I’m no genius when it comes to gauging interest in a card. I’m not clueless when it comes to it either. I’ll peruse MMA twitter, check in on comments sections of various articles, and look to see what the UFC is putting out to hype the next event. I could be misreading the room, but the feeling I’m getting surprises me: there isn’t a lot of hype for the contest between Rob Font and Marlon Vera in the main event of UFC Vegas 53. Is it because it’s on the heels of two cards that underwhelmed on paper? Even though Font headlined the last two cards he appeared on, he doesn’t have the greatest name recognition. Is it neither of their names generate a lot of buzz? Given both are some of the better finishers in the division, that’s a travesty if that’s the case.
Rob Font vs. Marlon Vera, Bantamweight
Lost within the final decision of his loss to Jose Aldo is that Font was winning bigger chunks of the fight than the longtime featherweight kingpin. Font outlanded Aldo by 63 significant strikes and scored the only takedown of the fight. Perhaps a lone takedown isn’t a big deal, but for someone who isn’t known for their wrestling taking down someone whose takedown defense has long been reputed to be amongst the best in the business, that’s not too shabby.
What I’m getting at is Font was competitive with Aldo. If Font had secured an impactful moment or two of his own, we could be talking about him prepping for a title fight, a title eliminator at the least. Even with the loss to Aldo, I think it’s safe to say Font is one of the elite of the division. Formerly a KO specialist, Font has refined his boxing skills to where he can now maximize his lanky frame to pick apart his opponents from the outside with his jab. When he gets in closer, he pieces them up with lengthy combinations while mixing in plenty of shots to the body. It’s not like his power has disappeared either; he’s simply more selective of when to swing for the fences. Plus, I mentioned his progress in securing takedowns. Font is never going to grind out an opponent, but he’s proven to be a good enough wrestler to change things up and keep opponents guessing.
In the case of Vera, it’s still up for debate whether he’s elite. Whereas Font has learned to take singles and doubles when they’re pitched at him, Vera is still very much a home run hitter. He was losing to an aged Frankie Edgar until his foot found Edgar’s face and Vera went toe-to-toe with Davey Grant in a blood and guts battle in the fight before that. We all love ourselves some Davey Grant, but wouldn’t an elite fighter blow Grant out of the water?
That isn’t to say Vera doesn’t have a shot in this fight. There may not be a more opportune finisher in the division than Vera. With a deep arsenal of kicks and a tricky guard, Vera tends to level his opponents when the least expect it. While I mentioned his preference for the home run, he has improved his ability to play small ball over the years too. Vera’s footwork has come a long way from the days when he would regularly back himself up into the fence. He flashes his jab far more than he did early in his career. Even his low kicks, long a frequent weapon of his, have been seen with greater consistency. One of the things that has carried Vera has been his iron chin too, never having been knocked down in the course of 18 UFC contests. He’s mentally tough too, pulling off finishes late in fights he was clearly on his way to losing.
The overall story of this fight isn’t difficult to predict. We’re largely going to get a striking battle. If anyone is going to attempt to take the fight to the mat, it’ll be Vera given his underrated submission skills, but I would only expect takedown attempts to come opportunistically, like off a caught kick. In the striking battle, Font will land the greater volume on the back of his boxing while Vera will show more diverse looks in hopes of hitting the KO blow. The question is whether Vera can land that shot. I wouldn’t discount it, but the most likely scenario I see playing out is Font outworking Vera fairly comfortably. Vera might be able to steal a round or two in a manner similar to how Aldo did against Font, but I don’t see him taking enough rounds off the New England product. Font via decision
- I don’t want to say Andrei Arlovski is getting better as a fighter at the ripe old age of 43, but it can’t be denied that at certain aspects, he is getting better. Evolving his style as his formerly elite athleticism declines, he’s become a defensively savvy point fighter. The defense is necessary given his chin has long been considered fragile, but Arlovski knows how to protect it, including the ability to roll with punches. Regardless, he’s still vulnerable to any heavy-handed opponent. Does Jake Collier qualify? There’s always a punchers chance, especially at heavyweight, but Collier’s history would indicate he doesn’t qualify. Formerly a middleweight, Collier took an extended absence and returned a bloated version of himself, brushing up against the heavyweight limit. Despite his doughy frame, he’s still light on his feet and capable of pushing a pace most heavyweights can’t keep up with. Given Arlovski prefers a more methodical pace, many believe Collier could wear down the ancient Arlovski. What many seem to forget is Arlovski seems to enter every contest with an intelligent game plan. Y’all think Arlovski hasn’t thought of a way to combat Collier pushing a heavy pace? It’s not like Arlovski’s conditioning has ever been a problem either. So long as the UFC keeps matching up Arlovski with the lower half of the heavyweight population, he’ll continue winning. Arlovski via decision
