Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is back after taking Thanksgiving weekend off to stage UFC Fight Night 44 live from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. The ESPN/ESPN+-streamed event will feature a thrilling Bantamweight bout between Rob Font and former Featherweight champion, Jose Aldo.
Aldo is a living legend of the fight game, there is simply no other way to put it. While Max Holloway and Conor McGregor have done plenty for the 145-pound weight class, when you think of Featherweight supremacy, Aldo is the first person most people think of. Since making the move down to Bantamweight, Aldo has had mixed results, starting off his run with two straight losses — including a failure to capture the 135-pound strap against Petr Yan. He has bounced back nicely, though, winning two straight against Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz. Now, he faces another stiff test in Rob Font, who is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the game today.
Font is on the cusp of fighting for the 135-pound title, but he has one more big obstacle waiting in front of him in the form of Aldo. Winner of four straight, Font has proven to be one of the absolute best in what is perhaps UFC’s most loaded division. He has wins over current Bellator MMA titleholder Sergio Pettis, former UFC champion Cody Garbrandt and a dazzling knockout over former WSOF champion Marlon Moraes. So yes, Font is battle-tested against the cream of the crop. He also has some of the best striking in the game today, so if it’s a standup battle Aldo is looking for, he is bound to get it tonight. With a win, Font should move up a spot or two and make his case for the next contender for the title.
It’s a tough fight to predict because when it comes down to it, we don’t know which Aldo will show up. He has looked great as of late so that’s a good sign. Font is firing on all cylinders so we know what we are going to get with him. Expect both men to come out hungry and aggressive, just don’t expect the fight to go all five rounds.
We can’t complain too much here. It’s a decent card with highly-intriguing matchups all across the board. The year is coming to an end so that helps because the promotion is trying to cap off 2021 with a bang. In past months, we’ve had our share of awful “Fight Night” events, so this card is a welcomed sight.
Original Card Vs. Actual Card:
A Welterweight bout between Matt Brown and Bryan Barberena was canceled after “Immortal” came down with COVID-19. After Roman Dolidze stepped in for Brad Tavares against Brendan Allen, he was also forced out of the fight due to COVID-19 complications, forcing Tavares off of the card altogether. Cheyanne Vlisma stepped in for Montserrat Ruiz to face Mallory Martin on the undercard.
Also, a fight between Tanner Boser and Sergei Pavlovich was canceled for undisclosed reasons. Philipe Lins was forced out of his fight against undefeated big man Azamat Murzakanov for undisclosed reasons. Stepping in to take his spot is Jared Vanderra. In turn, the fight was called off after weigh-ins due to Vanderra not getting medically cleared.
Other than a few cases of COVID-19, there were no real significant injuries before this event.
Darian Weeks got the call up to face Bryan Barberena on less than a week’s notice after Matt Brown was forced out of the fight due to COVID-19. Weeks has been fighting professionally for only two years, so he jumped at the opportunity to make his UFC debut on super short notice. During his short pro run, Weeks has made an impression by finishing all of his opponents in two rounds or less. He has a chance to make a name for himself if he can upset “Bam Bam.”
How The ‘Prelims’ Look:
Manel Kape came into the UFC ranks with a ton of hype as the RIZIN Bantamweight champion but quickly ran into tough times, dropping his first two fights. He bounced back and earned his first win with the promotion against Ode Osbourne, and now he’s trying to make it two in a row when he takes on Zhalgas Zhumagulov, who is just 1-2 inside the Octagon.
After suffering a tough loss to Sean Brady — which snapped his three-fight win streak — Jake Matthews is eyeing a return to the winner’s circle when he tangos with Jeremiah Wells, winner of three straight fights. Wells made a splash in his UFC debut by knocking out Warlley Alves earlier this year.
William Knight and Alonzo Menifield will throw down in a Light Heavyweight bout between two heavy hitters looking to make some noise in a division that could use some new contenders in the mix. Knight is 2-1 so far in his short run with the promotion while Menifield is 4-2.
