Without a doubt one of the most popular athletes on the entire UFC roster, Sean O’Malley makes his return to the octagon on pay-per-view to close out 2021.
O’Malley is currently 2-0 in 2021, bouncing back from the first and only defeat of his career so far by adding Thomas Almeida and Kris Moutinho respectively to his highlight reel at UFC 260 and UFC 264 respectively.
Now he steps into the octagon to take on Raulian Paiva, another unranked but dangerous opponent that is part of the UFC’s stacked 135lbs roster.
O’Malley recently referred to himself as the ‘unranked champion’, pointing to the fact that ranked stars Pedro Munhoz and Dominick Cruz will be fighting on the prelims of the same card in the same division, such is the popularity of ‘The Suga Show’.
But at what point does O’Malley step up in competition and start really making a name for himself in the octagon rather than outside of it?
O’Malley first came onto fan’s radars back in 2017 with a KO win on Dana White’s Contender Series. Issues with injuries and USADA since have seen him compete just seven times since then and never against a ranked opponent.
This is a fighter that the company are keen to push to the moon, with the similarities to the rise of Conor McGregor way back when hard to ignore. But part of McGregor’s rise was the fact he moved up the rankings with relative ease before eventually winning the title in a stacked weight class.
O’Malley has mentioned previously that the fact he’s on an old contract means he wants to hold out fighting big names until he earns more money for it, but if legacy is his main aim he needs to make that move now.
A win over Paiva at UFC 269 will almost certainly see him enter the rankings finally, which means 2022 will see some big fights lined up for him.
Those big fights will only lead to bigger fights with victories, and O’Malley is someone who tends to try and compete fairly regularly which could see a bit of a surge up the rankings.
Add to that his popularity and the fact the UFC loves a needle-mover more than anything else, don’t be surprised to see a win at UFC 269 for O’Malley kickstart the rest of his career for 2022 and beyond.
It was one hell of a night in the UFC Apex in Las Vegas at UFC Vegas 44 as 13 fights all delivered in a big way in the penultimate Fight Night card of the year.
In the main event it was ‘King of Rio’ Jose Aldo who came out on top in the battle between two top five bantamweight contenders, as he earned a unanimous decision win over Rob Font.
Font started the fight at a frenetic pace, but Aldo’s power and better placement of his shots saw him steal the first round for many as he scored a knockdown in the final seconds of the round.
From that point on, Aldo seemingly found the recipe to victory as he stayed long at range and landed his powerful one-two cleanly. Every time he did, Font was clearly hurt and when he began to mix in his legendary calf kicks and even his grappling skills, it turned in to a relatively comfortable victory for the former two-time featherweight champion.
Now 35, Aldo is clearly past his prime years and best version of himself. However what the Brazilian has managed to do by reinventing himself down a weight class and overcoming some heartbreaking defeats, to turn himself back into a contender at his age is truly remarkable.
With Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling set to meet early in 2022 to unify the division in a title fight, Aldo is once again calling for a bout with TJ Dillashaw.
The former champion is recovering from knee surgery currently but once ready to compete, the likelihood is that he’ll need another victory to claim a title shot against the winner of that unification bout so why not take on the legendary Aldo to get it done?
For now, Aldo continues to build his legacy and cement himself as one of the very best of all time.
Up at light heavyweight, we may have seen the start of the Jamahal Hill appreciation era after his stunning first-round KO victory of Jimmy Crute.
Crute was the favourite heading into the bout but Hall quickly established himself as the top prospect at 205lbs with a brutal knockout after just 48 seconds.
After the bout he was quick to call out Paulo Costa, who has been linked with a move up to light heavyweight, as well as Johnny Walker for a bout that would no doubt be packed with fireworks.
He will move up the rankings after this win and now look to break into the top ten, meaning 2022 could be the start of something special for ‘Sweet Dreams’.
