UFC Vegas 44 looked great on paper, and delivered big on the night. Jose Aldo and Rob Font put together a fantastic five round scrap. Rafael Fiziev and Brad Riddell had a thrilling, power-striking chess match in the co-main event. And Jamahal HIll absolutely beat the breaks off Jim Crute.
So, is Aldo primed for another shot at bantamweight gold? Is it time for the UFC to get Fiziev a top 10 opponent? And has Manel Kape once again turned himself into a man to watch in the flyweight division.
To answer those questions – and a whole lot more – I’ll be using the classic Silva/Shelby fight booking methodology from the UFC of years past. That means pitting winners against winners, losers against losers, and similarly tenured talent up against one another. Hopefully, by following that model, a few of these bout ideas will actually make it off the page and into the Octagon. Now, let’s get to the fights!
There’s no question about it, Jose Aldo is still a contender in the bantamweight division. Rob Font knew exactly what kind of fight he needed to have against the former featherweight king. He started fast, he worked the body, he even got an early takedown and forced Aldo to spend some extra energy grappling. Font kept the pressure high all fight, worked behind his jab constantly, and out-landed Aldo at nearly a 2-1 clip. Considering both men made it to the final bell, that all should have set Font up to walk away with a win. But Aldo was so perfectly economical in his power offense. Hurting Font multiple times, and managing his energy throughout to make sure he didn’t flag.
An amazingly poised veteran performance. And afterward he had a call-out ready. Aldo may be aiming for gold, but he asked for a fight with TJ Dillashaw on the way there—and that’s a bout I absolutely want to see. Two former champs, still delivering near the peak of their abilities. And a perfect chance for either man to pick up a huge win that would turn them into the division’s unquestioned top contender. Aldo vs. Dillashaw is a fantastic fight to make.
After this fight, Rob Font told Daniel Cormier that he still felt like he could beat Jose Aldo, even if this wasn’t his night. It’s hard to think of how he could have put together a better performance, though. He was clearly prepared and on point with a gameplan designed to beat the legend, but Aldo still managed to tear through him on his way to victory. While Font’s clearly very good and still has a lot to offer among the bantamweight top 10, if he’s got a future plan to winning this kind of fight, I’m not at all sure as to what it might be.
For the moment his next step could come against Dominick Cruz, whether the ‘Dominator’ comes off a win or a loss against Pedro Munhoz. But, with Cory Sandhagen sitting on a couple losses out there, that seems like such an obvious battle. Two lanky, powerful bantamweights who are nearly impossible to knock out, and who can put together a huge amount of volume? Time to book it. Sandhagen vs. Font is a great action bout in the bantamweight top 5.
It wasn’t a big advantage, but Fiziev just had that little extra bit of power in the cage, and he slowly used that to turn exchanges more and more in his favor as the fight went on. Riddell gave him even opportunities to land in exchanges, and Fiziev was the one who stayed on the front foot and made the cost of every meeting clear for his opponent. That wheel kick KO to wrap things up at the end was really the cherry on top of the combat sundae.
A great performance for Fiziev who is now firmly a top 10 fighter in the lightweight division. That should put him in the way of fighters like Rafael Dos Anjos, Gregor Gillespie, and Arman Tsarukyan. If RDA is going to be healthy any time soon, that could be a fun fight. But with Gregor Gillespie un-booked that seems like the obvious go to. Gillespie vs. Fiziev would be a very high level test of Fiziev’s wrestling game on his way to title contention.
An absolutely brutal loss for Jim Crute, he was there with his trademark aggression, but Hill turned that energy straight on its head with a couple huge counter right hooks. That win rights the ship for the MMAtrix fighter out of Grand Rapids, MI, and should have him right back in the conversation of top prospects in the light heavyweight division. After the bout he called out Paulo Costa and Johnny Walker. My guess is that Costa will have bigger things in mind if he’s forced to take multiple fights at light heavyweight, but I don’t see any reason the UFC couldn’t make that Walker fight. Bouts with Nikita Krylov and Ryan Spann would also be especially strong options. But, since he had the name in mind and I’d love to see it happen, go ahead and book Hill vs. Walker. Should be short and violent.
It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty, but Clay Guida still finds himself winning UFC bouts in 2021. Leonardo Santos seemed like he’d have exactly the right style to play hell with Guida’s wild punching to shot wrestling, but despite hurting the ‘Carpenter’ badly early he couldn’t find the path to a finish. And from that moment, Guida’s trademark heart and aggression took over the fight. A marvelous comeback win for him, that should have him in the Octagon again soon. It’s really too bad Jeremy Stephens is so far removed from his last win, because Guida vs. Stephens seems like a fight that absolutely should have happened already. Same with Donald Cerrone. So how about a fight with Jared Gordon. ‘Flash’ fresh off a win in his return to lightweight. And a bout against Guida seems like it would still be a fun one, especially with both men’s high activity styles. Guida vs. Gordon should be a war.
