UFC Vegas 44 Main Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):Embed from Getty Images
135 lbs.: Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo – This is a great main event between not only two strikers, but two legitimate contenders in a stacked Bantamweight division. Rob Font is an excellent boxer, who along with technique, brings forth volume. Landing 5.58 significant strikes per minute, Font is among the leaders in that category in the UFC. In fact, he ranks 6th all-time in the Bantamweight division. With excellent cardio and constant pressure, Font looks to outlast opponents and systematically break them down. As for Jose Aldo, once known for his leg kicks, the Brazilian is more of a boxer these days. A damn good one at that. Looking to keep range, Aldo will pump a jab to set up his hooks and body shots. Still explosive, Aldo isn’t afraid to lunge in to get off a flurry before exiting. The one area where Aldo is excellent too, is the ground. However, that wrinkle of his game is never utilized due to his willingness to just strike.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Aldo. While I went back-and-forth with this one, I believe that Aldo not only is the better striker, but he has the ability to grapple in his back pocket. Something that could turn the fight vastly in Aldo’s favor, as Font has notably had trouble fending off takedowns. However, Aldo has rarely grappled and it may be a bit foolish on my part to think he does. The real main concern I have in this fight however for the Brazilian is the pace. Font is a workhorse and has excellent cardio. If he pushes a hard pace from the start, I could see him outlasting Aldo and taking the later rounds. Potentially even finishing Aldo. Then again, Aldo is 26-1 against non-UFC champions, seemingly finding a way to beat those not on that championship level. So with that said, I have Aldo winning via decision.Embed from Getty Images
155 lbs.: Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell – This has to be a favorite for ‘Fight of the Night’, as both men are not only strikers, but bonus machines. As I mentioned earlier, Fiziev has won three bonuses, two of which were for Fight of the Night. In four UFC fights, Brad Riddell has won two bonuses, both of which were in Fight of the Night. I can assure you, this is not one to miss. Rafael Fiziev is a dynamic striker, who throws with precision and intent to finish fights. Often implementing leg kicks, Fiziev looks to chop down opponents and pick them apart from the outside. However, there is a case to be made that Fiziev has a questionable gas tank. Despite his output increasing by round, the hands noticeably drop, the explosiveness is no longer there and he’s laboring for much of the third round. It’s a noticeable issue that will need to be shored up against Brad Riddell, who is a cardio machine. Riddell is also an excellent striker, who notably is the striking coach at City Kickboxing. A gym that features the likes of Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya and Alexander Volkanovski.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Riddell. While I expect Fiziev to look incredibly sharp out the gate, the durability of Riddell will allow him to weather any initial storm. As the fight wanes on, you’ll begin to see Riddell figure out Fiziev’s timing and land more often. By round three, Riddell’s pressure and cardio will takeover and have Fiziev retreating. In the end, Riddell will walk away the winner via decision.
155 lbs.: Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos – This is truly a clash of veterans and older gentleman, as both are a combined age of 80. While this fight means little in terms of pecking order in the Lightweight division, it’s good to see the UFC pair fighters still wanting to fight against someone in their lane. Clay Guida is a wrestler by trade, but one who isn’t afraid to brawl once in awhile. However, Guida often sticks to a game plan, whether it be a heavy wrestling approach or keeping the fight on the feet against a wrestler. As for Leonardo Santos, while he is a 4th degree BJJ Black Belt, the Brazilian fancies himself as a striker. With knockouts over Stevie Ray and Kevin Lee, Santos has proven that he is more than capable of putting opponents down on the feet.
As for a prediction, I have Guida. Not only is he the more active fighter, but at this stage, he’s the only one capable of winning fights. I know that’s an odd thing to say about Santos considering he just suffered his first defeat in nearly twelve years, but it was only a matter of time before he lost. With next to no cardio anymore, Santos is fading earlier and earlier in fights. The same can’t be said about Guida, who is the energizer bunny. As long as Guida avoids getting cracked early, the later this fight goes, the more Guida will take over. So with that said, I predict that Guida wins via TKO.Embed from Getty Images
205 lbs.: Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill – This a great fight, as it pits two men who paid dearly for their poor decisions in their last fight and gives them a chance to correct it, while having something to gain in this ranked battle. Jimmy Crute is a wrestler who has excellent ground skills. Evolving as a striker, Crute can hold his own on the feet, but is at his best when he implements a heavy wrestling approach. Against Jamahal Hill, that might be the way to go. Hill is primarily a striker who is excellent at range. With a 79’ inch reach, Hill likes to throw a one-two to open up his other strikes. With excellent output, Hill doesn’t load up on his strikes, but overwhelms opponents with sheer volume.
