Coming into UFC 245, Alexander Volkanovski felt like the forgotten man of the card. The main card featured three title fights, including a heated grudge match between one of the biggest villains in the sport and his perfect foil, as well as the greatest female fighter of all-time defending one of her titles. Even the other main card bouts seemed to overshadow Volkanovski, with a UFC Hall of Famer and a future Hall of Famer taking part in pivotal bouts.
In contrast, Volkanovski’s title fight against featherweight champion Max Holloway seemed something of an afterthought. While the build up to the fight gave Volkanovski his due respect, much of the commentary focused on Holloway’s reign as champion and Joe Rogan’s incessant proclamations that Holloway is “the consensus greatest featherweight of all time.” Well, for the bulk of 25 minutes, Volkanovski beat up Holloway, delivering one of the most consummate performances of 2019 and winning the UFC featherweight title in the process.
It can’t really be understated just how good Volkanovski’s performance against Holloway was. The newly minted featherweight champion looked fully prepared for everything Holloway wanted to do, and never let the former champion really get his game going. Early on, Volkanovski dictated the range and used low kicks to disrupt Holloway’s rhythm, keeping the champion from getting comfortable and slowing his movement. On top of that, Volkanovski was blending different tactics expertly, using shift-steps to close the distance and land overhand rights on Holloway as well as consistently cracking Holloway with ducking lefthand counter hooks when Max tried to close the distance on him. In every phase of the striking, Volkanovski brought a smart and disciplined game plan and Holloway couldn’t find any answers. Some credit definitely goes to Eugene Bareman and City Kickboxing (who have all but locked up Gym of the Year awards) but without a multi-faceted athlete like Volkanovski who can adjust his game as needed, none of it works.
And that’s the thing about Volkanovski, aside from being one of the best athletes in the division and a powerhouse of a human being, he’s also one of the smartest fighters in the division and capable of moment-to-moment adjustments that a vast majority of fighters are not prepared to deal with. He’s a powerful striker but not over-reliant on his power and he’s smart enough to know how to attack a vulnerability without keying in on it. He can fight backwards or forwards, off the counter or on the offensive, grappling or striking, and he can blend them all together into a puzzle that gives opponents hell to answer. Max Holloway, one of the best fighters in the world and a man who also excels at reading his opponent and finding the appropriate rhythm to attach with, spent 25 minutes in the cage with Volkanovski and was no closer to having figured out how to beat him than when he started.
For some time, Alexander Volkanovski has quietly been one of the featherweight division’s most dangerous fighters, going 11-0 in the division before Saturday, including 5-0 in the UFC. But starting this time last year, Volkanovski finally started making noise, beating all-time great featherweight Chad Mendes, actual greatest featherweight of all-time Jose Aldo, and Joe Rogan’s greatest featherweight Max Holloway in his last three fights. That’s a legendary run and, considering Rogan’s willingness to anoint Holloway as “the consensus best featherweight ever” despite Aldo’s nine successful title defense and 10-year unbeaten streak, a run that should put Volkanovski in consideration for the GOAT featherweight title.
No one is overlooking Volkanovski now.
UFC 245 Quotes
“I think I broke my jaw.” - Colby Covington after the third round. He then came out and won the fourth round on one judge’s scorecard.
“Second round I thought I was taking over and then three, four, five, I thought was mine. But they saw it another way, there’s only three opinions that matter. Like the great Burt Watson said, don’t leave that s*it to the judges, they’re gonna make you cry. They made me cry twice in 2019, so let’s choo-choo forward to 2020, new year, new me.” - Max Holloway on the judge’s decision.
“The ‘Blessed’ era ends tonight in the featherweight division. He’s a big boy, but if he wants to do it again we can do it Australia and sell some seats and tickets, pay-per-view.” - Alexander Volkanovski on a possible rematch with Holloway.
Up: Kamaru Usman. Usman retained his title by doing exactly what he said he was going to do. It was a close fight but when things mattered most, Usman turned it on and got the finish, quieting his most outspoken rival.
Up: Colby Covington. Covington’s abrasive persona has done a good job of distracting people from just how good he is as a fighter but on Saturday it was on full display. Heading into the final round, Covington had a shot to win the title and looked close to doing it before Usman finally hurt him and ended the fight. The fact that he was just a couple minutes away from winning, despite having a broken jaw, is a testament to his fighting spirit.
Up: Alexander Volkanovski. For all the reasons listed above. Rogan’s new greatest featherweight ever.
Down: Amanda Nunes. It’s hard to win a fight as dominantly as “The Lioness” did and still go down yet Nunes’ performance at UFC 245 revealed weaknesses to her game that many thought she had fixed. Nunes’ cardio looked suspect against Germaine de Randamie and her striking was largely a liability. Nunes got the win due to GDR’s total inability to defensively wrestler but for the first time in a long time, Nunes looked beatable.
Down: Germaine de Randamie. Credit to de Randamie for surviving Nunes early onslaught but big marks against for her defensive wrestling. Nunes is a fine wrestler but GDR made her look like Khabib out there, surrendering 8 of 11 takedown attempts and losing the fight almost purely as a result of that.
Up: Jose Aldo. Aldo proved all the doubters wrong by looking fairly good for his first time out at bantamweight. The speed of the division could prove troublesome for him but Aldo arguably should have beaten the number one contender in his first try and may be set up for a title shot in the near future anyway.
As far as major UFC events go, UFC 245 was relatively bereft of official controversy. The reffing on the evening was good with the only possible exception being Marc Goddard’s stoppage in the main event. While Goddard’s stoppage was certainly not awful, Covington obviously was unhappy about it and, given the context, Covington could’ve been given the benefit of the doubt for a few more seconds.
Aside from the refereeing, the only other matter of note was the judging in both the Marlon Moraes-Jose Aldo fight and the main event. Both bouts were very close and had Usman not knocked out Covington, both would’ve ended up going to a split decision, almost entirely as a result of the ambiguities in the 10-point must system. With so much on the line, it’s really time we re-evaluate the way fights are scored in the UFC.
Fights to make
Kamaru Usman vs. Leon Edwards. Most fans will expect Jorge Masvidal to get the next welterweight title shot, and while that wouldn’t be the worst idea, with Covington losing a Masvidal fight is much less necessary. Edwards is on an incredible run and deserves a shot and Masvidal has his own belt he can defend against any number of other opponents.
Colby Covington vs. Tyron Woodley. This was always the real beef in the welterweight division and now is the time to pull the trigger on it - or at least, once Colby’s jaw has healed.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway II. I hate immediate rematches in just about every circumstance but if we’re being honest, this is what’s going to happen. There’s no other fight at featherweight that makes sense for Max and, unless Chan Sung Jung beats Frankie Edgar next weekend, no clear-cut contender for Volko to defend against.
Amanda Nunes vs. Irene Aldana. Aldana has a small argument that she should be undefeated in the UFC since her debut and she just clobbered the presumptive next title contender. Might as well do this because Nunes vs. Claressa Shields in boxing or MMA is a massive waste of time.
Marlon Moraes vs. Jose Aldo II. There’s aren’t many fights that make sense for either right now and this one was razor close. Run it back but as a main event and for five rounds.
Petr Yan vs. Henry Cejudo. Give this man his title shot.