Vince Morales def Louis Smolka via Knockout, Round 1 (2:02)
Good early start from both guys as Smolka lands a low kick or two while Morales lands a few jabs cleanly and then goes to the body too. Smolka trying to push the pace and step forward, but Morales evading relatively easily and landing some nice strikes of his own. Smolka goes to clinch with a knee and as they separate Morales lands a huge right hand that puts Smolka out cold face first! He follows up with a couple but the referee stops it quickly and that’s that! What a KO!
Claudio Puelles def Chris Gruetzemacher via Submission (Kneebar), Round 3 (3:25)
Hard body kick to open up the fight for Puelles, but Gruetzemacher fires back with one of his own. Puelles shoots for a takedown and gets it, ending up on top and working from full guard. Gruetzemacher defending well from his back, taking very little damage. He throws up a lazy armbar which Puelles uses to pass guard and try to take the back, but Gruetzemacher gets his back to the cage and staying calm while fighting hands. Puelles steps over and moves into full mount and starts raining down elbows and strikes. Gruetzemacher avoiding most of the strikes and gets half guard back well and survives the round well. 10-9 Puelles.
Puelles opens up with kicks again and then goes for a couple of lazy takedowns again. Gruetzemacher denies it but rather than keeping the fight standing he tries to transition and ends up on top but not doing much offensively. Puelles throws up a triangle as a threat but Gruetzemacher defends well and eventually they get back to the feet. Puelles lands some big kicks and a nice left hand before another lazy takedown attempt that Gruetzemacher denies easily. Puelles trying to throw some hard head kicks but Gruetzemacher avoiding damage and lands some low kicks of his own. Clinch against the cage and Puelles lands some nice elbows and knees before switching levels for a takedown but it’s not a good attempt and the round ends. Probably 19-19 but could be 20-18 Puelles.
Final round and Gruetzemacher comes forward more aggressively and looks for a knee in the clinch but accidentally lands a low blow to cause a pause in the action. Restarted now and Gruetzemacher coming forward again with more volume. Nice body shots and a left hand before Puelles shoots and it gets sprawled. Some nice short elbows in the clinch by Gruetzemacher force another shot but he sprawls and then spins on to the back of Puelles for a few strikes before they get back to the feet. Gruetzemacher gets a nice foot sweep to be on top but Puelles goes for a leg and tries for a heel hook but Gruetzemacher defends it and ends up on the back. Nice ground and pound but Puelles rolls for the leg again and extends a straight kneebar to get the tap! Big win for Puelles!
William Knight def Alonzo Menifield via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Knight comes out quickly and goes straight for a takedown attempt but Menifield is able to sweep him as he hits the ground and ends up in side control. Knight manages to slip out around the back and tries to get into mount quickly before moving to the back and looking to lock in a rear-naked choke. Menifield defends it well and explodes back to the feet himself before they clinch up against the fence. Knight holding on to the neck of Menifield to stay standing, but Menifield doing well to stay out of a guillotine and force Knight to continue defending. Menifield throws a right hand but Knight counters with a big left hook that drops him! He goes for the finish but the buzzer goes and he survives. 10-9 Knight. Great round.
Menifield opens with a low kick and then a big strike that sends Knight backwards and literally running away from Menifield. Menifield lands a big right hand flush that wobbles Knight, but he stays patient then throws a low kick. Nice left hook from Menifield again and Knight looks very hesitant to throw now. Knight throwing wild strikes but missing hugely and Menifield staying calm and just looking to pick Knight off a little bit now. Left hand landing well for Menifield again and Knight doesn’t really have an answer for it. Knight explodes with the right hand with 15 seconds to go and starts going wild again but doesn’t land flush and the round ends. Definitely a Menifield round. 19-19.
Both guys look more hesitant in this round as they clinch up and Menifield pushes Knight to the cage. Menifield holding Knight against the cage and not much happening as we hit the halfway point of the round. 90 seconds left and it’s just more of the same position for this round. Separation as we get into the final minute and Knight goes for a flying knee. Some wild head kicks miss and Menifield stays on the outside for the rest of the round to likely earn a victory.
