Another fight card, another chance to see the majestic Jose Aldo in action.
Year 17 of Aldo’s pro fighting career is soon to be capped off by a confrontation with yet another elite opponent as he takes on fellow bantamweight contender Rob Font in the main event of UFC Vegas 44 on Saturday. It feels like ever since we first saw “Junior” in World Extreme Cagefighting, he’s been facing nothing but the best of the best and, more often than not, taking them out.
In his ongoing twilight, Aldo’s aura of invincibility has been replaced by an increasing vulnerability that provides a different kind of intrigue to his fights altogether. How much longer can he hold off the next generation of contenders and keep himself in the title picture? Is the real Aldo the fighter that’s still capable of dominating with his unparalleled striking, or is it the battle-worn athlete missing that extra gear that once separated him from the pack? And where does Font fit in all this?
Though injuries limited Font to just one fight a year from 2018-2020, Font made the most of his appearances, popping up every December like Jolly Old Saint Nick himself to knock off a notable name and keep his own in the mix. His four-fight win streak includes current Bellator champion Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon, one-time UFC title challenger and former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes, and former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt.
In a sense, Font’s timing has been perfect as the very top of the bantamweight division is still sorting itself out and depending on when Aljamain Sterling is available to compete again, there could be one half of a title fight that needs filling. Another big win for Font and you may as well put his name down for that opportunity in pen.
Also on Saturday’s main card, lightweights Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev meet in a clash of former training partners on four-fight win streaks, Jimmy Crute and Jamahal Hill look to break into the top 15 of the light heavyweight rankings, lightweight veterans Clay Guida and Leonardo Santos face off, Brendan Allen faces UFC 268 winner Chris Curtis in a middleweight bout, and welterweights Alex Morono and Mickey Gall collide in an opening bout featuring a clash of styles.
What: UFC Vegas 44
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Dec. 4. The eight-fight preliminary card begins on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET, followed by a six-fight main card on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
(Numbers in parentheses indicate standing in MMA Fighting Global Rankings)
Rob Font (5) vs. Jose Aldo (6)
I’ll say it: Jose Aldo can still beat all but the very best at 135 pounds. Is Rob Font in that category?
Font has certainly made a case that he deserves to be mentioned among the likes of Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, Cory Sandhagen, and T.J. Dillashaw. He dominated Cody Garbrandt in his most recent outing and finished Marlon Moraes inside of a round, the first fighter to do that to “Magic” since 2011. He’s undoubtedly one of the best strikers in a stacked division and Aldo is the perfect test for him right now. What better way to prove he’s cut from championship cloth than by taking out one of MMA’s greatest champions?
This will be a wondrous chess match and the first three rounds should be closely contested. Font needs to push the pace early and work to tire Aldo out, even if it means taking a few licks. The risk there is that if Aldo can re-implement his once-ubiquitous leg kicks, then it’s Font who could be pooched in the later rounds. Expect both fighters to come in with a solid game plan and for that game plan to go out the window once the shots start landing.
My heart says Aldo, but my brain says Font, even if he’s less than a year younger than Aldo (surprising, I know). What matters is that Font is significantly younger in fight years and that’s going to serve him well once this one gets into the deep waters. They’ll go the distance and it will be Font earning a competitive, but convincing decision win.
Brad Riddell (12) vs. Rafael Fiziev (13)
It feels like Rafael Fiziev is due for a big knockout.
Nobody questions Fiziev’s striking skills. He’s a thrilling and creative standup artist with good cardio and absolutely zero fear when it comes to his choice of techniques. He also has a hittable target in Brad Riddell, a gutsy fighter with questionable defense. The snag is that there’s a reason Riddell is so confident standing in the pocket: he’s tough as hell.
Riddell has the innate ability to gut out tough wins and that could be the key here against Fiziev. He has to know that Fiziev is going to come at him from all kinds of wonky angles, so staying patient will be of the utmost importance. If he can get Fiziev to the mat, that will change the complexion of the bout completely. Riddell showed in his win over Drew Dober that he’s not just here to brawl, he can switch things up to dictate the pace of the action too.