Two underdog fights mean two fantastic underdog wins for Curtis. And with a ton of experience under his belt – and at 34 years of age – there’s no reason the UFC should be slow playing him going forward. He’s proven he can compete at a borderline top 15 level in the Octagon. Time to see just how far he can ride that wave. Brad Tavares was supposed to be in this fight, how about matching him up with Curtis next, whenever Tavares is ready to go. Otherwise, Nassourdine Imavov is coming off a couple huge wins, Curtis vs. Imavov would be a great way for the younger prospect to continue building his resume or for Curtis to keep his climb going. Curtis vs. Tavares seems like a great veteran vs. veteran fight. But if not, Curtis vs. Imavov would be a lot of fun.
Not a dominating thriller, but Morono continues to prove that he’s a very tough out in the welterweight division, especially for fighters that can’t find a way to really hurt him standing. That puts the ‘Great White’ on a three fight win streak, including a big win over Donald Cerrone. Time to push him back up into the edges of the top 15. Fights with Daniel Rodriguez, Muslim Salikhov, Michel Pereira, or Shavkat Rakhmonov all feel like they’d make fun challenges. Personally, I’d still like to see that Pereira/Morono fight just for the absurd difference in athleticism that both men bring to the Octagon. A fight with D-Rod is probably more like what Morono deserves. But there’s a fight between Shavkat Rakhmonov and Carlston Harris brewing, and the winner of that will have a ton of momentum. Morono vs. the Rakhmonov/Harris winner would be a great next test for whichever relative UFC newcomer picks up the victory.
When Manel Kape is firing on all cylinders he truly is an elite level athlete in the flyweight division. He has all the speed, power, and dynamic striking he needs to be a title contender. The story of his UFC career so far has been one of finding the pace to compete with busier fighters inside the Octagon. That seems to have been the plan Zhumagulov came in with, putting a way busier fight than normal on Kape early. But, that high output only gave Kape more chances to find huge counters, eventually dropping his Kazakh opponent and pouring on the offense for the TKO in round 1.
If Kape truly has found his footing in the Octagon he could be a very dangerous future challenger for gold. Fights with David Dvorak, Su Mudaerji, or Rogerio Bontorin all seem like decent options to find out just what strides he’s made. Of those, I’ll say the UFC should book Kape vs. Dvorak. A busy, volume striker with a lot of range and variety seems like just the right challenge for Kape to keep proving he’s a cut above the rest at 125.
For a couple years now, Morales has felt like a fighter with a lot of potential who may just never quite capitalize on his skills in the Octagon. Slow starts have especially hampered his boxing heavy attack, often putting him in a big hole to try and claw his way out of. Against Louis Smolka, he showed that he just might be breaking that pattern. Morales started the fight hot, throwing in constant combination against the Team Oyama fighter, and made Smolka really struggle to get the fight into his preferred range inside the pocket. And when Smolka finally did get inside to start clinching Morales up, he got absolutely leveled.
A great win for the Syndicate MMA fighter to keep his Octagon career alive. After the bout he called out Nathaniel Wood for the UFC’s upcoming London card in March. If Wood is ready to go by then, I see no reason not to make that fight. The ‘Prospect’ may be coming off a loss, but he’s also been putting together much better, more consistent performances. This would be an excellent chance for the Brit to bounce back or for Morales to continue his roll. Morales vs. Wood in London seems like an excellent idea.
OTHER BOUTS: Brad Riddell vs. the Haqparast/Makdessi winner, Leonardo Santos vs. Scott Holtzman, Jimmy Crute vs. Devin Clark, Brendan Allen vs. the Cirkunov/Muradov loser, Mickey Gall vs. Dhiego Lima, Dusko Todorovic vs. Deron Winn, Maki Pitolo vs. Jack Marshman, Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. the Hadley/Figueiredo winner, Bryan Barberena vs. Nicolas Dalby, Darian Weeks vs. Louis Cosce, Cheyanne Buys vs. Jessica Penne, Mallory Martin vs. Miranda Granger, William Knight vs. Khalil Rountree, Alonzo Menifield vs. Kennedy Nzechukwu, Claudio Puelles vs. Rafael Alves, Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Uros Medic, Louis Smolka vs. Frankie Saenz