Cheyanne Vlismas def Mallory Martin via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 29-28 x2)
Fast start to the fight from both women as Martin takes the centre and they start throwing hands. Some beautiful combos from Vlismas land but Martin is trading back and landing some shots of her own. Vlismas defending against Martin’s strikes well and landing some excellent counter strikes from the outside. Martin in the centre and start to fake some strikes but Vlismas reading well and countering. Martin lands a beautiful short left hook and Vlismas clinches up to throw some short uppercuts and dirty boxing before stepping out of the way again. Lovely right hand lands again as the rounds closes out. 10-9 Vlismas.
Fast start again from Vlismas as she steps forward with fast combinations again and excellent lateral movement. Martin standing in the centre again but she’s being more hesitant to throw now. Nice right hand, left high kick combo from Vlismas lands sbut Martin continues to come forward and then lands a nice body shot. Vlismas lands a beautiful counter right hand. Martin clinches and starts looking to wrestle a bit, but Vlismas defends it well and keeps it standing for now. Nice knees from both ladies landing but Martin is getting the better of the exchanges. They separate and both land a right hand simultaneously before going back to the pattern of the fight. 20-18 Vlismas.
Martin moves for a takedown early on in the final round but Vlismas defends it brilliantly against the cage again before separating. Beautiful one two lands from Vlismas and Martin goes for another takedown but Vlismas defends it well again. Martin lands some knees in the clinch but Vlismas is able to separate and comes forward with some more clean strikes of her own. Big right hand lands from Vlismas in the exchange and Martin steps back slightly before changing levels and going for a takedown again, but Vlismas keeps her balance and keeps it standing again. Both women landing their jabs together but then Vlismas lands a couple of extra shots that she adds to the end of it. Vlismas’ striking has just been a level ahead and she ends the fight stepping forward with big combinations! Great fight! 30-27 Vlismas for me.
Bryan Barbarena def Darian Weeks via Unanimous Decision (29-28 x3)
Weeks coming out of the gate confidently throwing lots of kicks but nothing really landing. Barbarena launches forward and Weeks changes levels with a body lock and then secures a takedown, but Barbarena gets back to his feet quickly. Weeks looking very comfortable and throwing plenty of strikes, but Barbarena lands a big inside low kick and gets a big reaction. He throws a few more quickly after and Weeks is limping now, but fighting through it. Change of levels from Weeks as he gets it against the cage, but Barbarena reverses the position and starts chopping at the leg again. Weeks having problems with his leg but still stepping forward. Barbarena staying patient and lands a nice left hand before another heavy low kick to end the round. 10-9 Barbarena.
Weeks comes out early and secures a takedown immediately but Barbarena defends well from his back before eventually getting back to his feet. Weeks continuing to be aggressive but Barbarena using his experience well to stem the tide. Weeks throwing some wild hooks and Barbarena throwing some tired ones of his own and both are landing, but nothing doing too much damage yet it seems. Barbarena lands another hard low kick and starts to go to the body as the round ends. That’s anybody’s round but I lean towards Barbarena again. 20-18.
Barbarena turning the pace up in the final round, coming forward and throwing combinations but Weeks gets another body lock and pushes him against the cage. Nice knee from Barbarena and they trade big hooks before going back into the clinch. Barbarena throws a high kick and slips but he gets back up quickly. Weeks is tired now and Barbarena is coming forward, landing some big hooks to the body and then a left hand to the chin. Weeks lands a couple of hooks of his own but Barbarena eating them and coming forward again with the body shots. Hard low kicks again from Barbarena but Weeks is digging in and landing some big hooks of his own. A few hard strikes land well but Barbarena takes them and fires back with his own. He’s really taken over in this round and is continuing to pour the pressure on in the final minute. Weeks changes levels under a hook and secures a big takedown in the final seconds but Barbarena jumps up and lands a big strike that wobbles Weeks! He moves forward with big swinging strikes that miss as the buzzer goes! Great fight. 30-27 for me but could be 29-28 too with round two being close.