Still, I see this taking place primarily on the feet and as hardy as Riddell is, that chin is going to fail him sometime and Fiziev is just the man to put it to the test. I’ll go Fiziev by knockout.
Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill
What a fun matchup between two light heavyweights coming off of bouts where they suffered gruesome injuries!
Jamahal Hill has the better war story, having somehow been allowed to proceed with a mangled arm before Paul Craig put him out of his misery with a TKO via elbows. That’s not to sneeze at what Jimmy Crute went through in his loss to Anthony Smith, when a low kick rendered his ankle unto jelly (fortunately for Crute it turned out to be nerve damage as opposed to a break or tear) forcing him to bow out after a round.
Assuming both men are fully recovered and there are no more first-round freak injuries, I like Crute’s chances here. He utilizes the kind of shifty movement that should provide a counter to Hill’s length and you can be sure that his kick defense will be much improved. Where Crute can end this one early is on the ground and a steady diet of takedowns could establish a clear path to victory for the Australian.
Hill is dangerous and a threat to finish in the first himself, but I still see holes in his ground game that need to be addressed. Until that happens, he’s in danger of being outworked on the mat, which is what I see happening to him on Saturday.
Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos
I waxed poetic about Jose Aldo at the top of these predictions, but can we have a round of applause here for Clay Guida and Leonardo Santos, two men with a combined 37 years in the fight game? Guida turns 40 next Wednesday and Santos will be 42 in February, but don’t let their age fool you, this is fight will have a healthy pace.
Guida’s unorthodox movement takes some adjusting to, so don’t be surprised if Santos has a hard time pinning him down at first. The edge in power goes to Santos, as does the grappling. If Guida wants to wrestle, he’ll find himself tangling with the rare Brazilian fighter that has a strong wrestling base in addition to top-tier jiu-jitsu.
This will eventually become a ground battle and even though Guida remains relentless no matter where a fight goes, I don’t think he’s hustling his way to a win on this day.
Santos by submission.
Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis
When will I stop picking against “The Action Man?”
Foolishly, I thought that Chris Curtis would simply be happy to be there when he finally made the walk to the octagon at last month in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden, but no, he had to go and put the cherry on the sundae by smacking up the heavily favored Phil Hawes. Now he’s been given an opponent on the cusp of the top 15 and another chance to play spoiler.
One of Brendan Allen’s greatest strengths is his adaptability, whether that means using a diverse kickboxing attack to dissect aggressive strikers, or going to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu base to dominate in the grappling department. At 25, he’s nine years younger than Curtis, but has already shown the maturity of a veteran.
If Allen can establish the takedown early, the future threat of being put on his back should limit Curtis’ options. When Curtis gets in a groove on the feet, he’s a joy to watch, so it’s imperative that Allen keep him guessing from the opening bell.
It would be too delightful if Curtis were to beat the odds in back-to-back fights, so I’m doing the cowardly thing and going with Allen to win a decision.
Mickey Gall vs. Alex Morono
The matchmakers have been consistent with their booking of Mickey Gall, alternating between pitting the former Lookin’ for a Fight pick against similarly experienced opposition, who he typically beats, and then proceeding to match him up with a higher-ranked foe, who he typically does not beat. That pattern holds true with the Alex Morono pairing.
Gall looked as impressive as ever against Jordan Williams, a talented fighter who dropped to 0-3 in the UFC after Gall took him out with a rear-naked choke inside of a round. Now Gall gets the more durable and well-rounded Morono. “The Great White” has proven to be one of the toughest outs at 170 pounds with back-to-back wins over David Zawada and Donald Cerrone to boost his record in his past eight fights to 6-2.
While Morono’s recent fights have primarily been standup affairs, he’s also an outstanding grappler and it’s that skill that Gall is most likely to put to the test. If Gall wants to add another submission to his collection though, he’ll have to hurt Morono on the feet first and I don’t see that happening. As long as Morono minds Gall’s power right hand, he should cruise to a decision or finish Gall late.
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Bryan Barberena def. Darian Weeks
Jake Matthews def. Jeremiah Wells
Cheyanne Vlismas def. Mallory Martin
Alonzo Menifield def. William Knight
Claudio Puelles def. Chris Gruetzemacher