the back of Colby's head and Colby appeared to still be in it when Goddard opted to step in to stop a title fight, but ultimately Kamaru would have taken the decision on the judge's scorecards thanks to winning the fifth round even if Colby had survived.
The fight was a surprisingly fun and scrappy affair and has already had plenty of fans clamouring for an immediate rematch. There was a fair amount of controversy in it as well - the bout got heated as Kamaru called a break for a low blow which was then revealed to be above the belt line in the replays, then halting the action for an eyepoke - now replays did show an eye poke occurred, BUT the eye which Kamaru claimed was poked and which he was wiping was not the same eye as the one Colby had poked.
After that, Colby himself was poked in the eye with a break in the action called, only for Goddard to get mad at both fighters for getting dirty and making the fight resume, not allowing Colby any time to recover unlike the time Usman received. After Colby's jaw was broken at the end of the third Colby once again complained of an eye poke (though it was clearly a punch) and the two continued talking trash to each other in the cage throughout the closely contested bout.
Ultimately Kamaru defended his title in impressive fashion, and as much as he dislikes Colby, he really should be thanking him - Usman was so disliked by fans that only someone like Covington could have made him appealing to fans, and Colby's style clashed with Usman's to create a compelling fight where fans had long ago lost interest in Kamaru's style.
Overall the card was an appropriately mixed success - though the main event delivered in spades and stellar performances on the prelims made up for it, the main card saw some depressing results and dull affairs that sapped the card of much of its energy.
Before I end this piece, I have to take a moment to point out Joe Rogan's increasingly poor commentary.
I'm a big fan of Joe; I regularly listen to his podcast, value his insight on mixed martial arts and fighters in general, and believe he's one of the best commentators we've ever had in MMA's short history.
Over the last few years however, Rogan has clearly lost his passion for commentary. He enjoys shooting the shit and watching fights with his buddies - long gone are the days where he took extensive notes on fighters, did his homework on match-ups, and did his best work in the booth.
He hasn't been shy in admitting he is now essentially there for an easy paycheck and good seats to the fights, and it really shows in his commentary. He has gotten increasingly biased, often making calls that conflict with reality and going on tangents that really don't reflect what's going on in the cage.
UFC 245 was one of his worst nights to date; claiming Usman was clearly up four rounds to none in the main event, that Germaine De Randamie's triangle attempt in her fight with Nunes was extremely close (it wasn't), repeatedly bringing up Volkanovski's former 240 pound (he was actually 214) physique that he talks about every time Alexander fights, and making it sound as though Max Holloway had his leg broken in half after a single round Volkanovski kicks were just a few of the annoying stories Rogan went on about during the course of the event.
He's also gotten more and more ridiculous with his constant "greatest of all time" talks. He seemingly names a different fighter as the GOAT every month and can't stop bringing it up - on Saturday, he continued to disrespect Jose Aldo by claiming Max Holloway is the "consensus" greatest featherweight of all time. There's just a few problems with that: most fans (particularly ones who have watched the sport for a long time) still rank Aldo as the best featherweight to ever compete, and is ranked amongst the P4P greats in the sport as well. He also claimed that Holloway broke "all the records" as champion - that's simply not true.
Though Holloway's 14-fight winning streak at featherweight (which was snapped Saturday night) was mighty impressive, when you include WEC bouts which is only fair (WEC was owned by the company and the premier spot for those weight classes in the world, as the UFC didn't have them) Aldo's WEC/UFC winning streak stood at 15 over the course of eight years. Jose Aldo had seven UFC title defenses, with another two when rightly including his WEC defenses; Holloway's run ended at just three. The biggest argument for Holloway is that he beat Aldo twice, however this was after Aldo had already lost a bout and had showed signs of slowing down after nearly a decade of dominance, not to mention the old adage of styles making fights - a prime Aldo could very well have been a very different fight given his legendary leg kicks and Holloway's susceptibility to them shown in the Volkanovski bout last night.
The short term thinking that Rogan spouts on broadcasts has become more and more grating as time has gone on, and his tangents bring the entire broadcast down as his peers are forced to join in on Rogan's silliness.
It's time the UFC gives Rogan his wish - let him do his podcast live in-sync with the fights with his friends in his studio, throw him a few bucks to stream it for those who order the fights online, and let other commentators fill in his spot. At this point he's become a nuisance in the booth, regularly turning bouts into rants on things that aren't really indicative of what's going on in the fight.
How many times do we have to hear Joe Rogan exclaim that someone is "hurt badly" when a punch missed or was blocked? Or that an explosive fighter is going to gas out because their big muscles need more oxygen? Or hear him (though other commentators are also guilty) mix up or seemingly forget the specifics of established rules every time a downed fighter is hit with an illegal knee? I love Joe, but it's time that he moves on to other things.