The main card of UFC Vegas 44 featured several upset victories. Chris Curtis, Clay Guida and Jamahal Hill all defeated their favored opponents with stoppage victories. However, those victories paled compared to the performance Jose Aldo put on in the main event.
Aldo, who not too long ago was on a three-fight losing skid, defeated the favored Rob Font in the headlining bantamweight contest. Not only did Aldo win, but only one of the three judges scored a round in the favor of his opponent.
In the co-main event, Rafael Fiziev took a big step in the right direction in the lightweight division with an impressive knockout victory over Brad Riddell.
Jose Aldo: Aldo fought a smart, complete 25-minutes on Saturday night and that earned him a win over the favored Rob Font. Aldo took over the bout in the last seconds of the first stanza and never allowed Font to regain momentum. There were some scary moments for the former featherweight champion, mostly focused around his right eye, which seemed to be in danger of closing after the third round, but Aldo avoided taking additional significant damage by taking the fight to the mat in the fourth round and limiting Font to some elbows from his back. In the fifth round, Aldo’s gas tank looked depleted, but his veteran savvy allowed him to keep Font on the mat and he even work toward a submission in the closing moments of the contest.
I’m not sure that Aldo, at 35, has what it takes to become a UFC champ at 135 pounds, but I won’t be surprised to see him get another shot at that title.
This was an excellent victory for a fighter who many wrote off after his loss to Petr Yan in 2020. With three straight wins at bantamweight, it seems as if Aldo has proved his naysayers wrong.
Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev: The lightweight bout between Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev was a fantastic bit of matchmaking. The amount of tension in this fight was incredible. It felt as if either man could have ended the bout at any time. Both men were incredibly fast and effective with their strikes, but it was Fiziev who did a better job of controlling the action and accumulating damage. As for the fight ending blow, the kick that Fiziev landed was a thing of violent beauty.
Jamahal Hill: If you watched Jimmy Crute while the results were being read after his knockout loss to Jamahal Hill, I swear you could see his left eye swelling shut in real time. The strikes of Jamahal Hill, who dropped Crute twice on the way to an impressive knockout win, did that damage.
Hill was ranked No. 14 in the UFC light heavyweight division before he stopped the No. 13 ranked Crute. Expect him to move up the rankings next week and possibly get a big name opponent in his next outing.
Clay Guida: Guida had himself a great comeback against Leonardo Santos. Santos hurt Guida and did his best to get the finish, but Guida weathered that storm, which left Santos with an empty gas tank. With that, Guida used his outstanding cardio and wrestling to get a submission win over Santos, who had never been submitted before Saturday night.
Guida might turn 40 in a few days, but he’s not a fighter to be taken lightly or overlooked.
Chris Curtis: Brendan Allen was one of the biggest favorites on the UFC Vegas 44 fight card, those numbers meant little to his opponent, Chris Curtis, who scored an impressive knockout win over Allen.
Curtis 2-0 in the UFC with two knockouts and riding a seven-fight winning streak with six wins in 2021. It took Curtis more than 12 years of professional competition to make it to the UFC and it looks like he’s going to be with the promotion for a few more fights, at the very least.
Dusko Todorovic: Todorovic got his first UFC win of 2021 on Saturday night with a nasty ground finish of Maki Pitolo. A failed guillotine attempt from Pitolo put Todorovic in top position and once he took control of the fight, Todorovic teed off on his opponent and picked up the finish with nasty ground strikes.
Manel Kape: Kape came to the UFC with a lot of hype. However, he struggled in his first two fights with the UFC, losing decisions to Alexandre Pantoja and Matheus Nicolau. He performed well in his third bout with the promotion, knocking out Ode’ Osbourne, but he missed weight by three pounds in that matchup. He made weight for UFC Vegas 44 and then tuned up Zhalgas Zhumagulov in the cage.
Zhumagulov started the fight well, but once Kape found his groove, he took over and used his power and speed to get an impressive knockout win.
I must note that all four of Kape’s fights with the UFC have come in 2021.
Cheyanne Vlismas: Vlismas looked excellent in her win over Mallory Martin. She came into this bout on short notice and delivered a great striking performance. Her volume, power, footwork and speed carried her to a unanimous decision win.
This was Vlismas’ first fight since she was forced out of a November matchup opposite Loma Lookboonmee due to COVID-19.
Claudio Puelles: Puelles moved his winning streak to four in a row with a late submission win over Chris Gruetzemacher. Future opponents want to do whatever they can to avoid going to the mat against Puelles. He has a somewhat calm ground style that can lull his opponent into a false sense of security. He doesn’t overextend himself or use unnecessary energy in pursuit of a finish, but he knows how to get things done when he finds an opening.
Vince Morales: Morales earned his first UFC finish and his first UFC winning streak on Saturday with a powerful right hook that dropped Louis Smolka in the first round. Morales has been on the UFC roster since 2018 and his upset win over Smolka is the biggest victory of his career.
Michael Bisping: Perhaps Bisping has had enough of Daniel Cormier not grasping the scoring criteria because he was rather short with his co-analyst when the two tried to decipher the scoring in the Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight fight, which Knight won thanks to his striking in the third round.
“You don’t win a fight leaning on someone up against the fence… This is a fight. They’re trying to inflict damage. At least when they separated there was a minute of desperation from William Knight.”
UFC and ESPN: ESPN has done an enormous amount of good via the V Foundation and it was good to see the UFC use the stories of employees, fighters, coaches, trainers, families and friends in support of something as important as cancer research.
Herb Dean: Herb Dean has been rightly criticized for some of his refereeing decision as of late. However, the indecision that has plagued Dean was absent in the Brad Riddell vs. Rafael Fiziev scrap. Dean made a decision to stop the fight and he acted on that decision without hesitation.
Rob Font: Font did well in the first 4:45 of his fight against Jose Aldo, but after Aldo knocked him down in the closing moments of the first round, he just couldn’t get back in the groove. This fight should be a learning experience for Font and his team. Font needs to grow from this lesson. His next fight will be more important than this one.
Leonardo Santos: Santos had Clay Guida hurt, and it looked as if the fight was close to being waved off, but it wasn’t. That seemed to frustrate Santos, and it appeared that his focus was on the referee more than it was on where his strikes were landing. Had Santos been more focused on Guida and less concerned with the referee, he might have earned himself a TKO win.
Mickey Gall: Gall is a solid grappler. Why he refuses to fight to his strength is a mystery. Gall lost to Alex Morono in a fight where he attempted one takedown.
Louis Smolka: Smolka is in his second stint in the UFC. Things did not go his way when his first run with the promotion ended with him going 0-4 and being released in 2018. Since he rejoined the promotion late that same year, Smolka has gone 3-3 with three stoppage setbacks. Smolka’s last disclosed payday was $48,000 for his May 2020 loss to Casey Kenney. It would not be a surprise to see Smolka released following his knockout loss to Vince Morales during the first fight of the UFC Vegas 44 fight card.