Greetings, fight fans; we're in for a long one! The UFC has wrapped up its final pay per view of 2019, and one of the most stacked main cards of the year exceeded expectations. Having three title fights on one card is always a bit of a risky proposition (does anyone remember Strikeforce: Nashville, other than the brawl at the end?), but all three fights stayed mostly interesting and engaging throughout even though we almost got the full 75 minutes out of them. To top it all off we got some nice finishes, a few surprises, and all the other trappings of a great card. Without further ado, let's get down to what the hell happened!
The Main Card
Usman trumps Covington, finishes him late
Kamaru Usman (c) def. #2 Colby Covington by TKO via strikes (4:10, R5) to retain the title
AND STILL!!!!!!!! USMAN TKO'S COVINGTON!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/5Xz7FtkpX6— Decaf Metcalf (@FTBeard11) December 15, 2019
Pun intended in the title, of course. Few expected these two to turn out a Fight of the Night quality scrap, but that's exactly what they did with nearly 25 minutes of high-pace kickboxing. We hear it often that when two great wrestlers or grapplers face off a lot of times we end up with a lackluster kickboxing match, but not only did neither man even attempt a single takedown, but the striking battle was anything but lackluster. There were technical holes for sure, but both men had plenty of impressive moments and showed improvement in the area.
They came out ready to scrap!
Right off the bat we knew we weren't dealing with the infamous "30% Usman" when he started the fight off with a high kick; you might remember him exclaiming that he's actually a good kicker but his knees have been in such bad shape for a long time that he can't even run, let alone kick. It looks like his in his time off he must have gotten his knees to a pretty good place, he threw plenty of high kicks and leg kicks, and one of his sneaky best weapons was a stabbing front kick to the body that appeared to bother Covington over time.
All in all, it was a pretty close and competitive fight where both men showed why they're considered the two best welterweights in the world. I'd be lying if I said the fight went the way I saw it going; I thought there'd be a lot more wrestling, and honestly part of me is disappointed there wasn't because I did want to see how their wrestling really stacked up against each other. Still, the striking battle delivered beyond expectations and both men found a good deal of success with their jabs, but most notably Usman's straight right and Covington's overhand left did a good amount of damage and landed on many occasions. Covington also found a home for his right uppercut and hook as the fight went on, and actually landed pretty well throughout. This wasn't particularly surprising because for as improved as he looked, Usman is still a bit rote on the feet and drops his hands and fails to move his head frequently while striking, which will get you hit when someone is throwing the volume Covington does. I do have to say that Usman's punching technique has improved dramatically even since the Woodley fight; his punches came out much straighter and quicker, and he rarely overextended on them.
However, for as hittable as he was at times the big differential was in the power. In breaking down the fight I put a good amount of stock in how much more physically strong Usman was, and though I thought it would show through in the wrestling more than anything, you really saw the difference in their punching power. Covington landed some solid shots, and Usman mostly ate them and kept moving forward because there simply wasn't enough power behind them. This is a consequence of striking in volume, but it seems a combination of Usman having a good chin and Covington just not being a hard hitter even when he sits down on punches really kept him from giving Usman a reason to respect his striking. On the flipside, when Usman landed a big shot it clearly affected Covington and put a damper in his pressure and volume. I can't undersell Usman's body work as well; the frequent front kicks, hooks, and uppercuts to the body not only seemed to slow Covington down, but hurt him on a few occasions.
The fight answered the big question of who wins the pressure battle between two come-forward fighters with great cardio. They both wear on their opponents with their pace so the more effective fighter would be the one who could fight at their preferred pace more often without being disrupted. Usman really just didn't have much reason to let up on his pace, and we saw how vulnerable Covington is when he's not the one walking his opponent down. With that said, it was far from a blowout so Covington handled himself well in adjusting to unfamiliar territory.
I had to double-check that this was round 4; these guys are cardio machines!