As for a prediction, I have Crute winning. While I believe Hill gives Crute fits on the feet, the Australian’s varied attack gives him a path to victory. In other words, I expect Crute to wrestle early and often. With exceptional ground skills, Crute can threaten with some dangerous ground-and-pound or submissions. In four wins inside the octagon, Crute has stopped every opponent. I believe that ends here, as I predict Crute wins via decision.Embed from Getty Images
185 lbs.: Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis – For a guy who retired several times, Chris Curtis has certainly made the most of this comeback. With six consecutive victories and a short-notice UFC debut knockout over Phil Hawes, Curtis is coming into this once again short notice fight, with momentum. With excellent striking and legitimate power, Curtis is a handful on the feet. While it would be nice to see an uptick in the output, especially given his excellent cardio, Curtis has the boxing abilities to piece up anyone. The area of concerns I have for Curtis lie within fighting at Middleweight and with his takedown defense. Something in which Brendan Allen can exploit, as the grappler could very well decide to neutralize Curtis by bringing this fight to the mat. Then again, Allen has vastly improved his striking and showed it against Punahele Soriano, who he outstruck.
As for a prediction, I have Allen winning. While I did go back-and-forth with this prediction, mainly because Allen, in falling in love with his striking, leads to a higher chance that Curtis can get this done. I ultimately believe that Allen being the natural Middleweight and more well rounded of the two, gets this done. So with that said, in what should be an exciting fight, I predict that Allen gets it done via submission.
170 lbs: Bryan Barberena vs. Darian Weeks – Known for his ability to weather punishment and comeback in fights, Barberena has slowly started to see cracks in his durability. He has lost three of his last four fights, and was knocked down once in each of the losses. While still 32 years old, Barberena may be suffering from the accumulation of punishment over the years. Primarily a striker, Barberena has made a living off eating strikes and eventually breaking foes with pressure, cardio and his high output. Of late though, Barberena’s lax takedown defense has been exploited, as he’s been taken down a combined thirteen times in his last two fights. As for Darian Weeks, while he enters his UFC debut with only five professional fights, he had an extensive twenty fight amateur career. With solid wrestling and devastating knees, Weeks has finished all five of his opponents. Obviously the competition hasn’t been spectacular, but Weeks looks like he could have some success inside the octagon.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Weeks. While normally I’m not keen on picking opponents jumping in on short-notice, Weeks brings forth wrestling abilities that I can see neutralizing Barberena. The concern obviously is with cardio. Having not been in camp and the fact that wrestling in general expends the most energy, I’m not sure I can expect Weeks to be fresh for a full three rounds. Especially given the fact that Barberena is one to work back to his feet and has been known for his cardio outlasting opponents. However, Barberena’s durability concerns and lack of takedown defense still has me predicting that Weeks wins via decision.
UFC Vegas 44 Prelims Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):Embed from Getty Images
185 lbs.: Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic – When Dusko Todorovic signed with the UFC, there was a lot of hype surrounding him. The Serbian was a perfect 9-0, and had even had a TKO victory over Michel Pereira on his resume. While Todorovic saw victory in his UFC debut, the next two fights would result in losses. Todorovic is a striker, who relies on his high output, pressure and cardio. Often showing excellent head movement, Todorovic looks to slip opponents’ strikes and land overhands. The one problem I’ve noticed from Todorovic is that despite his head movement, he gets hit way too often. Opponents are landing 5.18 significant strikes per minute and 52% of their strikes. Against someone like Maki Pitolo, that could be troublesome. The Hawaiian, despite his struggles, is a solid boxer. With power and fluid striking, Pitolo does an excellent job at attacking the head, body and legs. Pitolo has also shown to be pretty successful in taking foes down to the mat. With a 52% takedown accuracy and five takedowns landed alone in his most recent fights against Julian Marquez, Pitolo isn’t just a striker.
