Yan (14-1) moved one step closer to a 135-pound title shot on Saturday as he dismantled Faber (35-11) over the course of a third-round knockout. The bantamweight contest opened the main card of UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
A four-time UFC title challenger, Faber, 40, was facing long odds against the 26-year-old Yan. Fighting out of Siberia, Yan is widely considered one of the most promising young title contenders in the 135-pound division.
Faber, of Sacramento, California, looked competitive in the opening round, but that might have been nothing more than Yan figuring out his timing and range. Things took a major turn for the worse for Faber in the second and third frames. The bout ended at the 43-second mark of the third round, after Yan dropped Faber with a left head kick.
Faber was already hurt badly prior to the final blow. Yan knocked him down twice in the second round -- once by punches, and again by a hard elbow in the clinch. The clinch caused significant swelling near Faber's left eye, and prompted a cageside doctor to take a look.
Yan has a strong case to challenge current bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo next. Cejudo is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, but is expected back in early 2020. Faber, who retired in 2016 but came back to the sport this summer to record a win over Ricky Simon, suffered the fifth knockout loss of his career.
"I'm very glad that my career in the UFC is progressing so quickly," Yan said. "I'm working very hard for it, it's not easy.
"Urijah is very famous in the UFC and I want to be more well known in America, too. Urijah also fought for many titles, so I need to beat guys like that to get to the top. UFC 245 is the biggest event of the year and it is an honor for me to be part of it because there is a lot of attention on this event and it will now be a big push for my next UFC chapter."
-- Brett Okamoto
Aldo, making his bantamweight debut, persevered through an early Moraes head kick that wobbled him, took over for much of the middle of the fight and forced Moraes to step up the pace late in order to pull out a split-decision victory.
It was a heartbreak for Aldo, although he did show that dropping a weight class might not have been ill-advised after all. He had always had a hard time making 145 pounds, and in order to hit the mark 10 pounds lower, he had looked gaunt even before weigh-ins. But he held up, in terms of energy.
Aldo didn't show his old-time skills, but he did not melt under Moraes' early pressure and he gradually came to lead the dance, stalking Moraes from the center of the cage and absorbing everything his fellow Brazilian threw his way.
Moraes did not appear to hurt Aldo after that early kick, and for long stretches he did more moving than striking. He rode his early flurry to control Round 1, but in the second round he looked tired, starting to wilt under Aldo's relentless pressure. Round 3 was either man's to snatch after the first three minutes or so. Moraes then ramped up his energy and landed more shots to eke out the advantage on the scorecards of two of the three judges.
"Aldo was the pressure fighter, so the crowd thought that he won, but if you talk to anyone who understands the sport and really watch that fight, you'll see that I connected better and scored more," Moraes said. "I knew that I had done enough.
"I don't know what's next. That was a close fight, so if they want to run it back, I'm here, I'm ready."
-- Jeff Wagenheim
Welterweight: Geoff Neal (13-2) defeats Mike Perry (13-6) by first-round TKO
"Handz of Steel" has a pretty hard shin, too, evidently. Neal landed a left head kick flush on Perry's jaw in the opening minutes and did not let Perry off the hook. Neal chased, landed a right hand and put Perry down for good with a left for a TKO at 1:30 of the first round.
Yooooo, Shins o Steel Neal #UFC245— Angela Hill (@AngieOverkill) December 15, 2019
Neal said he wanted to be the first man to stop the very durable Perry via knockout or TKO. Mission accomplished.
"I got the job done," Neal told Joe Rogan afterward in his postfight interview. "I couldn't be happier."
Neal said he believes he's only two or three more wins away from a title shot. He might be correct. Neal, 29, has won seven straight, including wins in his first five UFC fights. In 13 career wins, Neal has 10 finishes. His success is another notch in the win column for the up-and-coming Fortis MMA in Dallas, which has had an excellent 2019 under coach Sayif Saud.
Perry, 28, has lost two straight and five of his past seven. "Platinum" will still retain his cult-like following among die-hard MMA fans for his exciting, violent fighting style.
"My time in the UFC has been amazing so far to be honest," Neal said. "I still have a lot of work to do; 5-0 can become 5-5 very quickly. I'm just very grateful and fortunate to be around the team that I have back in Dallas at Fortis MMA. We're all hard workers and push and help each other so much. We're looking for top 10, belts, we're coming.
"It feels great to get out of there quickly with a guy like Perry. I was jumping around yelling and screaming because I honestly didn't expect that to happen. There might be a quick turnaround after this, we'll see. I didn't really take too much damage. I'm hoping to get around three or four fights next year. By the end of the year next year I want to be a title contender or already have the belt. Anybody that is in my way can get it."
-- Marc Raimondi
Aldana lands big right hand
Irene Aldana lands a big right hand to the body of Ketlen Vieira in their bout at UFC 245. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Ketlen Vieira is undefeated no more. Irene Aldana caught her with a left hook that put her down late in what had been an even first round. Aldana then finished Vieira with a straight right hand on the canvas to get the TKO at 4:51.
