After a couple years of following similar trajectories and facing the same opponents, these two rivals will finally meet in the Octagon to decide who the best welterweight in the world is once and for all.
Usman enters with a 10-0 record in the UFC and 14 consecutive victories overall. Last time out, he claimed championship gold by completely dismantling Tyron Woodley, dragging “The Chosen One” to the canvas and suffocating him with the kind of relentless pressure and pace few can withstand and even fewer can match.
But Covington has thus far been one of those few, showing a similarly bottomless gas tank while racking up seven consecutive victories of his own, including back-to-back defeats of Rafael Dos Anjos and Robbie Lawler. The American Top Team representative’s brash, polarizing trash talk has helped increase his profile, but make no mistake about it: Covington is an exceptional talent and this should be a tremendous fight.
Given the similarities in styles and approach, it’s going to be really interesting to see which one of these two welterweight standouts ends up taking the lead and dictating the terms of engagement. With 25 minutes to work, there could very well be several shifts in momentum, and though it doesn’t necessarily profile as a rock’em sock’em, back-and-forth brawl, the bad blood between these two could cause one or both to stray from their usual strategies and take a few more risks in hopes of finishing the other and leaving no room to question their dominance.
Heading into his bout with Chad Mendes last December, Volkanovski told me he wasn’t too happy with the talk about Holloway having no real challengers left at featherweight and potentially departing for lightweight because he felt he matched up well with the Hawaiian champion and looked forward to the day the two could share the cage with UFC gold hanging in the balance.
Having dispatched Mendes and added a unanimous decision win over Jose Aldo to extend his winning streak to 17, the former rugby man now gets his chance to challenge Holloway for the featherweight strap in Saturday’s co-main event.
Volkanovski has been outstanding since arriving in the UFC, posting seven wins in as many starts while turning in dominant efforts against the likes of Mendes, Darren Elkins, Jeremy Kennedy and Shane Young. The compact powerhouse has an iron chin and only one gear — forward — but he’s also never been in the cage with someone as dynamic and technical as the reigning titleholder.
While Holloway came up short in his bid to claim the interim lightweight title in April, he returned to his kingdom at 145 pounds in July and turned in another stellar performance, finally squaring off with Frankie Edgar. All three judges scored it differently, but there was no question Holloway was the better man that night in Edmonton, as he collected his 14th straight win in the featherweight division and third successful title defense.
Holloway’s five-year run of success in the division has been nothing short of masterful and filled with incredible performances that showcase his varied offensive arsenal and keen attention to detail inside the Octagon. Save for his sluggish win over Aldo in May, Volkanovski has run roughshod over everyone he’s faced, taking them out of their comfort zone and outclassing them in previously unseen ways.
Though it’s the penultimate fight on the slate, this could be the one everyone comes away talking about on Sunday morning.
Following her first-round destruction of Holly Holm in July, Nunes looks to continue her historic run of success by taking out yet another former titleholder when she squares off with the streaking former featherweight queen de Randamie in Saturday’s first championship encounter.
The reigning featherweight and bantamweight champion, Nunes has earned nine straight victories with seven finishes during her march to becoming the greatest female fighter of all-time. During that time, she’s beaten five current or former UFC titleholders, and defeating de Randamie here would mean she will have defeated every woman to ever hold the two titles she currently wears.
Despite no longer possessing UFC gold, de Randamie hasn’t actually lost since her first meeting with Nunes when the two were Strikeforce transfers still trying to find their footing inside the Octagon. The 35-year-old “Iron Lady” has won five straight, including her championship victory over Holm and her July knockout win over Aspen Ladd.
Nunes’ quick, powerful striking has been key to her dominance over the last several years, with current flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko standing as the only fighter to weather the offensive storm. If anyone is going to be able to match “The Lioness” in the power and ferocity departments, it’s de Randamie, the former standout kickboxer with loads of experience, a strong chin and plenty of pop of her own.
Neither woman likes to waste time, so expect this one to start fast and be full of excitement for as long as it lasts.
Adding to the embarrassment of riches that is UFC 245 is this all-Brazilian clash that was nothing more than a dream up until a few months ago.
Following an illustrious career at featherweight, Aldo is venturing down to bantamweight with designs on making an expedited run towards the title. He had hoped to jump the queue and face current champ Henry Cejudo right away, but with “Triple C” still sidelined, the 33-year-old first ballot Hall of Famer happily settled for a date with the last man to share the cage with Cejudo instead.