As for a prediction, I have Pitolo winning. Unless Todorovic can hurt Pitolo, I don’t see a scenario where he doesn’t get tagged often and eventually dropped. Todorovic has shown a complete lack of striking defense for me to not be concerned about his chin. Throw in the fact that Pitolo does an excellent job working the body, and I don’t see Todorovic’s cardio as a viable avenue to outlasting the Hawiian. In the end, I predict that Pitolo will win via knockout.Embed from Getty Images
125 lbs.: Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Manel Kape – This is a fun fight and one that could potentially lead to a performance bonus. Jake Matthews has been in the UFC for seven years, and has won nine times inside the octagon. Of those nine wins however, only one of his opponents is still in the UFC, Li Jingliang. Oddly enough, of Matthew’s five losses, only Sean Brady remains on the roster. A fairly well rounded fighter, with no area of strength, Matthews has often game planned around his opponents’ weakness. While it has led him to success more than not, Matthews’ struggles have notably been against better competition. As for Wells, the Renzo Gracie Philly fighter is well rounded. With legitimate power on the feet, as well strong wrestling and good ground skills, Wells has shown comfortability wherever the fight goes. The four knockouts and three submission victories backup Wells’ diverse game.
As for a prediction, I have Wells winning. While I could see Matthews have his moments, possibly landing a takedown or two, I don’t think he can sustain anything successful for over three rounds. He’s too inaccurate and hesitant on the feet, landing only 3 significant strikes per minute. Meanwhile, Wells is far from hesitant. With legitimate knockout power, excellent explosiveness and the ability to swarm foes with flurries, Wells is a handful to deal with on the feet. So much so that I believe Wells finishes Matthews via TKO.
170 lbs.: Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells – This should be a fun one, as both men are talented and are mainly strikers. Zhalgas Zhumagulov brings forth pressure, decent volume, precision and debilitating leg kicks. While the latter was shown more on the regional scene, as well as some power, Zhumagulov is still a solid striker. With some wrestling chops, Zhumagulov can mix it up if needed. As for Kape, he’s more crafty and powerful on the feet. Before joining the UFC, Kape liked to brawl. Since joining, however, he’s been more tempered, hesitant and keen on picking his shots. Perhaps Kape’s last fight awoke the beast though, as he picked up a devastating flying knee knockout over Ode Osbourne. His fifteenth stoppage victory in sixteen wins.
As for a prediction, I have Kape winning. While Zhumagulov brings forth more volume, his pressure plays into Kape’s counter striking. With legitimate power in his hands, I see Kape often stopping Zhumagulov in his tracks. Other than Tyson Nam, I don’t think Zhumagulov has faced anyone who can crack like Kape. Of course, Zhumagulov has shown an excellent chin, having been stopped only once in nineteen fights. However, I’m going against the grain here and predicting that Kape wins via knockout.Embed from Getty Images
115 lbs.: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Mallory Martin – This is a fight that comes down to one thing. Can Mallory Martin successfully get this fight to the mat and control Vlismas? In three fights inside the octagon, Martin has only landed two takedowns. While it’s not an overwhelming number, in Vlismas’ UFC debut, she was thoroughly controlled for nearly ten minutes when taken down. Obviously the ground is not Vlismas’ forte. She is mainly a high output striker who has good timing and is accurate. While Vlismas lacks power, she makes up for it with technique and sheer volume.
As for a prediction, I have Vlismas winning. While I believe Martin could get this fight to the ground at some point, I’m not confident she will keep it there for prolonged times. On the feet, Martin can hold her own, but she isn’t anywhere close to the striker that Vlismas is. The one thing going for Martin here though is, Vlismas isn’t much of a submission artist. In fact, Vlismas has zero professional wins via submission, despite winning four fights on the amateur scene via armbar. Regardless, I predict that Vlismas will win this fight via decision.
205 lbs.: William Knight vs. Alonzo Menifield – This is a good fight and clearly one the UFC wanted, considering they rescheduled it for the third time. Alonzo Menifield is a striker who has exhibited solid takedown defense. His problems inside the octagon have been directly a result of having mediocre cardio. While Menifield showed improvements in that area in his most recent fight, it’s still a concern anytime the knockout artist steps inside the octagon. As for William Knight, he too carries power. With nine knockouts in ten wins, Knight is a dangerous man. Often using his wrestling and devastating ground-and-pound, Knight has shown the ability to stop fights on the feet or the ground.
