Kamaru Usman (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: UFC 245 Preview and Predictions

On Saturday, Dec. 14, the UFC returns to the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas for one of the most stacked cards in the organization’s history. The UFC 245 main card alone features three title fights, preceded by two fights that showcase former champions from the UFC, the World Series of Fighting, and World Extreme Cagefighting.

The main event is a much-anticipated showdown between current welterweight champ Kamaru Usman and the promotion’s biggest heel, Colby Covington. Usman picked up gold in March with a win over Tyron Woodley. He entered the UFC when he won The Ultimate Fighter 21 in 2015. Usman has not lost since. His only professional defeat came in his second pro fight, which took place over six years ago. Covington, on the other hand, entered the UFC in 2014 with a 5-0 record, but suffered a loss to Warlley Alves four years ago. He came into the promotion as a soft-spoken 26-year-old with a bright future. However, a couple years ago, he decided to take trash-talking to the next level after he bested Demian Maia in Brazil and referred to the locals as “filthy animals.” From then on, he has gradually gotten under a lot of peoples’ skin with his words. To call this a grudge match between the two former NCAA wrestlers would be an understatement.

The co-headliner features another much-anticipated battle, as reigning featherweight champion Max Holloway looks to defend his title for a fourth time when he goes up against Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski. Holloway has not lost a featherweight match since he faced Conor McGregor in 2013. His only loss since then came when he moved up to 155 pounds to challenge Dustin Poirier for an interim lightweight belt in April in a fight that went the distance. He bounced back when he dominated Frankie Edgr in July. Volkanovski is a rising star who is currently undefeated in the Octagon. His most recent win came over former champ José Aldo in May. Volkanovski’s only pro loss was over six years ago in his fourth pro fight. The Australian is now on a 17-fight winning streak as he looks to capture gold over the durable and talented Hawaiian champ.


The third title fight is a rematch between two-division champ Amanda Nunes and former featherweight titleholder Germaine de Randamie for the bantamweight strap. The two first met in the cage six years ago, when Nunes picked up a first-round TKO. De Randamie has gone on to win five in a row. She picked up — and was later stripped of — the inaugural featherweight title. After their first match, Nunes lost her next fight to Cat Zingano, but she is now on a nine-fight tear that includes title wins at bantamweight and featherweight, as well as four defenses of the bantamweight belt.

The main card rounds out with two bantamweight scraps. The first one will be the second fight in the recent resurgence of former WEC champ Urijah Faber, who faces the quickly rising Petr Yan. The other contest features the aforementioned former WEC and UFC champ Aldo against the former long-reigning WSOF bantamweight king Marlon Moraes.

UFC 245 kicks off with the early prelims on UFC Fight Pass at 5:30 p.m. ET. The televised prelims get underway at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and the main card moves to pay-per-view at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Chris Huntemann and Dan Kuhl preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

This pay-per-view event features three title fights: Kamaru Usman puts his welterweight strap on the line against Colby Covington, featherweight kingpin Max Holloway seeks to defend his belt against Alexander Volkanovski, and Germain de Randamie attempts to unseat Amanda Nunes in the women’s bantamweight division. Which champion is most at risk of losing their belt?

Huntemann: Man, three title fights. We are truly spoiled with this card, aren’t we?

As far as the question at hand, Usman is most at risk of losing his belt. This is not necessarily because Covington will win, but because Covington also comes from a wrestling background. So even though Usman’s ground game has looked world-class during his ascent to the welterweight title, Covington will not panic and feel overwhelmed if Usman takes him down. Also, we have seen Covington unafraid to get in the pocket and exchange strikes with his opponents. He isn’t afraid to get hit.

Even though Covington’s “heel turn” into a full-fledged Donald Trump supporter has caused plenty of eyerolls, it does appear to have made him a more effective fighter. He went from losing via first-round guillotine to Warlley Alves and perhaps looking like an overhyped prospect to winning seven consecutive fights, insulting the entire country of Brazil, being invited to the White House, and already holding the interim welterweight title for a time. Much like in pro wrestling, sometimes a character change and embracing of your inner heel can work wonders.

Usman cannot let his emotions get the best of him in this fight. He wants to punish Covington, and plenty of fans want to see him do that. However, he has to fight smart and not let his desire for vengeance dictate what he does. If he lets Covington get inside his head, then the challenger has an excellent chance to take the belt.