Claudio Puelles is one of the rising and promising contenders in the Lightweight division who has won three of his first four attempts inside the Octagon. He will look to make it four straight when he battles seasoned veteran Chris Gruetzemacher, who is an even 3-3 inside the Octagon and coming off a win over Rafa Garcia this past summer.
While he wasn’t exactly touted as the next big thing, Mickey Gall made a splash by beating the brakes off CM Punk in the pro wrestler’s MMA debut at UFC 203. Since then, Gall hasn’t been consistent enough with the wins to warrant much hype, to be honest. He’s gone 4-3 since that night, alternating wins and losses which has prevented him from gaining much traction. He will look for his first consecutive win streak in five years with UFC when he battels Alex Morono, winner of two straight over Donald Cerrone and David Zawada.
In what is his second run with the promotion, Louis Smolka has gone a respectable 3-2 ahead of his bout against Vince Morales, who holds a record of 2-3 with the promotion. Both men are in need of a win to gain some momentum in the stacked 135-pound division.
Who Needs A Win Badly:
Since UFC chose to part ways with Impa Kasanganay after going 2-2 inside the Octagon, Maki Pitolo is going into his fight against Dusko Todorovic under a ton of pressure. That’s because Pitolo has a loss to Kasanganay and is on a three-fight losing streak, going just 1-4 in his time with the promotion. A fourth straight defeat all but assures his time with the promotion will come to an end.
Interest Level: 6.5 of 10
It’s not a bad card, to be honest. The co-main event will feature the always-entertaining Rafael Fiziev searching for his fifth straight win when he battles Brad Riddell. Riddell is scorching hot at the moment with seven straight wins, including going 4-0 inside the Octagon. The winner of this bout could be looking at a spot in the Top 10. We know Fiziev likes to put on a show every time he steps foot inside the cage, and he has a willing dance partner in Riddell.
Long-time veteran Clay Guida will return to make his thirty-second appearance inside the Octagon to battle Leonardo Santos. Guida is coming off a loss to wrestling powerhouse Mark Madsen and is just 1-3 in his last four fights. As for Santos, he saw his 12-fight win streak go up in smoke in his last bout against Grant Dawson, losing via knockout with one second remaining in the fight.
Also, Light Heavyweight hitters Jimmy Crute and Jamahal Hill will collide in a pivotal matchup. Crute is trying to bounce back after suffering a loss to Anthony Smith while Hill looks to do the same after Paul Craig handed him the first loss of his career at UFC 263.
In the Middleweight division, Brendan Allen and Chris Curtis will meet in main card action. Allen has won two straight and is 5-1 so far in his UFC career. As for Curtis, he is on a six-fight win streak and won his UFC debut against Phil Hawes earlier this month at UFC 268. He will look for his second straight in what will be a quick turnaround for him.
Enjoy the fights!
UFC Vegas 44 Main Event On ESPN/ESPN+:
135 lbs.: Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo
UFC Vegas 44 Main Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):
155 lbs.: Rafael Fiziev vs. Brad Riddell
155 lbs.: Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos
205 lbs.: Jimmy Crute vs. Jamahal Hill
185 lbs.: Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis
170 lbs.: Mickey Gall vs. Alex Morono
UFC Vegas 44 Prelims Card On ESPN/ESPN+ (7 p.m. ET):
185 lbs.: Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic
125 lbs.: Zhalgas Zhumagulov vs. Manel Kape
170 lbs.: Bryan Barberena vs. Darian Weeks
170 lbs.: Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells— CANCELED
115 lbs.: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Mallory Martin
205 lbs.: William Knight vs. Alonzo Menifield
155 lbs.: Chris Gruetzemacher vs. Claudio Puelles
135 lbs.: Vince Morales vs. Louis Smolka
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 44 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.