For the sake of length, I won't go into the round-by-round details of the fight, but at the same time I wouldn't even say it's incredibly necessary since most of the rounds played out pretty similarly: they were mostly close and competitive with small, scattered momentum shifts for both fighters throughout. No one jumped into a heavy lead until Usman started to run away with the fight in the fifth round. It was after the halfway mark of the round that Usman really turned up the heat and the damage began really taking its toll on Covington.
As Usman poured on the offense, Covington began to wilt late.
He had slowed noticeably at that point, but a straight right that nearly knocked Covington over was the signal Usman needed to turn up the pressure and hunt for the finish. Another big right hand dropped him onto his butt, though he managed to quickly get back to his feet and make distance. He wasn't so lucky when yet another crackling right hand found its mark and sent him down for the second and final time. There was no quit in Covington, as he shot in for a low single to recover, but Usman easily sprawled and smashed him down before landing several hammerfists. Covington continued to grab for Usman's legs until he settled down on his knees, and took a hand away to cover up. Shortly after, referee Marc Goddard stepped in to call the fight.
Covington immediately complained about the stoppage, and so did some fans. After some consideration I can see both sides. On one hand I thought it could've gone longer, but really wasn't too early. Covington's posture had changed, and he was essentially using one hand to cover his head while the other was limply clinging to Usman's leg, and he was no longer trying to drive forward or turn any angle to pursue the takedown. That isn't offense or intelligent defense. On the other hand, most of the shots Usman landed just prior to the stoppage landed to Covington's gloves, so at that point he probably wasn't taking so much damage he couldn't continue. You can expound on either argument by adding that there were only ten seconds left and he probably could have survived, but rebutting that fighters’ safety is paramount and referee's aren't supposed to make their call based on time remaining. One thing I think everyone can agree on is that Covington would have lost the fight regardless. As mentioned it was a close fight, and the judges scores were pretty all over the place as a result (something I'm sympathizing with more as I analyze the fight after the fact). Even so, had it gone to decision Usman would have won a split, or maybe even a majority decision had anyone seen fit to score that final round a 10-8 for Usman.
Of course we have to touch on something that was at the forefront of this fight: Colby's character, a rather effect heel persona. The finish sweetened the result that much more for his detractors, and took away any argument for a controversial decision from his supporters (or those who just scored the fight for him). As understandably lambasted as his public personality is, the unfortunate result of it is that it completely takes over a lot of public opinion of his abilities. We saw the same thing happen to Michael Bisping, where his abrasive character led to many fans criminally underrating his abilities as a fighter, and it's even worse here because despite people's claims that he "sucks" or that he's a "bum," he's actually a great fighter who has shown many of the improvements you want to see in someone who will be a perennial top guy, if not future champion. He has the ability, but his personality blinds people to that. Despite the result, he acquitted himself extremely well here, and still looked like someone who could be anyone in the division not named Kamaru Usman. And he did it all with a broken freakin' jaw!
Much of the same could be said for Usman, who showed some good improvements to his game and just overall looked like a champion should. His performance was commanding, and his pressure and cardio looked downright scary. Welterweight is full of talent, but Usman's mix of skills make him appear a herculean task for anyone looking to usurp the throne. So who's next for him? Jorge Masvidal appears to be the most popular decision, though Leon Edwards makes just as much, if not more sense. Edwards' last defeat came at the hands of Usman, but they've both improved enough as fighters since to make a rematch at least a bit interesting. As for Covington, he's got choices. Former champ Tyron Woodley is at the top of my list, with both of them coming off losses to Usman. However, with Woodley seeming noncommittal about his next fight, he could also fight whoever between Edwards and Masvidal doesn't fight for the title, Stephen Thompson, or Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Volkanovski outworks Holloway, derails the Blessed Express
#1 Alexander Volkanovski def. Max Holloway (c) by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 50-45) to win the title
"Wow" is the first thing that comes to mind about Volkanovski's performance here. His development as a fighter has been great to watch and difficult to handicap! For every one of his last several fights I've zeroed in on specific things I've seen missing from his game as reasons why he'll likely lose, only for him to show up with those holes plugged up and an increasingly good ability to stay composed and stick to a game plan that works. That latter part is probably the biggest evolution of his game in recent fights. Volkanovski used to be a bit more of a "flow state" fighter similar to Covington, where he was less about taking in a processing reads, and more about not clouding his head with too much info and attacking at a high pace to overwhelm opponents. After Chad Mendes nearly made him pay dearly for that on a couple occasions, he showed up against Jose Aldo and now Holloway with an improved ability to sit back, find his range, and disrupt his opponent's rhythm using what have become his most notable weapons: leg kicks.