Kuhl: If you watch old interviews with Covington, he really is a humble guy. Conor McGregor was the same way when he was younger. However, these guys have found a formula, for better or worse, for getting inside their opponents’ heads, and it has indeed worked in their favor. That is not why I think Usman will lose, but it does play into it.

Usman’s style is just like Covington’s style. Both men are former NCAA wrestlers — Usman at Division II; Covington at Division I. Both men like to stretch the game out and wear down their opponents, and Covington has done it to a finish more times in the UFC’s Octagon. Both men have decent striking, just not world class. So, if this is going to be a grinding fight to the end, I have to go with Covington. This guy has shown a relentless pressure game, with no sign of slowing down in any of his fights, and that is the X-factor that I believe will lead to a decision victory for him.

Usman is the odds-on favorite, but I’ll take the underdog in this one. If anyone thinks the trash talk has been bad so far, you better tape the windows, because a hurricane is on the way.

Conversely, which champion is the safest bet to retain?

Kuhl: Nunes has already stopped de Randamie once, and she’ll do it again. The champ has proven time and time again that she is likely the greatest female mixed martial artist ever, and possibly on a run that could result in her being the greatest pound-for-pound champion in MMA history.

De Randamie is a great fighter — she’s definitely in the top five of the division — but while she has finishing ability and fantastic striking prowess, she has gone the distance most often. That is not how Nunes fights. The karate and jiu-jitsu black belt has 13 knockouts and three submissions in 18 total victories, and she is a much more well-rounded fighter. In the power department, Nunes wins. In the wrestling department, Nunes wins. In the submission department, Nunes wins. Barring a flash knockout, I don’t really see how de Randamie succeeds in this fight.

Nunes will knock out de Randamie again before the end of the second round.

Huntemann: See, this is why I miss doing these previews with my man Mr. Kuhl. We are so simpatico, once again.

I, too, believe Nunes is the champion who is most likely to retain her crown. She is still overlooked in some circles when it comes to who is considered the best mixed martial artist, regardless of gender. Some people also downplay just how amazing it was that Nunes knocked out Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in the first round to win the UFC featherweight title last year. Cyborg never lost, and she usually finished her opponent in the first round. Nunes turned around and did the exact same thing to Cyborg. Some MMA fans still need to put a lot of respect on Nunes’ name.

That’s mostly why I’m picking Nunes to defeat de Randamie rather easily. Nunes is at her peak right now. She has never looked better as a fighter. She has only gotten better since the pair’s first meeting, whereas de Randamie has only made slight improvements and is mostly benefiting from what is currently a weak bantamweight division. It would be a surprise if this fight goes the distance and Nunes does not add another highlight-reel finish to a resume that already qualifies her for “GOAT” status.

Chase Hooper and Punahele Soriano — do we need to know these names?

Huntemann: The fact that Hooper is already undefeated in nine pro fights and is making his UFC debut on a year-end card that boasts three title fights, all at the tender age of 20, really and truly makes me feel like I have wasted my entire life. In Daniel Teymur, Hooper has a tough match-up for his debut, but Hooper looks like one of those phenoms that come along every so often and makes their name defeating journeymen. Can Hooper take the next step in his career by winning his UFC debut? Yes. He is a prospect who is worth keeping an eye on.

Soriano also has a very good opportunity to make a mark in his debut. He competed on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series and won his fight by decision, which was the first time he went the distance in his six pro fights. Soriano has been tested in organizations like the Professional Fighters League, Titan Fighting Championships, and the Legacy Fighting Alliance. He makes his UFC debut with plenty of experience, even though he has only fought as a pro six times.

Kuhl: Soriano has been taking on progressively better opponents with each fight and has yet to slow down. He was actually supposed to compete in September, but his opponent had to pull out due to injury. This delayed his official debut. He’s one of the few fighters that earned a contract after a decision win on the Contender Series. He’s gone undefeated through four years as a pro and amateur, so he is definitely one to keep an eye on.

Hooper truly is one of those young phenoms that could have a really bright future. He’s come farther faster than the likes of champs like Max Holloway and Jon Jones. It will be interesting to see if the run continues or if he goes the way of Nikita Krylov, who came in with a full head of steam but needed to take a step back after faltering against tougher opponents.

Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 245?

Kuhl: Regardless of what people think of him, Colby Covington will be the biggest winner. I think back to the humble kid with the killer wrestling and possibly deepest gas tank in the entire UFC, and I can’t help but remember the bright future that was ahead of him. Today, the loudmouthed clown he is trying to be has Usman emotional in all the wrong ways. Covington is really not that guy, but he’s playing a game that has kept him from a true title shot for so long, and he will not let this one slip away.