After losing his promotional debut by split decision, Moraes rattled off four straight victories, the last three by first-round stoppage, including avenging his earlier defeat at the hands of Rafael Assuncao. He started out exceptionally well in his bout with Cejudo at UFC 238, but the flyweight champion adjusted between rounds and went on the offensive, eventually earning the finish — and a second title — late in the third round.
While this is a massive fight for both men, the difference in talking points depending on the outcome are significantly greater for Aldo than Moraes, as a win would thrust the Brazilian legend into the championship conversation, while a loss would drop him o 3-5 over his last eight fights.
Can Aldo make the successful move down in weight after more than a decade fighting at the top of the featherweight division or will Moraes cement his standing as an elite bantamweight and spoil his countryman’s plans for chasing a second championship?
One tremendous bantamweight fight is great, but two is even better!
All Yan has done in the 18 months since his UFC debut is amass a 5-0 record in the Octagon with his last two victories being the type of one-sided decision wins no one ever scores against Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson. While those two have spent their careers being elite talents and notoriously tough outs, the streaking Russian dispatched each with relative ease, happily wading into exchanges, trusting he would get the better of things every time.
Two-and-a-half years after he hung up the gloves at home in Sacramento following a win over Brad Pickett, Faber returned to the cage at the Golden 1 Center in his hometown this summer and scored his first first-round stoppage win due to strikes since his WEC 25 victory over Joe Pearson a dozen years earlier by blasting Ricky Simon with a clean right hand less than a minute into the opening stanza. Now the 40-year-old “California Kid” looks to make it two straight in 2019 by halting Yan’s rise and inject himself into the title picture heading into next year.
While their measurements are virtually identical, the key variable in this one could be the 14-year age difference between the two and the impact that has on things like speed and output. Faber has a distinct edge in experience — and big fight experience, too — but Yan has been a force since arriving in the UFC and will be the toughest opponent Faber has faced since his trilogy bout with Dominick Cruz at UFC 199.
The final fight of the preliminary card screams “Fireworks!” as Fortis MMA’s Neal squares off against everyone’s favorite Floridian, Perry, in what should be an absolute barnburner.
In four starts since earning a UFC contract on Season 1 of the Contender Series, Neal has posted four victories and three stoppages, most recently blasting his way through rugged wildman Niko Price at UFC 240. The Sayif Saud-trained 29-year-old has quietly worked his way into the Top 15 and seems poised replace Vicente Luque as the emerging welterweight no one is in a hurry to fight if he’s able to get through Perry this weekend.
Perry is just a single win above .500 through his first 11 trips into the Octagon, but the 28-year-old is never going to be one of those fighters who are judged by his or her record. “Platinum” is a guaranteed tough assignment for anyone in the division and has developed into a more balanced, more complete fighter since his initial treks into the UFC cage. Last time out, he dropped a narrow split decision to the aforementioned Luque and now he looks to finish 2019 on a high note by halting Neal’s run of success.
While Nunes and de Randamie battle for the bantamweight title on the pay-per-view main card, Vieira and Aldana could very well be fighting to determine who is next in line in the 135-pound weight class on the prelims.
Injuries have kept Vieira out of action since March 2018, but the talented Brazilian is 10-0 overall with four straight victories under the UFC banner. After a pair of hard-fought battles to begin her time on the roster, Vieira scored a submission win over Sara McMann and followed it up with a split decision victory over Cat Zingano in her last outing at UFC 222.
Aldana has won four of her last five after starting her UFC career on a two-fight skid, most recently securing a unanimous decision victory over Vanessa Melo in September. The Invicta FC veteran is at her best when she’s sitting down on her punches and keeping opponents at the end of her reach, something that will be doubly important here as Vieira looks to get inside and bring this fight to the ground.
The title picture in the bantamweight division is hazy at the moment and a dominant showing from either woman here could bring a little clarity to things as we head into 2020.
Veteran Ultimate Fighter alums who just love to fight meet in this one as TUF 7’s Brown locks up with the TUF 6 cast member Saunders in a bout that somehow hasn’t happened until now.
Brown and Saunders have a combined 44 trips into the Octagon. Both have struggled to find consistent success over the last several years, but they can continue to be counted on to leave it all in the cage every time they cross the threshold into battle.
It should be noted that this will be Brown’s first appearance in just over two years as “The Immortal” suffered a torn ACL while preparing for a scheduled bout against Carlos Condit in April 2018, so it will be interesting to see how the 38-year-old responds to the time away and feeling the canvas under his feet again this weekend.
Middleweights residing at different ends of the exposure spectrum clash here as Heinisch looks to rebound from his first UFC loss in a showdown with the underrated Akhmedov in a quality preliminary card pairing.