What a brilliant show from Alexander Volkanovski. Forcing a stance switch within seven minutes, jamming Max's combos with counters, rocking the phone booth and matching a legendary gas tank - all traits of a deserving champ. Congrats on the throne, @alexvolkanovski! #UFC245 pic.twitter.com/sLtH8h6mYZ— Kyle Johnson (@VonPreux) December 15, 2019
Volkanovski chopped at Holloway's legs like no one before him.
He used leg kicks to shut down the offense of Aldo, who was until then widely considered the best leg kicker in the division, and used them to great effect here to completely throw Holloway off his game, which is heavily dependent on his ability to vary up the range by switching stances. Because his left leg was punished so badly he spent long periods of the fight in a southpaw stance, and while he's certainly no slouch there, it's his weaker side and as mentioned, stance switching is a key component to his style. Although it's the first time we've seen it used to a great degree of success, it's not a new tactical suggestion for beating Holloway. Historically he hardly ever checks leg kicks, so it's been thought that a game plan focused on them could be his undoing.
In addition to the leg kicks, most times Holloway would try to get inside off of the leg kicks, Volkanovski would be there with a left hook to stop him from staying in range. Since Holloway's success is largely built around increasing momentum and volume, he just couldn't get any of that going because he wasn't allowed into the range to do so. Once he'd get combinations going he'd be interrupted by a leg kick or cut off with left hooks. That's not to say Max didn't land; he landed plenty of strikes, and in fact outlanded Volkanovski pretty handily overall when it came to head and body strikes. It was just that the leg kicks were so significant, and there was a clear difference in power between the head shots Volkanovski landed and his own. Holloway did however get better as the fight went on and he became a bit more urgent. Rounds four and five were probably the closest in terms of numbers, and despite the unofficial stats showing Volkanovski greatly ahead in strike totals in those periods, it was actually Holloway who outlanded him in both rounds.
Holloway was in the fight the entire time.
Regardless, it was a masterful performance by Volkanovski and a fantastic display of just how good his fight IQ has developed to compliment his blood-and-guts style rather than detract from it. After absorbing the fight a bit more after the fact it wasn't quite the epic blowout some said it to be because Holloway was always right there in the fight and landing consistently, but it was still a dominant performance that stopped his momentum in a way no one has been able to since his own evolution into a top fighter.
Dana White has mentioned that he's on board with an immediate rematch between these two, and I can't say I'm 100% against it. Not because I think Holloway especially deserves it; I'm mostly only in favor of immediate rematches following a controversial result or an especially dominant reign, neither of which I think are the case here. However, I do think that there's a bit of a dearth of real standout contenders. At the top of the heap would be Chan Sung Jung if he's able to get by Frankie Edgar or Zabit Magomedsharipov. Jung would be fine choice if he's able to win impressively, but Zabit just doesn't have the resume and still hasn't given anyone reason to think he can go five rounds. If there's no rematch then whoever Volkanovski doesn't fight can fight Holloway, or they can put him against Yair Rodriguez, which would be a very fun style match up.
Also, hey UFC, stop calling Holloway the GOAT at featherweight. Aldo is the GOAT, even Holloway himself said that. I know you're trying to sell him, but stop.
