Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 245 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.
Amanda Nunes, Max Holloway and Kamaru Usman each entered UFC 245 on Saturday with aspirations of further solidifying their legacies as great champions. All three competitors were at different points in their careers and had opponents who could challenge them in different ways, but the hope is always that a major title fight will inspire the sort of performance that will define a fighter in a positive way for years to come.
Nunes has already gone the furthest in creating a positive legacy for herself. She has run through many of the best female fighters of all-time in short order—a run on par with any in the history of the sport. What would help Nunes more than anything at this stage is being taken to the limit by a formidable opponent and pulling out victory. In the process, she could prove that earlier career losses in which she faded late were reflections not of enduring liabilities but rather of a fighter who hadn’t yet fully come into her own.
By winning so emphatically on so many occasions, Nunes left open the question of what would happen if she was really challenged. The closest that came to happening was against Valentina Shevchenko, another great fighter Nunes managed to best on two separate occasions. However, each of those fights was extremely close. In the first, Shevchenko dominated the third round after losing the first two. The second fight saw fans, media and judges closely divided as to who should have won.
Neither of those fights saw Nunes emphatically snatch away victory from an opponent who seemed to be in control, like Anderson Silva did against Chael Sonnen or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira did against Mirko Filipovic. Nunes, of course, doesn’t need that type of fight to prove her greatness given what she has already accomplished. However, nothing would mean more for her resume than that.
It appeared at one point inside the T-Mobile Arena that Germaine de Randamie might finally offer the sort of test that would allow Nunes to make a powerful statement. De Randamie doesn’t have the MMA resume of a Ronda Rousey, Cristiane Justino or Holly Holm, but she survived an all-out first round blitz from Nunes that others did not. In the second, she looked to have the energy and the striking to really push Nunes. Unfortunately, that proved to be illusory. De Randamie lacked the takedown defense or ground game to keep pushing Nunes, and the Brazilian managed to easily control her for the final three rounds. It was Nunes’ job to prevent de Randamie from taking her out of her comfort zone, and she succeeded. Still, the question lingered: What would have happened if she hadn’t done so?
Holloway, by contrast, was pushed throughout his title defense by Alexander Volkanovski. It was apparent early in the fight that Volkanovski offered some serious challenges for the proud Hawaiian champion. Volkanovski’s heavy leg kicks slowed down Holloway, and the Aussie’s fast hands kept him at bay. Holloway was going to need to rally, like he had in previous fights. Holloway was unbeaten for five years, not because he demolished most opponents but because he took them into deep water and then drowned them. To a degree, Holloway rallied again. His best rounds were the fourth and fifth. However, those rounds were still very close, while Volkanovski’s early round victories were much clearer. The judges’ scorecards—50-45, 48-47, 48-47—made the fight seem closer than it was. Holloway got his challenge from Volkanovski, but it was “Alexander The Great” who proved himself in the end. It remains to be seen how long Volkanovski can reign in one of the toughest divisions in the sport, but he demonstrated his quality as a fighter. Volkanovski offered Holloway the sort of challenge that de Randamie wasn’t able to provide Nunes, but it came with the price of defeat for the Hawaiian.
That leads to the third champion who risked his title at UFC 245. Usman’s march to the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight crown more closely resembled Nunes’ than Holloway’s. Usman didn’t have the same collection of spectacular knockouts, but he made it to the top through sheer dominance. He won round after round as he took on increasingly stiff competition. Like Nunes, he wasn’t getting challenged. Unlike Nunes but like Holloway, Usman finally got his big challenge at UFC 245. Usman emerged from that challenge as the champion, and in the process, he demonstrated why receiving that sort of challenge can mean so much to a great fighter.
Say what you will about Colby Covington’s shtick and all the things he said in an effort to build his career. When it came time to fight, all of it meant nothing if he didn’t have the mettle and skill to take it to Usman. He proved what sort of fighter he was inside the Octagon. Covington gave Usman trouble from the start, showcasing improved striking and continuing to fire back even when the champion connected with power. In spite of Covington’s early success, Usman pushed back in a major way. It appeared that Covington might be resigned to defeat when he sat on his stool after the third round and dejectedly told his corner that his jaw was broken. Instead, Covington rallied. After a dominant third round for Usman, Covington outlanded him in the fourth. He enjoyed success early in the fifth, as well, and it appeared as though Covington might be on the verge of victory.
With the outcome of the fight in doubt and Usman pushed to the limit, “The Nigerian Nightmare” staged the greatest rally of his career. Knocking down Covington multiple times and violently taking the fight out of the judges’ hands, he ended one of the best fights of the year in the most dramatic of fashions. It was reminiscent of Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald 2, only it was staged by two fighters defined more by their wrestling than their striking.
Usman’s victory was the sort of rare performance that doesn’t come along often despite the current volume of fights. Great champions aren’t often given all that they can handle; it’s hard to become great by repeatedly almost losing. When they are provided that challenge and they overcome in a way that proves their greatness, well, that’s the apex of the sport.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.