The Factor X Muay Thai product Heinisch received a ton of attention to begin his UFC career, coming off the Contender Series to score back-to-back decision wins over dangerous Brazilians Cezar Ferreira and Antonio Carlos Junior to rocket into the rankings. But the former LFA standout’s rise was halted last time out as he ran into divisional stalwart Derek Brunson, and now it’s time for “The Hurricane” to show he can bounce back and end the year with another strong performance.
Akhmedov enters the bout on a five-fight unbeaten streak, and with a pair of wins at both welterweight and middleweight sandwiched around a majority draw result against Marvin Vettori, the 32-year-old “Wolverine” has gone more than three years without tasting defeat. If he can upend Heinisch here, Akhmedov could find a place in the Top 15 waiting for him.
The 20-year-old Hooper makes his promotional debut against 31-year-old Swedish knockout hunter Teymur in the final bout of the UFC FIGHT PASS prelims.
Hooper scored a development deal after earning a unanimous decision win on Season 2 of the Contender Series. The performance showed his abundant potential, but also that he needed more seasoning, so rather than hustle him into the big leagues, the Pacific Northwest native had the chance to fight three more times on the regional circuit, amassing a 2-0-1 mark. The youngest fighter on the roster, he’s getting thrown into the thick of it in the ultra-competitive featherweight ranks right out of the gate with this matchup against Teymur.
While “Kid Dynamite” dropped each of his first three appearances inside the Octagon, the older half of The Fighting Teymur Brothers has never been mistaken for an easy out, and he finally found himself standing in the center of the cage with his arm raised in victory last time out. The 31-year-old Muay Thai practitioner is allergic to throwing anything but smoke and he will have a significant power advantage against Hooper, though he’s giving up a considerable amount of height and reach.
It’s hard to gauge how much upside Hooper has from his regional performances because so much changes once you reach the biggest stage in the sport, but he showed promise and now has the opportunity to prove he belongs.
Flyweights with designs on fighting for UFC gold in 2020 lock horns in this one as Moreno and Kara-France meet in what should be a spirited affair from start to finish.
Following a one-fight absence from the Octagon, Moreno returned to the UFC in September, battling Askar Askarov to a split draw in Mexico City. Having just turned 26 over the weekend, Moreno has not yet entered his athletic prime, but he already has 21 professional fights under his belt and six previous Octagon appearances to draw from as he looks to earn his first UFC victory since April 2017 on Saturday.
A member of the City Kickboxing team that has spent the last two years making waves in the UFC, Kara-France has collected three straight victories since getting the call to the Octagon following his time alongside Moreno on Season 24 of The Ultimate Fighter. Just 26 himself — he’ll be 27 in March — the New Zealander has even more fight experience than Moreno, but has yet to secure that one standout victory that elevates him into the title conversation in the 125-pound weight class.
A battle between highly-ranked flyweights hits the cage early in the evening as Eye returns to action against the streaking Brazilian Araujo.
Fighting for the first time since her loss to Valentina Shevchenko in their championship clash at UFC 238, the 33-year-old veteran looks to get back into the win column with a fight in her new hometown of Las Vegas. While her UFC record looks spotty in places, her record at flyweight is tremendous and losing to Shevchenko is nothing to hold against her — or anyone for that matter.
While Eye is the known commodity, Araujo is a relative newcomer who has notched a pair of victories already this year to climb into the rankings and position herself as someone to watch in the 125-pound weight division. Brandishing a five-fight winning streak that includes a third-round stoppage win up a division in her promotional debut, the 33-year-old outworked Alexis Davis last time out and with a win over Eye, she’ll put herself in the thick of the title chase.
Middleweights get the night started in Las Vegas as Hawaii’s Soriano makes his promotional debut against Poland’s Piechota.
The first of the 25 fighters to garner contracts this summer through the Contender Series, Soriano pushed his record 6-0 with a strong effort against returning competitor Jamie Pickett on the opening week of the season. Based out of Las Vegas, the 27-year-old has bounced through various quality regional promotions on the way to arriving at this point and profiles as someone who can follow the same trajectory as fellow Hawaiian Brad Tavares, who has carved out a lengthy career as a Top 15 fixture in the same division.
Piechota came out of the gate with a pair of victories in his first two UFC starts, outworking Jonathan Wilson and stopping Tim Williams, but has been submitted in each of his last two appearances, getting tapped out by grappling aces Gerald Meerschaert and Rodolfo Vieira. Now the 29-year-old looks to rebound from the first two losses of his career by halting Soriano’s unbeaten run and spoiling his hometown debut at the same time.