Nunes leans on wrestling to shut down de Randamie
Amanda Nunes (c) def. #1 Germaine De Randamie by unanimous decision (49-44, 49-46, 49-45) to retain the title
She had to go through some trouble to do it, but the greatest women's mixed martial artist of all time got the job done. I've seen a lot of people down on her after this win, but I really don't see the problem in doing what you need to do to win, and honestly...it shouldn't have been that much of a surprise to people. Nunes had been letting her striking do the talking a lot in recent fights, and I feel like because of that people came away with the perception that she's an elite striker. She's dangerous no doubt, I can't wrap my head around people just assuming that she'd be able to outstrike someone as sound on the feet as de Randamie. If there was one place I thought de Randamie would win it'd be on the feet, so I flat-out expected Nunes to put her on her back whenever she could.
Nunes is a devastating striking machine when she's facing women with middling-to-poor technical striking. You may come back with the argument that she shellacked Holly Holm in the first round, but let's be real: Holm has been middling at best on the feet for a long time, and that's why the clinch has been where she's had success. Come to think of it, has she really outworked anyone at distance since Ronda Rousey? So without her, the only two women are de Randamie and strawweight queen Valentina Shevchenko. She's fought both women twice, and in all four fights she had no standout success on the feet. On top is where she's seen her greatest, and really only palpable success against both women.
She started this fight off with a big overhand right that briefly stunned de Randamie, but it wasn't long before she timed a double leg and got an easy takedown. From there she would dominate the round, coming close on a guillotine and an arm-triangle choke between blasting de Randamie with punches on top. She seemed firmly in control of the fight when in round two de Randamie opened up and turned the tables, pressuring Nunes and landing big right hands that forced Nunes to shoot in again and take her down. After a quick stand up by the referee, de Randamie landed a nice question mark kick before chasing Nunes down with punches and rocking her with a flying knee. It was a great round for de Randamie, but it would be her only one, as it forced Nunes to realize that wrestling needed to be a priority.
De Randamie rebounded nicely from a harrowing first round.
Over the next three rounds she relied on takedowns and top control while staying just busy enough to avoid stand ups. Her offensive output waned with each round, and she mostly settled for maintaining control outside of a pretty tight triangle choke attempt in the fourth round by de Randamie that may have netted her a huge upset victory if she were a better grappler. It was so tight that she got Nunes to roll through and she held onto it to secure a mounted triangle, but she managed to escape and drag de Randamie right back to the ground. De Randamie also had a moment in the third where she delivered an upkick that appeared to rock Nunes, but nothing came of it.
De Randamie really gave Nunes a scare late in the fight.
All in all, it wasn't a terrible fight, but it left a good amount to be desired. Most surprising to me was that de Randamie's takedown defense was so bad. I know she hadn't been facing women as powerful as Nunes, but she'd shown real improvement in her defensive wrestling, and Nunes just blew right through her to land 8 of her 11 takedown attempts. The fact that she was able to land them when she was clearly tired may have said a bit more about de Randamie than herself. Either way, Nunes is still the baddest woman in the history of MMA and this performance didn't do anything to change that. Who's next for her is really the question, because she's a champion in two divisions with no clear challengers. Ketlen Vieira would have been the best candidate, but just earlier in the night she suffered a major setback at the hands of Irene Aldana, who despite not being much of a threat on paper is probably the best pick for Nunes' next challenger. Otherwise, the only women left for her at featherweight are Megan Anderson, who's coming off a win over an unheralded opponent, or Felicia Spencer, who has a win over Anderson but is coming off a loss to Cris Cyborg. De Randamie could rematch Holly Holm since their last fight was so controversial. It wasn't the greatest fight, but some real closure would be nice.
