Us­man bat­ters Cov­ing­ton, Volka­novski claims ti­tle at UFC 245

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - AP Sports Writer

By GREG BEACHAM

LAS VE­GAS >> Ka­maru Us­man sent a blood­ied, bleary Colby Cov­ing­ton spi­ral­ing to the ground for the sec­ond time. Us­man then leaped on him and went to work on Cov­ing­ton’s badly in­jured face, bat­ter­ing his dazed op­po­nent with ham­mer fists un­til the ref­eree mer­ci­fully in­ter­vened.

Al­though he had to wait un­til the fi­nal minute, Us­man set­tled his very per­sonal feud with his sharply di­vi­sive chal­lenger in per­haps the most sat­is­fy­ing way pos­si­ble.

“This one is not just for me,” Us­man said. “This is for the whole en­tire world right now.”

Us­man bru­tally stopped Cov­ing­ton with 50 sec­onds left in their bout at UFC 245 on Satur­day night, re­tain­ing his UFC wel­ter­weight belt with a spec­tac­u­lar fin­ish to their grudge match.

Alexan­der Volka­novski also took the UFC feath­er­weight ti­tle from Max Hol­loway and be­came the sec­ond Aus­tralian cham­pion in the pro­mo­tion’s his­tory with a tac­ti­cal unan­i­mous-de­ci­sion vic­tory, and Amanda Nunes de­fended her ban­tamweight ti­tle with a grind­ing unan­i­mous-de­ci­sion vic­tory over Ger­maine De Ran­damie at T-Mo­bile Arena.

Us­man (16-1) closed out an oc­ca­sion­ally slow fight with Cov­ing­ton (15-2) in thrilling fash­ion, knock­ing down the chal­lenger twice with right hands and then de­ci­sively fin­ish­ing him on the ground. Al­though he didn’t break his jaw as he feared, Cov­ing­ton couldn’t with­stand the pres­sure of Us­man, who drew strength from the per­sonal an­i­mus he took into the cage.

“He talked a lot go­ing into this, so this was a re­spect thing,” said Us­man, who won his 11th straight fight. “I had a re­spon­si­bil­ity to go in there and teach him a les­son.”

The Nige­ria-born, Tex­as­raised Us­man made good on his vow to de­rail the ca­reer of Cov­ing­ton, whose grat­ing per­son­al­ity and ea­ger em­brace of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump have made him a po­lar­iz­ing, widely re­viled fig­ure in mixed mar­tial arts.

Cov­ing­ton re­cently claimed he is only play­ing a char­ac­ter in the tra­di­tion of a clas­sic wrestling heel. UFC Pres­i­dent Dana White and a long list of his one­time team­mates — in­clud­ing UFC stars Jon Jones, Jorge Masvi­dal and Ty­ron Wood­ley — all say Cov­ing­ton is just a dif­fi­cult, un­lik­able per­son.

Us­man was thrilled to beat up a bully.

“Ev­ery­one was like, ‘Oh, Colby is in his head!’” Us­man said. “‘He’s go­ing to gas out, fight emo­tional!’ I’m telling you guys right now, the rea­son I’m the best in the world is be­cause my mind is stronger than ev­ery­one in the di­vi­sion.”

Cov­ing­ton and Us­man started with two busy rounds of strik­ing in which Cov­ing­ton ap­peared to be land­ing more blows, but Cov­ing­ton poked Us­man in the eye dur­ing the third. Us­man re­sponded by blood­y­ing Cov­ing­ton in an im­pres­sive thir­dround flurry, and Cov­ing­ton sub­se­quently told his cor­ner that he thought his jaw was bro­ken — but it wasn’t, ac­cord­ing to the UFC’s physi­cians.

Us­man took con­trol from there, grad­u­ally fin­ish­ing Cov­ing­ton in his first de­fense of the belt he took from Wood­ley ear­lier this year.

Cov­ing­ton sprinted from the cage af­ter the de­ci­sion, de­clin­ing to con­grat­u­late Us­man.

“I made a lot of mis­takes, but I know I hit harder than him,” Us­man said.

Volka­novski (21-1) picked apart Hol­loway (21-5) with leg kicks and move­ment for five fre­netic rounds, con­trol­ling the bout with style and per­sis­tence. The 31-year-old chal­lenger born in a tiny coastal town in New South Wales joins New Zealand-born mid­dleweight Robert Whittaker as UFC’s only Aussie champs.

The judges fa­vored Volka­novski 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45. Hol­loway strug­gled to land con­sis­tent strikes while dodg­ing Volka­novski’s bar­rage of leg kicks, but the lon­greign­ing champ still ap­peared sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed by the judges’ ver­dict in just his sec­ond loss since 2013.

“It means the world,” Volka­novski said. “I have two kids at home. Ev­ery­thing is about my fam­ily. Spend­ing time away from them kills me, but this is for them, a lit­tle early Christ­mas present for them.”

Volka­novski be­came just the fourth feath­er­weight cham­pion in UFC his­tory, join­ing Jose Aldo, Conor Mc­Gre­gor and Hol­loway, who had reigned since 2016.

Volka­novski earned his ti­tle shot with 17 straight vic­to­ries, in­clud­ing seven since join­ing the UFC, capped by a win over Aldo in May.

“Feath­er­weight has al­ways had great, re­spect­ful cham­pi­ons who al­ways fight the next con­tenders in line, and I ap­pre­ci­ate that,” Volka­novski said. “There’s a lot of peo­ple who have earned their shot and aren’t given it, so I’m go­ing to make sure ev­ery­one who earns it, gets it.”

Hol­loway said he hasn’t de­cided whether he will re­sume his ca­reer at feath­er­weight or light­weight, but the 28-yearold vowed to come back strong.

“I don’t want to sound like a sore loser,” said Hol­loway, who thought he won the fi­nal three rounds. “I didn’t watch tape, (but) I thought I was do­ing enough.”

Nunes (19-4) earned her 10th straight win and fifth ban­tamweight ti­tle de­fense over a half-decade of UFC dom­i­nance, but the two-di­vi­sion cham­pion had to rely on her wrestling skills to dom­i­nate her 135-pound re­match with De Ran­damie (9-4), the former 145-pound UFC cham­pion.

“My game plan was to go five rounds and work the take­down,” Nunes said. “I al­most got two sub­mis­sions, but I made some mis­takes and I have to fix that. Just a lit­tle bit of the tech­nique was off, but I will fix it and next time I will get it.”

JOHN LOCHER - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ka­maru Us­man hits Colby Cov­ing­ton in a mixed mar­tial arts wel­ter­weight cham­pi­onship bout at UFC 245, Satur­day, Dec. 14, 2019, in Las Ve­gas.

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