- While it’s commonly accepted Andre Fili is never going to have the breakout moment many predicted for him when he touched down in the UFC many years ago, he’s still proven himself to be a consistent action fighter who is a gatekeeper to the official UFC rankings. He’s matured from the wild brawler who looked to wrestle at inopportune times. Now, he’s a semi-technical boxer who tends to switch up his strategy depending on how he matches up with his opponents. Knowing that, look for him to take a wrestling-heavy approach against Joanderson Brito. The Brazilian is an explosive athlete with a tendency for recklessness. However, when those punches connect, it tends to be lights out for his opponents. Even if he can’t find an early finish, Brito has proven capable of utilizing his own takedowns to control fights for long stretches. However, he has struggled to stop his opposition from doing the same to him. It feels a bit weird referring to Fili as the principled veteran, but there’s no doubt that’s what he is in this case. With the more proven gas tank, durability, and an opportunistic feel for striking, I feel confident in picking Fili. Fili via decision
- He may not have suffered a defeat in the UFC yet, but the bloom is off the rose for Grant Dawson. Entering the UFC at featherweight, he was able to bulldoze over lower-level competition with his brute strength. However, he was experiencing issues with his stamina due to difficult weight cuts. Thus, Dawson ascended to the lightweight division... and it appears he may still be experiencing issues with his stamina. Perhaps even worse, he’s not quite the bully that he was at featherweight, losing the massive size advantage he possessed. It could be that Dawson had a bad weight cut – fighters have frequently taken moving up in class for granted in their weight cut – and he’ll look like a million bucks against Jared Gordon. If not, Gordon is sure to make him pay. Like Dawson, Gordon tried to make a go of it at 145, but can’t do the cut consistently. Unlike Dawson, Gordon has proven he can push a hard pace for 15 minutes and remain effective in the waning moments. There is one glowing issue for Gordon: his takedown defense. Gordon can hit his own takedowns, but struggles to stop others. Early in fights, Dawson is extremely difficult to stop. If Dawson doesn’t stop him early, Gordon is sure to make a comeback late as he’s the more efficient striker. However, I see the powerful Dawson doing enough in the first two rounds to take a decision. Dawson via decision
- At what point are we going to say enough is enough for Darren Elkins? To be fair, I fully understand this is Elkins way of making money and supporting his family, so I would never dream of actually telling him to stop fighting. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t grow more uncomfortable to watch with every passing fight. Long renowned for his ability to absorb punishment, that’s still Elkins’ hallmark well over a decade into his UFC career. However, even though he’ll continue pushing with pressure, punches, and takedowns as long as his body will allow him to do so, he can’t hold up in the manner in which he did in his prime. Fortunately for Elkins, it doesn’t appear Tristan Connelly possesses the firepower to stop his onslaught. The Canadian is quite similar to Elkins in that he relies heavily on grit and determination to find success, not to mention an ability to absorb damage. What many don’t realize is while Connelly doesn’t quite have the same amount of mileage as Elkins, he’s almost as old. It’s hard to see Connelly making huge leaps at this stage of his career. Connelly is a poor man’s version of Elkins rather than the second coming of him. Unless the wheels completely fall off Elkins – a possibility this late into his career – he should find a way to secure another win and extend his UFC career even further. Elkins via decision
- Krzysztof Jotko and Gerald Meerschaert have had a surprisingly similar career trajectory. After strong starts to their UFC careers, they hit a rough patch that likely would have seen them hit the skids with one more loss. Since that point, they’ve both rebounded nicely to the point where their roster spot is secure. Both are also wily veterans who aren’t going to overwhelm their physicality... thus making their matchup intriguing. Jotko is the better athlete of the two and the more technical fighter on the feet and in the clinch. However, Meerschaert is one of the most savvy submission artists in the entire sport, not just the division. After all, Meerschaert does own the record for the most submissions in the history of the middleweight division, a place Demian Maia long made his home. Meerschaert has found success against opponents who can either physically overwhelm him or tend to minimize the size and amount of mistakes made during a fight. Jotko won’t overwhelm him, but he also doesn’t make a lot of mistakes. Jotko should be able to outpoint Meerschaert in a grimy contest. Jotko via decision