Moraes spoils Aldo's bantamweight debut by the thinnest of margins
#1 Marlon Moraes def. #3 (FW) Jose Aldo by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
Despite the loss, I think we can safely say that if he can keep the weight cut under control, bantamweight might be the best place for Aldo right now because in a lot of ways he turned back the clock in this fight. He had energy, he looked fast and sharp, and he pressured very well, something I wasn't so confident he'd do here because his style had gotten away from it. However, we almost didn't get to witness how good Aldo looked at 135 lbs, because Moraes led off straight away with his patented switch high kick that rung Aldo's bell, and a left hand that stunned him further. He was able to recover, but then began biting pretty hard on Moraes' feints, but kept Moraes honest with a counter right down the pipe. Moraes found more success with his straight punches, and a left hook stunned Aldo once more. At that point Aldo began pressuring more and began working the body until he stunned Moraes with a right hand and gave chase. He clinched with Moraes only to be whipped to the ground where Moraes stayed in side control until the horn.
Moraes tried to end the fight before it really even got started!
Round two saw the momentum shift in favor of Aldo. Moraes started off the round having success with jabs and low kicks to disrupt his foe's forward pressure, but Aldo began getting inside and landing with hooks. Moraes landed a huge left hook in response but Aldo just ate it and kept coming, which was a good sign for his durability after dehydrating himself to make weight. Much like in his loss to champion Henry Cejudo, Moraes began to slow and his attacks appeared more labored. This signaled to Aldo to turn up the pressure, and he did just that with a flying knee that missed, but a big right uppercut that landed flush. As Moraes backed away Aldo teed off on him, but Moraes was still in the fight and managed to land a stiff leaping jab before the horn.
Aldo's pressure game looked great in the fight.
And I'll never miss a chance to mark out over Aldo body shots.
Round three was where things got contentious. Many have deemed this decision a robbery, which is a ridiculous notion given that the fight was so close and the final round was what it all came down to. Among media scores on MMA Decisions, the scores were split down the middle with each fighter earning the favor of nine media outlets with 29-28 scores. I personally thought it was a relatively clear 29-28 Moraes decision, but I can see understand being compelled to score it for Aldo. It was a weird round where I fully believe Aldo could have won it but did a disservice to himself with some ineffective pacing. He actually threw more volume than Moraes (51 to 41 strikes), but landed less and appeared to be doing less. I think the urge to score the fight for him mostly came from the fact that he was still pressuring pretty heavily throughout the round, but pressure doesn't mean much if you aren't maximizing it with effective offense. Meanwhile, Moraes consistently potshotted him throughout, and while Aldo definitely landed punches as well I think more notable offense from Moraes, even if it was just in the interest of keeping Aldo off of him. It was a close round, but I definitely saw it going to Moraes since effective offense trumps octagon control.
Moraes put on a solid performance but really didn't show any improvements from what we'd already knew about him. He's quick, powerful, and does his best work at long and mid-range, but is a bit allergic to pressure. In defeat Aldo's stock is very high, and he looked like he's ready to take on some of the best bantamweight has to offer. According to White, that might be a championship bout with Cejudo, which I really hope doesn't happen because it would be a joke. White said he scored the fight for Aldo, but the fact is that he lost the decision; you don't give fighters title shots just because you thought they won a razor thin fight they didn't win. That would be a slap in the face of not only the actual winner of the fight in Moraes, but also the other contenders who are far more deserving at this point. Instead, I think Aldo should fight Pedro Munhoz. As for Moraes, it's obviously too early for him to rematch Cejudo for the title, but fights with Cory Sandhagen (if they don't rebook him with Edgar) or the winner of the upcoming Raphael Assuncao vs Cody Garbrandt fight makes sense for him.