Vieira came in with a 10-0 record and the No. 3 ranking in the ESPN women's bantamweight top 10, behind only the two women in the title fight later in the evening. But she had not fought since March 2018 because of a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Vieira is known as a wrestler, but she was holding her own on her feet against Aldana, a Mexican striker who came in having landed more strikes (641) than any 135-pound woman in the UFC. That striking pedigree eventually shone brightly for Aldana, who despite taking some crisp punches that reddened her face kept coming at the Brazilian but did so in measured fashion, with movement and striking from distance.
Aldana kept Vieira at the end of her reach until she unloaded with the decisive left hook, which landed on the button. When Vieira fell to the canvas, Aldana did not hesitate to pounce, and it took only one punch -- a straight right hand to the chin -- to finish the job.
"This is definitely the biggest win of my career," Aldana said. "She was undefeated and the No. 2-ranked fighter in the division, so she was definitely next in line for a title. I have so much respect for her because she's so tough.
"I think I had an advantage with how active I've been and how she was coming back from some time off. This is my fourth fight of the year, you could say I trained all year for this fight. You never know, sometimes people come back from a layoff more motivated, that happened to me. I had time off due to an injury and when I came back I was hungrier than ever. Getting the knockout is extra sweet, I was missing that in the UFC for sure. I was asking my coaches, why am I not knocking these girls out anymore? I used to knock out every girl. There was a little doubt, but I got it now by trusting my coaches and my training. Now, we're climbing to the next level."
Akhmedov slams Heinisch to the canvas
Omari Akhmedov picks Ian Heinisch up and slams him to the ground late in the first round of their bout at UFC 245. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Akhmedov continues to be one of the UFC's most underrated fighters.
Using a steady diet of takedown attempts and power punches, Akhmedov defeated Heinisch by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in a bout that got close -- and very entertaining -- late. Akhmedov has not lost a bout since 2013, yet is not talked about among the best middleweights.
Akhmedov outstruck Heinisch in each of the first two rounds, landing hard and effectively with some takedowns mixed in. Heinisch was able to mount a valiant comeback in the third, seemingly knowing he was down on the scorecards. Heinisch wobbled Akhmedov with a head kick, landed a good knee in the clinch and nearly had Akhmedov's back at one point. It was good enough to win the round, but too little, too late for the fight.
Akhmedov is unbeaten in six straight fights, a streak going back three years. The 32-year-old Dagestan native sports a 7-3-1 UFC record with little fanfare. Heinisch, a 31-year-old Colorado native, has now dropped two in a row following a five-fight winning streak.
"It's been a great year for me, it was my goal to become a top 10 fighter in the UFC, so I think I have achieved that now," Akhmedov said. "I feel like I could have fought better tonight, but I have many injuries right now. I had to get surgery on my shoulder and then I have some injuries on my knee, but thank God that everything went well.
"I felt confident at the end, I was winning two rounds for sure, I maybe lost the last round, but I knew I had won at the end. For now, I want to completely recover my body, I fought two months ago, so I need some time. By the end of 2020, I want to be a top contender for the belt."
Brown tags Saunders with an elbow
Matt Brown lets his fists fly early in Round 2 and hits Ben Saunders with an elbow to the head. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Brown's no-steps-backward brand of pure violence had not been seen inside the Octagon for the past two years, and it was missed. Coming back from injury, Brown put on a relentless display against Saunders, wearing him down before getting the ground-and-pound KO finish at 4:55 of Round 2.
Saunders had his moments in Round 1 after he locked in a tight triangle early on. But Brown actually remained on offense while stuck in the submission, not only surviving but taking charge of the fight.
The fighters went back to the canvas in the second round, and this time Brown was able to get strong position against Saunders' rubber guard, enabling him to drop elbows.
Ayyyy!! Matt Brown with some of the nastiest elbows in the game 👏🏻👏🏻👏🏻 #UFC245— Megan Anderson (@MeganA_mma) December 15, 2019
Those attacks added to the bloodiness that had begun with a Brown head kick. Brown also caught a Saunders kick and responded with an elbow, then landed another in a clinch. Saunders appeared hurt or at least sapped of energy, perhaps from having to hold his fruitless first-round submission attempt for so long.
Shortly before the second round was to end, Brown again ended up on top, and when he landed a hard elbow flush on the forehead, referee Keith Peterson moved in for a closer look. A couple of blows more and it was over.
Hooper nearly submits Teymur
Chase Hooper locks in a choke on Daniel Teymur, but Teymur is able to withstand the pressure and get free. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
The youngest fighter on the UFC roster looks like someone to keep a close eye on in 2020. Hooper survived a tight guillotine by Teymur, almost won by submission himself, then pounded out Teymur from mount for a TKO victory at 4:34 of the first round.
Hooper, just 20 years old, was making his UFC debut. Right from the bell, Hooper shot for a takedown and Teymur locked in a guillotine. Hooper attempted to climb the cage to escape, and while that didn't work initially, he was able to get out. Teymur then landed a huge overhand right that wobbled Hooper and the bout seemed it could be a rout.