As for a prediction, I have Menifield winning. I believe that a combination of his takedown defense and power, along with the fact that Knight has little to no striking defense, bodes well for Menifield. In fact, Knight’s striking defense is so poor, he 66% of opponents’ strikes have landed. As we know with Menifield, all it takes is one. So with that said, I predict that Menifield wins via knockout.Embed from Getty Images
155 lbs.: Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Claudio Puelles – This is one of the tougher fights to predict, as both men couldn’t be more different. Claudio Puelles is a grappler, whose intentions are strictly to get the fight down to the mat and control you. Averaging 3.35 takedowns per fifteen minutes, Puelles has largely been successful at doing so. In fact, Puelles has landed a combined eight takedowns and has nearly maintained 23.5 minutes of control time in his last two fights. Knowing all that, Gruetzemacher is going to have to do a better job at keeping this fight upright than he has in the past. With a 61% takedown defense and having been taken down five times in his last fight, there is a good chance that Puelles will find success. The one concern is the Peruvian’s cardio
As for a prediction, I have Gruetzemacher winning. While I believe he will be taken down early and often, as the fight wanes, Gruetzemacher will start to shrug off Puelles’ takedown attempts and batter the Peruvian on the feet. In what I believe to be a battle of nutrition, it’s Gruetzemacher’s cardio that will aid him to victory in the third round. Let’s say via TKO.
205 lbs.: Azamat Murzakanov vs. Jared Vanderaa – Stepping in on short notice is risky, and even more so in the case of Jared Vanderaa. Not only has he lost two of his three UFC fights, but is tasked to unseat the undefeated Azamat Murzakanov. Perhaps the one thing going for Vanderaa is that the Heavyweight division has often been unpredictable due to the sheer power every man carries. With ten stoppages in twelve wins, seven of which are by knockout, Vanderaa certainly has the ability to shut out any man’s lights. The same could be said about Murzakanov, who has seven of his ten wins coming via knockout. The big difference between the two however, is that Murzakanov is well rounded. With excellent judo, wrestling and striking, Murzakanov looks to be the complete package. At 35 years old, while not an ideal age to debut in the UFC, the Heavyweight division has always been one to feature the dinosaurs of mixed martial arts.
As for a prediction, I have Murzakanov winning. Even if Vanderaa had a full camp, I’d still side with Murzakanov. The Russian is a complete fighter, who legitimately has one punch knockout power. Having seen him fight Ion Cutelaba and Ricco Rodriguez in hand-to-hand combat, it’s evident that when he lands, you fall. Which is exactly what I see happening in this fight, as I predict that Murzakanov wins via knockout.Embed from Getty Images
170 lbs.: Mickey Gall vs. Alex Morono – It’s crazy to think that Mickey Gall, who came into the UFC with a 1-0 professional record and was anointed as CM Punk’s first opponent, is still with the promotion five years later. Having skipped past the development and honing of skills on the regional scene and competing against the sharks of the UFC, is impressive. While Gall has traded wins and losses for the past five years, perhaps now is the time he makes a run. With excellent ground skills, Gall has won six of his seven victories via submission. While Gall has shown vast improvements in his striking, it’s not an area where I believe he can outpoint a striker like Morono. Especially considering Morono nearly doubles Gall in significant strikes per minute, while also having a legitimate power edge. The other factor aiding Morono is that he has shown to have the cardio to match his high output. Meanwhile, Gall has in the past faded by round three.
As for a prediction, I have Morono winning. I know that his takedown defense can be exploited and it’s very possible that Gall can drag him down to the mat. However, Gall’s cardio issues have been problematic before. In a fight against a high output striker with good cardio like Morono, come round three, Gall may be in for a tough time. So with that said, in a competitive fight, I have Morono winning via decision.
135 lbs.: Vince Morales vs. Louis Smolka – This is an intriguing fight between two fighters near the bottom of a stacked bantamweight division. In order for any of these two to make their presence, they will need to build momentum. Given both come into this fight off a victory, this is that chance. Louis Smolka first signed with the UFC in 2014. While Smolka built up a 5-1 record in his first six fights inside the octagon, a subsequent four-fight losing streak and release from the promotion followed. After building himself back up on the regional scene, Smolka returned to the UFC in 2018. With fairly well rounded abilities, Smolka isn’t afraid wherever the fight goes. Known for his finishing abilities, of Smolka’s seventeen wins, only two have come via decision. The same could be somewhat said about Morales, who has won seven of his ten victories via stoppage. However, Morales is a striker, who isn’t afraid to load up to garner a knockout.
As for a prediction, I’m going with Morales. I believe that of the two, he is the better striker with more disruptive power on the feet. Obviously Morales’ takedown defense has been exploited and will likely be tested, but he has shown an ability to pop right back up. If Smolka was more of a specialist in any one area, I’d have more faith in him. However, he isn’t. So with that said, I predict that Morales wins this fight via decision.