Yan dominates, punts Faber into oblivion
#4 Petr Yan def. #12 Urijah Faber by KO via head kick (0:43, R3)
There were a few fights on this card that had a good chance to invoke sadness in us longtime fans, and this is definitely one that delivered on that front. Whether you like him or not, it's just a bit of a bummer to see pioneers get beaten down, when that beatdown follows a retirement win and a shocking un-retirement upset win. I don't think too many had allusions that Faber punching out Ricky Simon, someone who has shown time and time again to have a predilection for running headlong into his opponents' punches, was a sign that Faber was back and in good form, but it did show that he still hits hard and is as voracious a finisher as he ever was. The problem here was that Yan is flat-out the much better fighter at this point. Faber has always gotten by on the feet by being powerful and a bit unorthodox, and he just didn't have the technique to give Yan much pause throughout the contest. Faber typically isn't a high output striker, his arsenal isn't incredibly varied, and he's also a head hunter, which just won't cut it against someone as technically savvy on the feet as Yan.
Faber showed you still can't sleep on him entirely.
Faber started out decently enough, and even caught Yan early with a step in knee that caught him flush as he was ducking in, but his subsequent attempts at the move failed because he threw them with no real additional setup and Yan had caught on from being tagged the first time. Yan pressured him with little respect for his power, which really seemed to get to Faber, who's not really used to being put on his back foot. As the round went on Yan had more success, and in round two the wheels really started to fall off for Faber. A jab followed by a big straight right rocked Faber, and an immediate stepping straight left dropped him to his seat against the cage and had him turtling up as Yan pelted him with left hands. He managed to stand only to be dropped again by a big elbow on the break that cut him badly below the left eye. The fight was paused briefly to check the cut, but Faber was allowed to fight on and survived to the end of the round.
Faber was fortunate to get out of round two.
In retrospect perhaps the cut stoppage would have been better for him. Yan opened up round three with a body kick and a hard kick that partially landed, and they clinched up. On the break Yan tried a knee that Faber was able to fade away from, but Yan switched mid-attack to a head kick that caught him right on the jaw and put him down for good. Beautiful work from Yan putting away a Urijah Faber that, all things told, didn't look all that over the hill; Yan was just that much better. After the fight he called out champion Henry Cejudo, and although Faber is certainly no barometer for contendership status, I'm here for that matchup. Yan was also involved in a little backstage altercation with Faber teammate Cody Garbrandt, and while that fight would be fireworks, Garbrandt already has a fight lined up and doesn't really deserve to fight Yan right now. Part of me thinks Faber should retire, but he also didn't look too bad, all things considered. The issue is that he's a notable name in the division so they won't give him opponents lower on the totem pole that he can handle. John Dodson may be a fitting foe.
#14 Geoff Neal def. Mike Perry by TKO via strikes (1:30, R1)
The fall of Mike Perry just got a lot harder, as Neal became the first man to stop Perry with strikes in his professional MMA career. Not only that, but he did it in just a minute-and-a-half. Perry started out with a very kick-heavy attack, but it was Neal who landed the first significant kick with a hard body kick. He was able to touch Perry consistently with the jab, but it was a huge left head kick that rocked Perry badly, and had Neal marching him down in search of the finish. He stayed composed and picked his shots, and eventually landed a hard 1-2-1 combo that stunned Perry, followed by an overhand left that put him down and had him covering up until the referee saved him. Neal is now 5-0 in the UFC (guess 6-0 if the Contender Series counts) and has looked increasingly better each time out; it's time for him to take a step up in competition, because he's showing the tools to make some real noise in the division. Demian Maia could really test his takedown defense and resolve on the ground, but barring that he could fight Stephen Thompson, or I've even seen the winner of Rafael dos Anjos vs Michael Chiesa brought up, though that might leapfrog him too far up the rankings.
Perry has had a tough run, and I feel for him because he's shown the potential to be at least in the top 15. Many people thought he won his previous fight against Vicente Luque, and he still exhibits the skills to make him a problem in the division. Whether he's actually plateaued this time or it's something mental, he really needs a win. He suffers a bit from the same situation as Covington, where people trash his abilities because they hate his personality, but he's definitely improved from the days of just being a brawler with natural timing. I don't know if Neil Magny is set to return anytime soon, but it might be time to make that fight. Alternatively, he could fight Robbie Lawler in what would be a guaranteed barn-burner, but fighting even higher up the rankings than Neal.