It was. Just the other way.
Great job Son https://t.co/9T8MPRGgMZ— Ben Askren (@Benaskren) December 15, 2019
Hooper was able to take Teymur's back standing up, then got him down and locked in a rear-naked choke. Teymur survived that, but Hooper slipped to mount, locked in a rare mounted triangle and blasted Teymur with big elbows and punches for the TKO victory.
Hooper is a 6-foot-1 featherweight. While certainly not risk averse, he seems like a prospect the UFC might push going into the new year. The Washington native has seven finishes in nine career wins. Teymur, a 31-year-old Sweden native, has dropped four of his past five fights.
Kara-France knocks back Moreno with big right hand
Kai Kara-France throws a big overhand right that makes Brandon Moreno stumble backwards in the first round of their early prelim bout. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Beaten to the punch throughout much of the first round, Moreno ramped up his attack in the second and third to earn the unanimous decision over Kara-France, who saw his eight-fight winning streak end.
Kara-France, a teammate of middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and featherweight challenger Alexander Volkanovski in New Zealand, showed his striking pedigree early, getting in the better shots during stand-up exchanges. But Moreno kept coming at him. That pressure began to take effect in Round 2, as Moreno used a steady flow of jabs to bloody Kara-France's nose and continually put him on the defensive with kicks to the head and body.
These attacks appeared to take a toll on Kara-France, who continued to launch his own attacks but didn't seem to be hurting Moreno. That allowed Moreno to come at him with abandon and even showboat a little, making the margin appear wider than it really was.
"I feel amazing," Moreno said. "I feel a lot of peace in my heart. Last year the UFC released me and that was a really dark part of my life. I went to fight in LFA and became their flyweight champion and started to feel better, but I always wanted to come back to UFC. I came back in September and got the draw, so it wasn't as sweet, but now I'm back with my first official win again and I'm happy.
"I'm going to try and take everything with baby steps from now on and focus on every little thing. One or two years ago, I was the top prospect in the division, but then they released me and it humbled me. Now, I'm trying to be smarter and just focus on what is next. I'm No. 5 in the rankings, so I know the next fight will be really, really hard, but I'm ready for this."
Eye, Araujo trade blows in first
Jessica Eye and Viviane Araujo go back and forth trading strikes in the first round of their early prelim bout at UFC 245. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Eye's fight week hit a major snag Friday when she missed weight by five pounds. She admitted on Twitter she had a bad weight cut. Eye was able to rebound with a strong performance a day later, coming back after a lackluster first round.
By the third, Eye seemed very confident in her boxing, landing combinations, ripping to the body with right and left hooks and beating Araujo in just about every exchange. Coming in, ESPN had Eye ranked No. 6 among UFC women's flyweights and Araujo at No. 7.
In the first round, Araujo seemed the faster, more active fighter. She landed nice combinations and a takedown. But Araujo seemed a bit tired after the first five minutes and Eye started finding her rhythm in the striking in the second. She kept her momentum into the third en route to the victory.
Eye bounced back from a knockout loss against UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko on June 8. The 33-year-old Ohio native, who now lives and trains in Las Vegas, has won four of her past five fights overall. Araujo had a five-fight winning streak snapped. The 33-year-old Brazilian had been impressive in winning her first two UFC fights earlier this year.
"It feels really good to get back in the win column," Eye said. "Obviously, I'm coming off that loss that hindered some things, but I knew if I could go out here and do everything that they've been teaching me, then it would all come together and work. I think everyone got to see me as a different fighter here tonight, and most importantly my coaches got to see me show off everything they've been doing for me and that means the most. I had a lot to prove coming in here."
Soriano lands big overhead
Punahele Soriano lands a massive left overhand strike on Oskar Piechota in the early prelims of UFC 245. For more UFC, sign up here for ESPN+ http://plus.espn.com/ufc.
Impressive UFC debut for the undefeated Soriano, who caught Piechota early and appeared poised for a lightning-quick finish. But Soriano had to withstand a dangerous rally by the Pole in a grappling scramble before resetting the stand-up battle and knocking out Piechota with a vicious straight left hand at 3:17 of the first round.
And THATS how we kick off a huge card like this #UFC245— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) December 14, 2019
It was almost as though Soriano won this fight twice. He dropped Piechota in one of their first exchanges and swarmed him for the finish. But Piechota withstood some ground-and-pound and worked his way into several submission positions, fishing for a kimura, an armbar, then a guillotine. None of the sub attempts was close, but Piechota was a threat ... until Soriano got the fight back to standing, where his quick hands and power finished the job. His straight left had Piechota KO'd before the Pole hit the canvas. It was Piechota's third straight loss.
"This is everything I thought it would be and more," Soriano said. "I can't even describe it. I'm lucky that I got to go through the Contender Series beforehand because it helped put the big stage in perspective for me. I had a glimpse of what to expect, so I could have a little more fun with it instead of just being super tense the whole time and rushing through it.
"The future is bright. I want to go back to training as soon as I can. I probably have to take a week off, but then I want to work on my skills, get better and get back in there. I love it."