Get the lowdown on the main card action of UFC Vegas 44, topped by an upstart Rob Font looking to solidify a potential title shot against the legendary Jose Aldo.
Despite time away typically making the heart grow fonder, there hasn’t been a lot of buzz around UFC Vegas 44. Don’t get me wrong, there’s been pockets of fans who can’t hide their excitement for the co-main event, but there’s been a noticeable lack of excitement around Jose Aldo given his legend status. Granted, Aldo doesn’t appear to be what he was in his prime, but he’s not a far cry from being that fighter on any given night. I get that Rob Font’s name doesn’t carry the same weight as some others, but it can’t be said he’s unworthy to be in this spot. Perhaps it’s just the time of year, people going crazy dealing with the holidays and all the madness it brings. Regardless, the main event should be a banger and the co-main event between Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev will be a FOTY contender if it lives up to the hype.
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Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo, Bantamweight
Nobody in the prediction game gets everything right. Thus, I must admit when I’m wrong and I was very wrong about Aldo’s move to bantamweight. The longtime featherweight kingpin breathed new life into his career dropping to a new class and putting on some fun scraps. While some might point to his 2-2 record and wonder if it’s worth calling him one of the elite of the division, he hasn’t been given any softballs by any means. Throw in the fact that he’s not only 35-years-old – certifiably ancient in a smaller weight class – but an old 35 given all the vicious battles he’s been in at the highest levels, it’s downright amazing Aldo has been able to remain relevant.
Much of Aldo’s success can be attributed to an improved fight IQ. Given he’s always been a smart fighter, that’s really saying something. His ability to hone in on what his opponents are leaving open has always been fantastic. Though many will say Aldo doesn’t throw his legendary leg kicks as much as he should, he still throws them, albeit selectively, typically when opponents aren’t expecting them. Against Marlon Vera, he threw them early to get the youngster thinking about them the rest of the fight. Against Pedro Munhoz, he didn’t let them fly until the final round, allowing him to run away with the fight down the stretch. Given the force he puts into those kicks, it only makes sense he be judicious with them, especially given this is a five-round fight.
Of course, that this is a five-round fight is the biggest reason for his detractors to point in favor of Font. Aldo had issues with his stamina when he was fighting at featherweight. Now, not only is Aldo cutting an additional ten pounds, he’s older to boot. Aldo has made changes in his diet and nutrition to help address those issues and his stamina doesn’t seem much worse for wear than it was at 145. Nevertheless, memories of his shellacking at the hands of Petr Yan in the fifth round of their title fight is sure to be in the minds of many fans and it’s hard to believe the weight cut will be easier as he gets older.
For Font, while he has proven to be more than worthy of this spot, nobody is comparing him to Yan… at least not yet. One of the lankier members of the bantamweight division, Font has improved his boxing technique to the point where his jab is one of the most effective in the division. Given his struggles at using his length properly was a concern at one point, that’s a hell of an accomplishment. He also proved he’s more than capable of going five hard rounds, his largest amount of output coming in the final two rounds of his main event bout with Cody Garbrandt this past May. Combine that with Font’s durability – he’s never been finished via strikes in his career – and many believe it is academic. That’s not even mentioning his plus power, his most noticeable aspect since his UFC debut.
While that makes for a worthy argument, there are other factors to consider. While Font hasn’t been finished with strikes, he has been scared off from executing as he should when he’s been hit hard. Munhoz capitalized on hurting Font with a guillotine and both John Lineker and Raphael Assuncao were able to cow his attack after landing some heavy offense. The last of those fights was 2018 and Font appears to have evolved mentally, tactically, and strategically since then. But given Aldo is one of the most legendary hard hitters at a smaller weight class and it leaves open the question.
My initial thought was to lean into Font. He’s younger and appears to still be improving. However, Aldo is a master of timing and distance. He’ll make Font pay for some of the jabs he lands with some heavy artillery. There’s a very good chance Font can wade the early storm, push a heavy pace, and wear down the Brazilian legend to get a late stoppage or decision. However, I was swayed in the direction of Aldo the more I looked into the fight. Perhaps the greatest counter striker in the history of the sport, Aldo could very well scare off Font’s attack and perhaps look to use his grappling down the stretch to control Font, much like he did against Marlon Vera. I’ve doubted Aldo enough times that I’m wary of doing so. Thus, despite all the excellent reasons to pick Font, I’ll go with Aldo, though with great trepidation. Aldo via decision
Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev, Lightweight
It’s been well-reported this is a battle of former Tiger Muay Thai striking coaches, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an aspect worth mentioning. What makes it that much more worth mentioning is difference in their striking styles.