#10 Irene Aldana def. #2 Ketlen Vieira by KO via strikes (4:51, R1)
This was probably the biggest upset of the night, and an upset I got a sinking feeling might happen just when I was going over the card before the event started. It didn't happen the way I envisioned it might, which would have been Aldana basically using a lot of movement and picking a ring-rusted Vieira apart from the outside, but the actual result was much more spectacular. As expected she did move a lot, and in line with the improvements she's been showing recently, she's toned down her exaggerated head movement at range when she's not striking and moved her head more when throwing. She countered well and landed a hard right hand that Vieira just ate. Vieira curiously opted to trade with Aldana, but it made more sense when she was able to hurt her with a right hand and appeared to be the harder hitter. It was a pretty competitive affair until immediately after withstanding a Vieira combination, Aldana leaped in with a left hook that landed right on the button and sent her crashing to the mat semi-conscious. Aldana followed up with two big right hands that put her out cold, and just like that Aldana is a contender at bantamweight. This fight would have likely propelled Vieira to a title shot, and with how emphatically she was finished it's hard not to put Aldana in her place. Vieira has her pick of bantamweights around her in the rankings, from de Randamie to Holm, Raquel Pennington, Yana Kunitskaya, even fighters coming off wins like Aspen Ladd and Julianna Pena. She's got options.
#14 Omari Akhmedov def. #10 Ian Heinisch by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
I finally chose to stop doubting Akhmedov by leaning on the now-tired notion that his cardio will always betray him, and finally correctly picked a fight for him. At welterweight he was characterized as being a muscled up guy who put everything into every shot he threw, leaving him to be completely gassed midway through the fight. Since moving to up middleweight he's not only benefitted from cutting less weight but he's also learned to pace himself better so he doesn't completely fall apart late in the fight. He still gets tired, but not so much that he's a sitting duck to be finished by a fresher opponent. Overall it went largely as I expected: a relatively competitive affair where Akhmedov waited to land big counters up top while Heinisch moved around and threw a more varied arsenal. Akhmedov's punches up top just had a bit more oomph to them, and well-timed takedowns cared him to winning the first two rounds. Also predictably, Heinisch won the third round clearly because that's what happens when you match someone who flags down the stretch with someone who can keep a high pace for three rounds. I had some trepidation about Akhmedov being able to keep it together in the final round, but he'd shown recently that he can conserve enough energy to stay afloat against capable finishers late in the fight. With the win he's now on a three-fight win streak and is unbeaten in his last six. It might be his turn to take on Derek Brunson.
Matt Brown def. Ben Saunders by KO via strikes (4:55, R2)
In another fight that was pretty much destined to cause sadness no matter which way it played out. Brown predictable knocked out Saunders, whose chin has been pretty shot for a while now. After an early outside trip from the clinch for Brown, Saunders would go on to actually win the round off his back by continuously keeping Brown ensnared in triangle chokes for most of the round. Round two went much differently as Brown began coming alive with a clinch elbow and a head kick that wobbled Saunders. After clinching up Saunders would pull guard but wasn't able to do much from his back that time so the referee stood them up with about 30 seconds left. Just then Brown caught a body kick and countered with a hard left hand before clinching up and tripping Saunders to the ground again. This time he knelt into the guard with a big elbow that appeared to put him out for a second, but some followup right hands eventually did the job right before the referee stepped in. Saunders has always come off like a good guy and he's a fun fighter to watch so it's tough seeing him lose so badly these days. Brown had been out a while and contemplated retirement, but he doesn't seem to have lost a step from where he was last we saw him. Solid win for The Immortal, who is now tied for 2nd place behind Vitor Belfort for most finishes in UFC history at 11.
Chase Hooper def. Daniel Teymur by TKO via strikes (4:34, R1)
Have you ever asked yourself what Sean O'Malley would look like if he never discovered marijuana? Hooper might just be your answer. Afro intact, but bereft of body art and changing out a flowy striking game for a dangerous submission style, Hooper looked a bit rough around the edges but once he got a hold of Teymur he was hard to escape.