Huntemann: I’m going to slip a little further down the main card and say that Petr Yan will be the biggest winner. He’ll defeat Urijah Faber rather convincingly and put himself in position as a top contender for the bantamweight title. Faber looked impressive in his comeback fight earlier this year against Ricky Simón, who was perhaps given a little more than he could handle, but Faber is still 40 years old to Yan’s 26. Yan has not lost in nearly four years, too.

Yan’s last three victories were against fighters with 25, 30 and 27 pro fights, respectively, so Faber’s advantage in the experience department really shouldn’t come into play. Faber is just the name Yan needs to add to his resume to show that he is ready to compete for a title.

Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 245?

Huntemann: I’m going with the loser of the preliminary bout between Matt Brown and Ben Saunders. That’s because the loser is likely making his final appearance in the UFC. Both Brown and Saunders are fan-favorites who fight with an exciting style, but these guys have a ton of mileage with a combined 73 pro fights. The end is quite near for both men, and the loser of this fight will probably give retirement serious consideration, with a little nudge by the UFC.

Kuhl: My colleague is right, but for the sake of variety I’ll go with my second choice, which is Kamaru Usman. If Colby Covington wins, Usman is not getting an immediate rematch. The UFC and fans alike will be licking their chops for a showdown between Covington and Jorge Masvidal. Training partners, the BMF and undisputed belts, and two of the biggest mouths in the biz? This thing screams WWE-like promotion, and it could possibly eclipse anything Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz have ever done. This will push Usman down the ladder, but you have to go beyond the top five welterweights to find a fresh opponent that he hasn’t already beaten. This is more of a risk for him than the other guys. I hate to be a naysayer, but the future will be bleak for Usman if he can’t beat Covington.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Kuhl: Ian Heinisch and Omari Akhmedov. Both of these middleweights have amazing wrestling, a ton of stamina, and serious knockout power. This fight could go the distance or end at any point from the opening second on. This is the type of fight that plays directly to the fans, who are not going to want to miss it.

Huntemann: A fine choice, but how about the preliminary bout between Mike Perry and Geoff Neal? Both guys are almost incapable of putting on boring fights, and Perry’s skills inside the cage are perhaps only matched by his outlandish persona. Neal is riding a six-fight winning streak and posted a convincing victory over Niko Price at UFC 240. The majority of Neal’s 12 victories have come via finish, and Perry is always looking to throw down and put on an exciting performance. These two welterweights will complement each other perfectly.

Pair this card with…

Huntemann: Since this is the final UFC pay-per-view of 2019, and it is another stacked card with three title fights — it’s about time we get to enjoy one of those — I say, what the hell, go all out. Invite a bunch of friends over. Everyone brings the alcoholic beverage of their choice, and you order multiple pizzas. Feast on both a buffet of food and MMA. As an alternative, go hang out at your local sports bar to watch the fights and make your way down the menu. Order the spiciest wings. Burn a hole in your esophagus. Who cares? This is the type of fight card we need more often, and it warrants celebration by inflicting bodily injury on yourself.

Kuhl: I don’t even know how to answer this one. Maybe drag your mattress in front of the TV? This card is so stacked with potential barnburners that you will likely need a nap halfway through. This is truly one of the best UFC cards in history.

Fight Picks

Fight Huntemann’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
WW Championship: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington Usman Covington
FW Championship: Max Holloway vs. Alexander Volkanovski Holloway Holloway
Women’s BW Championship: Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie Nunes Nunes
BW: José Aldo vs. Marlon Moraes Moraes Moraes
BW: Petr Yan vs. Urijah Faber Yan Yan
Preliminary Card (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET)
WW: Mike Perry vs. Geoff Neal Neal Neal
Women’s BW: Ketlen Vieira vs. Irene Aldana Vieira Vieira
MW: Ian Heinisch vs. Omari Akhmedov Heinisch Heinisch
WW: Matt Brown vs. Ben Saunders Saunders Brown
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 p.m. ET)
FW: Daniel Teymur vs. Chase Hooper Hooper Hooper
FlyW: Brandon Moreno vs. Kai Kara-France Moreno Kara-France
Women’s FlyW: Jessica Eye vs. Viviane Araujo Araujo Araujo
MW: Punahele Soriano vs. Oskar Piechota Soriano Soriano