While there’s no doubt both men are more than capable of imitating the style of the other, Riddell tends to rely more heavily on his fists than Fiziev does. That appears to be the primary reason Fiziev entered the fight as a betting favorite as his tendency to launch flashy kicks and perform Matrix-like evasions grabs more eyeballs and fans have reacted accordingly with their money. To be fair to Fiziev, it isn’t just flash that he produces. Even if those kicks haven’t produced a highlight reel finish in the UFC, they’ve landed plenty enough to justify his use of them and it’s hard to believe one of them won’t leave an opponent looking up at the lights sooner or later. Plus, it isn’t like his boxing is subpar either. Fiziev appears to have an edge in power too, having secured more stoppages and near-finishes than his counterpart.
However, there are two factors that is keeping this fight near pick ‘em odds. Fiziev faded hard in his last contest against Bobby Green, barely hanging on for the decision win as his gas tank betrayed him. Despite having been in numerous fights where his wrestling and grappling chops have been tested, Riddell hasn’t shown the same issues with his stamina as Fiziev. Throw in that Riddell’s chin appears to be made of some form of granite and it feels academic to many. Part of Fiziev’s problem can be explained with his kick-heavy offense – it takes more energy to kick than to punch – but expecting him to overhaul his strategy to accommodate for that would be ludicrous. Tweaking or adjusting makes sense and it doesn’t seem like it would take a lot for that to work should this prove to be a strikers delight as Riddell’s defense hasn’t been that good.
On the flip side, it isn’t like Fiziev’s defense has been fantastic either and Riddell has been more willing to mix the martial arts. In landing five takedowns against Drew Dober, Riddell proved he’s a decent takedown threat. At the very least, his willingness to shoot for takedowns might open up his standup attack more and – more importantly in this contest – might wear down Fiziev enough for Riddell to take control late, even though Fiziev’s takedown defense has held up against more accomplished wrestlers than Riddell. Regardless of how the fight plays out, this should a LOT of fun. Riddell via TKO of RD3
Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill, Light Heavyweight
Given both promising 205ers are coming off freakish injuries, I suppose it only makes sense to pit them against one another. Crute’s severe dead leg – I’m not sure what else to refer to the nerve damage he suffered against Anthony Smith – wasn’t easy to watch, but Hill’s dislocated elbow was flat out one of the most gruesome injuries in UFC history. Fortunately for both, they didn’t need extended absences to recover.
Hill’s injury exposed his questionable fight IQ as he was all too willing to dive into the guard of noted submission specialist Paul Craig. It resulted in Hill’s first career loss, which could prove to be a humbling experience for the 30-year-old and lead to him respecting his opponent’s strengths and recognizing his own weaknesses. Given his lanky frame and plus power, Hill has the tools to win a title, it’s just a matter of him putting it together.
Of course, it could also be argued Crute has the tools to win a belt himself. Though not as long as his counterpart, Crute’s bricked up frame has allowed him to overwhelm opponents with sheer physicality in a way few have been able to in the UFC. Where the Aussie has had issues is with opponents capable of staying on the outside and picking him apart. While Hill has a frame ideal for performing that – he’s 6’4” with a 79” reach – he hasn’t perfected the use of angles and distance just yet. Of course, Crute has also made progress in dealing with outside attacks as well and while Hill presents just the type of matchup that could give Crute problems, Crute provides the same issue for Hill….
While it’s been easy to forget Hill’s win over Darko Stosic following his more high-profile fights, Stosic – a man of glacial movement – was able to take Hill down time and time again. Crute is the superior athlete to Stosic and has a more accomplished grappling game to boot. There is a good likelihood Hill has worked on his wrestling since that time – it was almost two years ago – but we haven’t seen it tested.