He also happens to be Askren's son.
That rough around the edges part definitely showed through when he started the fight by shooting a naked takedown right into a guillotine that looked very tight; so tight he needed to run up the cage to relieve the pressure before eventually escaping. Dead set on getting the fight to the ground he would try pulling guard before eating a big right hand and securing a rear waist lock and eventually getting the takedown anyway. From there he stuck to Teymur like glue, switching from a deep choke in back mount that Teymur somehow managed to just wait out, to mount, back to back mount, and finally rolling over again and finding himself locked in a mounted triangle choke, where Hooper laid in elbows and punches until the fight was stopped. Teymur hasn't shown to be as good a fighter as his brother David in the UFC, but he's about the level a young, raw prospect like Hooper needed. At just 20 years old hopefully they bring him along in a smart way.
Gotta watch out for those guillotines too.
#5 Brandon Moreno def. #6 Kai Kara-France by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Moreno really seems to be pulling his overall game together these days, and it showed here in an impressive performance as the underdog against Kara-France. He would be 2-0 since returning to the UFC if it weren't for some faulty judging that saw him draw in his last fight. The knock on him was always that his striking was too wild and sloppy which didn't compliment his slick grappling game. While he still has some defensive holes and keeps his hands pretty low, he looks much more comfortable on the feet and his boxing is a lot tighter than it used to be. Following a good first round for Kara-France, Moreno took over with relentless pressure and volume. Kara-France was still able to catch him with punches, but in most cases Moreno just ate them and came forward to land shots of his own all while showboating and talking to Kara-France. It reminded me of Aldo's third round, except Moreno actually launched offense that matched his pressure. Kara-France would try to take the lead to start the third, but it wasn't long before Moreno was back to being the fighter holding the center of the octagon. It was a relatively competitive, but still clear win for Moreno, who should probably fight the winner of Alexandre Pantoja vs Matt Schnell.
#2 Jessica Eye def. #5 Viviane Araujo by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Just when you think she's done, Eye just keeps on chugging along. Of course she missed weight badly before the fight, so we should've guessed that she would win since that happens more often than not. I think this was just a simple case of Araujo not being ready for this level of competition. She'd looked impressive in her two UFC victories, but those were against Talita Bernardo and a faded Alexis Davis; not exactly top flight competition. Araujo started out well enough, breaking up a pretty even striking contest by catching a kick and tripping eye to the ground for a spell on top. But apparently that lit a fire under Eye, who frequently found a home for her right hand and threw off Araujo's movement with new focus on leg kicks to pretty much dominate the round. The final round was closer but still in favor of Eye, who then decided to focus on upping her body shot count. Weigh miss aside, it was a solid comeback win for Eye, who showed the right adjustments to outwork a pretty good prospect. The only downside is that she's still kind of cringey on the mic and we had to hear it after the fight.
Punahele Soriano def. Oskar Piechota by KO via strikes (3:17, R1)
We started the night off with a crackling knockout. I really thought Piechota had a chance to pull this one off, but Soriano's power was just not having it. His punches were wild but effective here, and a big left hook off a clinch break stunned Piechota before a second put him on the ground. He managed to survive despite the referee really taking a close look at the action, but after getting back to his feet he still failed to move his head and just continued eating punches. Eventually a huge left hand caught him mid-punch, and he slumped to the ground against the cage. A couple more shots followed but they were unneeded. A tough outing for Piechota, who suffered his third stoppage loss in as many fights. Soriano appears to be yet another Contender Series alum the UFC will probably get behind due to this finish. Results have varied, so we'll see how he pans out.
Whew, that does it for UFC 245, a strong card on paper that delivered even more in practice! I don't have much else to say other than that I'll see everyone next week for the final card of the year when Frankie Edgar and Chan Sung Jung battle it out in Busan, South Korea! Sado, out!