It would be fair to say that so far, the build up to UFC 245 has been pretty dull. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that most fans (including me) will look forward to this card purely because of the drought of violence we’ve been through recently but, after Khabib’s return against Poirier, a very compelling and high level match up in Whittaker vs Adesanya and the BMF title shenanigans, let’s just say that UFC 245 doesn’t feel as big as it should. And yet the results of this card might tell us a lot about the future of the UFC in many ways. Every single fight on this main card has a lot of implications and raises questions on the technical aspects of the fight game.
Let’s start with Petr Yan vs Urijah Faber:
The UFC has a habit of using these big end of the year cards to showcase their best prospects and UFC 245 won’t be any different. Petr Yan is the main prospect on this card and with a win over Urijah Faber it might put him in pole position for a shot at Bantamweight glory. For all the filthy casuals who might not know who he is, I strongly recommend going on a fight pass binge of Yan’s UFC run, because “No Mercy” is the real deal.
MMA fighters usually lack boxing fundamentals, just knowing how to jab and feint goes a long way in this wacky sport that we all love. Yan on the other end is a very sound striker, his boxing is sharp and creative and he’s without a doubt the best pressure fighter in the bantamweight division. Add to that high-level wrestling skills and some decent scrambles on the ground and you have a Russian terminator rising to the top.
His opponent Urijah Faber is more known to the public. The “California kid” is a veteran and a beloved fighter, a former WEC champion, who’s always game, his rivalry with Dominick Cruz is one that shed the light on a division that at the time, needed it badly. His return to the UFC was unexpected by many, but his performance against Ricky Simon proved that Faber at 40 years olds has still got it. However, his opponent on Saturday is the elite of the division and might be too much for the season veteran, especially since Faber’s game can be summed up by two things: right overhand and a double leg takedown. A big challenge awaits Urijah on his way to claim UFC gold, but his motivation can’t be in question when he asks for a guy like Yan. Petr on the over hand might be one great performance way from proving to the whole world that he’s the biggest threat to Henry Cejudos crown.
Marlon Moraes vs Jose Aldo:
This fight might not even happen, considering the fact that Jose Aldo, someone who notoriously talked about moving to 155 for years because the cut to 145 was hard on him, is trying to cut down to 135 and kill himself in the process. The pictures of him so far have been tough to watch and if TJ Dillashaw showed us anything it’s that 10 pounds don’t magically disappear of the scale (and don’t do EPO). So if somebody in his camp could stop him from dying it would be very cool… With that being said, let’s talk about fighting, shall we?
You don’t really need me to explain how great Jose Aldo is do you? From the beating he put on Mike Brown to his latest KO victory over Renato Moicano, the Brazilian has cemented himself as one of the best fighters of all time. His attacks are sharp and fast, his movement is methodic, and his defense is one of the best I’ve ever seen, but I’d rather talk about his weaknesses. At the highest level of the game it’s pretty uncommon to see “flaws” in a fighter, however there are habits that you capitalize on if you can point them out. When Jose Aldo faced Max Holloway you could see the brilliant way in which the Hawaiian exploited perhaps Aldo’s biggest habit: throwing every punch like it’s the last. Aldo does that a lot, throw a vicious three strikes combo punctuated by a leg kick and then take a breather.
Holloway came ready for the leg kicks, heavy on his lead leg and ready to pivot. He didn’t allow Aldo to rest with his pressure and his jab, and slowly but surely emptied his gas tank and finished him with an overwhelming amount of punches. That’s the trick here, Jose Aldo is perfectly capable of going the distance, he isn’t the kind of fighter to gas out easily but if you don’t allow him to dictate a slow pace you give yourself a better chance of winning.
The problem is that Marlon Moraes might not be suited for this kind of game plan. Magic Marlon is one of my favorite fighters in the UFC and I’ve been following his progression since his days at WSOF (World Series of Fighting), he’s dynamic, can produce some spectacular finishes and he’s very dangerous on the ground. So when his fight against Henry Cejudo was announced I thought that we would have a new bantamweight champion and that it wouldn’t be particularly close. On top of his skills he was bigger than Cejudo, and there was no doubt in my mind who would win this fight. And for 1 round I was right, I was more than right. Everything I thought would happen happened and Moraes was destroying poor Henry. Every strike was thrown with mean intention and I was surprised at Cejudo’s chin and the fact that his legs had not given out yet because the kicking display from Moraes was sublime. And yet he lost. How you wonder?
Well, for the very reason he was winning. The pace that he put on his opponent wasn’t sustainable and he folded under Cejudo’s pressure and unbreakable will (There was also a couple of headbutts, the Cejudo special).
His path to victory against the former Featherweight king would have to mirror the likes of Chad Mendes or better yet Alexander Volkanovski. Does he have the skills, patience and fight I.Q to implement this game plan?
Amanda Nunes vs Germaine De Randamie:
The Iron Lady is back and well, has decided to avenge one of her losses. For all the filthy casuals, Germaine de Randamie is no scrub, she might be a part time police officer but if all police officers could fight like that in Holland their crime rate would be the lowest in the world. Her kickboxing background serves as a solid base and would give her an edge against most fighters in the women divisions. After an impressive win against rising talent Aspen Ladd it’s time for Germaine to face her old demons and settle the score against Nunes, but there’s just one little problem: since the last time they fought, Amanda Nunes became the GOAT of women’s MMA.