Either man is entirely capable of winning this fight. It all comes down to who fights more intelligently. As mentioned earlier, Hill could have sobered up after his loss to Craig, but that’s pure speculation. Crute has shown his opponents far more respect to their capabilities whilst still being able to implement his own violent brand upon them. Regardless of who wins and loses, both should still have bright futures, but I think Crute gets a head start on turning things around in this contest. Crute via submission of RD2
- Believe it or not, the UFC found someone older than Clay Guida whom he could fight! The 39-year-old veteran squares off with a 41-year-old Leonardo Santos, fresh off his first loss in over a decade. Despite being older, there’s no doubt Santos is the far fresher fighter, having several year-plus layoffs throughout his career, clocking in with 23 professional fights compared to 57 for Guida. Anyone who remembers a prime Guida knows the wear and tear shows on him at this stage. He still has a deep gas tank – even if it doesn’t go to the depths it used to – and doesn’t mind making a fight ugly, but the speed and durability has diminished. Guida has always been prone to being dropped in a contest, but it used to be he’d pop right back up. Not so much the case anymore. Given Guida’s history of submission losses and Santos being a ground specialist – he teaches grappling at Nova Uniao – the obvious pick would seem to be Santos via submission. However, Guida has shown wisdom acquired from years of fighting in recent fights, showing greater restraint to diving into submissions. Plus, even if Santos doesn’t have the miles on his body Guida does, he is at an age when the wheels could fall off at any time. And how will Santos respond to being KO’d in such a violent manner by Grant Dawson as he was in his last fight? If he shows any hesitancy, Guida could grind away against the cage and take an ugly decision, especially given Santos isn’t known for producing high amounts of volume. Even with those concerns, I still like the lanky Santos to find a way to secure the win. Santos via decision
- It’s been less than a month since Chris Curtis made a stunning UFC debut, upsetting Phil Hawes at Madison Square Garden after a long career fighting in just about every organization besides the UFC. And yet, the 34-year-old is jumping into the fire once again, taking a short notice contest against Brendan Allen. To be fair, it makes sense for Curtis as he needs to make up ground in a hurry if he hopes to make a decent UFC run. Throw in that Curtis’ frame is better suited to fight at welterweight and taking this fight at 185 shouldn’t be too draining for him. Of course, being undersized also provides the likelihood of him being overwhelmed physically, much like he was by Hawes before finding a laser punch to put Hawes on stanky legs. Allen is a BIG middleweight himself with a hell of a ground game. Curtis isn’t a slouch on the mat himself – it’s been a decade since his lone submission loss in his 35-fight career – but stopping takedowns has always been a concern for him. Perhaps Allen won’t make it an issue as Allen’s history of allowing his opponent to dictate where the fight takes place could allow Curtis to remain standing, but it’s hard to believe Allen would ignore the type of edge he has on the mat. Not that Allen is weak standing. The 25-year-old has made big strides in his standup, adding step-in knees and overall body work, but he leaves himself open to be hit too much. Despite Allen’s questionable fight IQ, he doesn’t have a history of melting the way Hawes did. He should be able to take whatever Curtis throws at him and utilize his frame to exercise enough control to take the W. Allen via decision
- No doubt there is some disappointment Matt Brown was forced to pull out of his contest with Bryan Barberena as it represented two gritty strikers willing to lay their bodies on the line. While Barberena is still on the card, even those who follow the sport closely may find themselves asking who in the hell Darian Weeks is. The 28-year-old Weeks is a good athlete with a strong wrestling background and the type of power that can melt an opponent. Don’t let his five professional fights fool you either; he has an extensive amateur career, meaning he’s plenty experienced in the cage. However, he isn’t experienced against someone like Barberena. Weeks is used to his opponents shying away after eating a few of his punches. Barberena will continue to move forward and will continue to throw fisticuffs along the way. Barberena’s durability isn’t what it once was – he’s been in too many hard-fought battles at this stage – nor does he seem to be able to push the insane pace he once did. The end appears to be nigh for Barberena, but I wouldn’t say it’s here yet as Weeks will have a tough weight cut ahead of him in addition to a big jump in the level of competition. Barberena via TKO of RD3