Predictions! UFC 245 ESPN 2 ‘Prelims’ Preview

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The penultimate Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) card of the year sees them pull out all the stops, as three title fights are set to hit the promotion’s sacred stomping grounds of T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, this weekend (Sat., Dec. 14, 2019).

In UFC 245’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman makes his inaugural title defense against Colby Covington, while the co-feature pits Featherweight emperor Max Holloway against the relentless Alexander Volkanovski. Finally, women’s Bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes will look to further cement her states as women’s G.O.A.T. against fellow bruiser Germaine de Randamie.

ESPN 2 hosts the remaining four “Prelims” undercard bouts (check out the early batch here). Let’s have a look:

170 lbs. Geoff Neal vs. Mike Perry

“Handz of Steel” Geoff Neal (12-2) lived up to his nickname on “Contender Series,” where he blew away Chase Waldon in less than two minutes to earn himself a UFC contract. His undefeated Octagon run has seen him earn three finishes in four wins, including a bonus-winning technical knockout of Niko Price in his most recent effort.

He’ll have one inch of height and four inches of reach on Mike Perry (13-5) come fight night.

“Platinum” has struggled to recapture the success of his 4-1 Octagon start, dropping four of his last six since earning two consecutive “Performance of the Night” bonuses. His last effort was perhaps his most entertaining yet, though, as he slugged his way to a “Fight of the Night” split decision loss against Vicente Luque in August.

All but two of his professional victories have come by form of knockout.

Neal just stopped a hellaciously powerful brawler, so it’s hard not to favor someone with almost all the same adjectives. Perry is admittedly faster and more durable than Price, true, but he’ll have all kinds of problems with Neal’s range and more versatile kickboxing offense.

The big worry for Neal is that the lost his composure at points last time out, allowing Price to find the mark with some booming shots. Perry only needs a moment’s lapse to turn anyone’s lights out. Even with that caveat, though, Neal’s just a bit too slick for him. “Handz of Steel” survives some shaky moments to continue his rise.

Prediction: Neal via unanimous decision

135 lbs.: Ketlen Vieira vs. Irene Aldana

Ketlen Vieira (10-0) battled her way into Bantamweight contendership with four consecutive Octagon victories, two of them numerical upsets. Her last two fights have seen her score a comeback submission of Sara McMann and take a split decision over another former title challenger in Cat Zingano.

This will be her first fight in 21 months because of injuries.

Despite the hype behind her, Irene Aldana (11-5) stumbled out of the UFC gate with losses in her first two appearances. She currently finds herself on a 4-1 streak, though, the sole loss a contentious split decision to Raquel Pennington this past July.

All but one of her eight finishes have come in the first round.

I’ll admit, it’s been so long since I’ve seen Vieira in action that I had to dust off Fight Pass and refresh my memory with tape. Though her Judo skills are clearly legit, her boxing remains underdeveloped, and that just so happens to be Aldana’s wheelhouse. Indeed, the Mexican up-and-comer is far sharper with her hands and should be able to dominate on the feet, even with minor disadvantages in height and reach.

None of that matters if Vieira gets her on her back, of course, but Aldana’s greater than 90 percent takedown defense looks up to the task. Unless Vieira has dramatically improved her striking during her time away, a steady jab and high output win Aldana the day.

Prediction: Aldana via unanimous decision

185 lbs.: Ian Heinisch vs. Omari Akhmedov

“Hurricane” Ian Heinisch (13-2) — the former LFA interim champion — punched his ticket to UFC by stopping Justin Sumter in brutal fashion on “Contender Series.” A pair of upset decisions over Cezar Ferreira and Antônio Carlos Júnior brought him to the brink of the elite, only for Derek Brunson to halt his momentum at UFC 241.

He has knocked out four pro opponents and submitted two others.

Omari Akhmedov (19-4-1) ended his UFC Welterweight run at 5-3, debuting at 185 pounds with a majority draw against Marvin Vettori. He returned to his winning ways with a pair of decisions over Tim Boetsch and Zak Cummings, extending his current run to 4-0-1 in the process.

He’ll have one inch each of height and reach on Heinisch.

Heinisch better have learned something from the Brunson loss; Akhmedov is a similarly suffocating top control specialist with enough punching power to keep “The Hurricane” honest on the feet. The key difference, though, is that Akhmedov has notoriously poor cardio, and if there’s one thing Heinisch does better than most, it’s push a furious pace. This fight is Heinisch’s to lose if he can survive past the eight-minute mark or so.

His mission, then, will be to do so without spending so much time on his back that things become unsalvageable on the scorecard. Akhmedov has survived some late surges before and Heinisch is easier to take down than his wrestling pedigree would suggest. My guess, though, is that we get something like Heinisch’s fight with “Shoeface.” He survives the early wrestling attack to empty Akhmedov’s gas tank and punish him for either a late stoppage or clear decision.

Prediction: Heinisch via unanimous decision

170 lbs.: Matt Brown vs. Ben Saunders

Matt Brown (21-16) has damn sure looked “Immortal” during his 11-year Octagon tenure, putting together a seven-fight win streak at one point. In his last fight, he snapped a three-fight streak of stoppage losses by knocking out Diego Sanchez with one of the most violent elbows in recent memory.

This will be his first fight in more than two years, as he initially retired after the Sanchez fight before tearing his ACL ahead of a planned clash with Carlos Condit.

Ben Saunders (22-12-2) — whose 2007 UFC debut saw him defeat Daniel Barrera by unanimous decision — enters the cage this Saturday in the midst of a 1-5 skid. All five of those defeats have come inside the distance, including a knockout loss to Takashi Sato in April.

His 17 professional stoppage wins are split 9/8 between knockouts and submissions.

I would very much like to ask UFC about its insistence on throwing Saunders at every heavy-handed Welterweight it can find. Sure, he’s a sufficiently adept submission artist to ruin Brown on the mat, but historically poor wrestling and his infamously weak chin make it highly unlikely that he can use any of that before “The Immortal” cracks him with something he can’t survive.

Saunders has one bit of hope in that Brown’s body is notoriously fragile — the gut-munching knee “Killa B” landed on Jake Ellenberger would absolutely put Brown on the floor When Brown can knock him unconscious with practically any strike in his arsenal, though, it’s painfully unlikely that Saunders gets in a position to land that knee without getting flatlined. Brown marches into the pocket and lamps Saunders with something unpleasant.

Prediction: Brown via first-round knockout

UFC 245 features three title fights and enough bad blood to recreate that shot from The Shining sound like a recipe for entertainment. See you Saturday, Maniacs!

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 245 fight card this weekend RIGHT HERE, starting with the Fight Pass/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN 2 at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 245: “Usman vs. Covington” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

Current UFC “Prelims” Prediction Record for 2019: 174-94-1

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