In their first fight, Nunes took down De Randamie and mounted her pretty easily before finishing her with vicious elbows to face in the very first round. Has De Randamie’s ground game evolved since then? Surely, but we have no evidence that would suggest that Nunes can’t do the exact same thing again and that’s a scary thought to have, because if I would have given the iron lady the striking edge when they first met, the balance has surely shifted in a major way since then. Nunes’ power has been displayed and talked about multiple times but her improvement as a striker overall is what made the difference in most of her fights. Having a lot of power goes a long way in the women divisions even if you are technically very poor (Hi Jessica Andrade) but you can’t just walk forward swinging and get to where Amanda is right now. If De Randamie can’t keep her at bay with leg kicks and movement, this fight is not going to last very long. But if she’s able to do what Holly Holm failed to do and force Amanda to use her grappling she would give herself a chance to win this fight.
Max Holloway vs Alexander Volkanovski:
This is by far the best fight on the card on paper, because Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski are the real deal. We talked earlier in the article about Max Holloway and the way he was able to beat Jose Aldo twice, so we know he is a volume puncher, has great cardio and is very good at dictating the pace of a fight. And yet these attributes are not what makes the Hawaiian special. We also talked earlier about the poor striking fundamentals in MMA, well if a boxing fan ever tells you than MMA fighters don’t know how to punch correctly, show him Max Holloway. As far as MMA striking goes, only Israel Adesanya tops Holloway for the 1st place due to his amazing kicking game but if Izzy is 1a Max is 1b.
His technique is flawless, he doesn’t overreach, he knows how to move around the cage, incorporates feints and stance shifting flawlessly into his game and most importantly he’s a defensively sound striker. As great as Max Holloway is when he puts the pace on his opponents, his temper and attitude often lead him to take some shots that he shouldn’t get hit by. Defense is what makes the difference between a good striker and a great one. If all goes according to plan Holloway should remain the undisputed featherweight champion, right? Right? Well Alex “The Great” might have something to say about that.
I feel like most people don’t understand the danger that Volkanovski represent for the Hawaiian champion. Maintain a high pace for the entire fight? No problem for him. Try to outclass him in a striking battle? Might get a little tricky, ask Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes what they think about that. Volkanovski has improved a lot as striker at City Kickboxing in New Zealand and when you see what they have done with Adesanya and Hooker, his improvement is not a surprising in the slightest.
When Max will try to control the distance and keep him at bay, he’ll try to cut the distance and get inside and they are both respectively great at it. They both kick well, and they don’t discriminate to the body either, you better protect your liver if you’re fighting either one of them. But I still give an edge to Holloway in this department. Volkanovski will have to implement his wrestling game and establish the threat of the takedown early to create more opportunities in the striking department, because Max Holloway’s takedown defense might be the best in the game. The X factor could be Volkanovski’s strength. The former rugby player used to weigh over 200 pounds and has shown a great core strength throughout his UFC run. I cannot wait to see them in the cage and if there’s one fight on this card that you shouldn’t miss, it’s this one. With that being said, let’s move on to the main event.
Kamaru Usman vs Colby Covington:
I don’t think I’ll shock anyone by saying that this is one is going to be a grappling heavy matchup and in this type of fight, until I’m proven otherwise, I’ll pick Kamaru Usman over anyone in the Welterweight division. You’ll hear that Usman is the Khabib of the Welterweight division but that’s not really the case. Khabib is the most dominant top fighter I’ve ever seen, his strikes, guard passing abilities, submission threats, everything is top notch. But most importantly he stays busy on the ground, almost always trying to make something happen (That something mostly being smashing his opponent’s head into the canvas). Usman doesn’t really do that, however his takedown style and his wrestling is in some ways similar to Khabib. He doesn’t rely on timing like a GSP or Frankie Edgar, he isn’t a high crotch artist like Daniel Cormier, but his pressure and his ability to corner his opponent against the fence is what makes him dangerous. Because from that point on, escaping his grip becomes very difficult. You can’t just wall walk after he takes you down and expect to just get away from him because that’s what he wants, he gets you to waste your energy trying to get up from underneath him and then he drags you back down if you manage to get up even a little bit.
What he did to Tyron Woodley is a testament to the way he perfected this skill and mastered it. That’s only after his opponent’s gas tank empties a little bit that he starts opening up with strikes on the feet. He’s a competent striker but Colby Covington might have the edge in this department. Covington’s game is more oriented towards the clinch and keeping his opponent up against the cage. His cardio seems on par with Usman’s and maybe even better but as I said earlier, I give the edge to the champion in the pure wrestling exchanges. In order to win this fight, Covington will always have to avoid the fence and in doing so, show some footwork that we haven’t seem from him yet. If he gets taken down, he should try to create Jiu jitsu scrambles and threaten submissions or try to get up in a way which is not really his forte. However, if he manages to stay in the middle of the octagon, Covington might have a chance to prove that his striking is indeed superior to Usman’s.
UFC 245 is going to be a great card and these matchups will tell us a lot about the future of the UFC, it’s a great way for us to get ready for the best card of the year: UFC Busan, because the Korean zombie is fighting on this card and at StipeTapped we love violence.