Manel Kape def Zhalgas Zhumagulov via Knockout, Round 1 (4:02)
Super fast start to this one as Kape opens with a flying knee attempt before both men trade combinations. Zhumagulov throwing hard leg kicks and hard right overhands and connecting with some, but Kape moving well and landing a few counters of his own. Zhumagulov lands a big right that sends Kape stumbling backwards, but he responds with a nice right hand too. Zhumagulov coming forward hard and fast and pushing the pace but Kape is moving well and countering effectively too. Kape lands a nice body shot and a knee and he starts picking his shots. Hard one-two lands and drops Zhumagulov! Kape steps forward and looking for the finish but staying calm, then lands a huge string of punches that puts Zhumagulov down covering up and the referee steps in! What a knockout! What a performance!
Dusko Todorovic def Maki Pitolo via Knockout, Round 1 (4:34)
Lively start from both guys looking to step in and land first with their jabs and some low kicks. Pitolo lands a low kick and then a big right hand lands flush. Another low kick gets a reaction from Todorovic but he changes levels and shoots in for a takedown. Pitolo latches on to the neck and goes for a guillotine but Todorovic stays calm, rides it out and eventually secures top position as he starts to look for ground and pound. Todorovic dominating on the ground and trying to move to a crucifix position while landing big strikes and then he moves into full mount. Todorovic flattens Pitolo out and starts raining down heavy ground and pound until the referee waves it off! Hugely impressive win.
Alex Morono def Micky Gall via Unanimous Decision (30-27 x3)
Slow start from both guys as Morono takes the centre and tries to feel his way into range before firing a strong right hand to the chin of Gall. Hard low kick from Gall lands but both fighters being very patient and not throwing much early on. Morono lands a nice right hand and then eats a body kick, before firing in another nice one-two that lands on Gall. Lots of feinting and patience and then Morono lands a jab that sits Gall down! Morono goes for the finish but Gall manages to tie him up on the ground by going for a leg lock and recovers enough to get back to his feet at the end of the round. 10-9 Morono.
Gall comes out for the second round with a jab to the body before a nice right hand lands. Morono comes back with a powerful hook himself and then he steps in with a left hook that lands well too. Gall charges forward and lands two big hooks and Morono just misses with a check-left hook counter. Gall continues to come forward with hooks and a jab and he’s fighting very well from range right now. Lovely right hook counter from Morono just clips Gall before he misses with another in the next attack. Gall trying to use his size to be first, but Morono using his technique to match him or even beat him to it. Gall changes levels and shoots for a takedown but Morono sprawls to deny it and ends the round landing a hard left hook. 20-18 Morono.
Big overhand right lands from Morono on Gall, who fires back with a body kick that just misses. Another nice right hand from Morono connects but Gall replies again with a nice double jab followed by a low kick. Morono staying out of range but stepping in quickly when he wants to throw his strikes. Gall misses with a big right hand as we enter the final two minutes. Hard right hand from Morono before both guys trade wild swings in the final minute. Spinning back fist from Morono lands and Gall starting to come forward with his hands down. Both guys swing wildly as the buzzer goes, should be comfortable for Morono.
Chris Curtis def Brendan Allen via Knockout, Round 2 (1:58)
Fast start from Allen as he comes out with a few strong strikes that just miss before a big takedown attempt sees him pick Curtis up and slam him down, before taking the back. Curtis defends well and they separate quickly though. Curtis lands a nice four-punch combo to the head of Allen but he eats it and comes back with a nice knee. Allen goes for a head kick before Curtis returns with some big strikes again. Hard body kick from Allen before they trade low kicks together. Lead elbow from Allen lands before Curtis lands a nice right hook counter and then goes to the body himself. Head kick from Curtis just misses but he follows it up with a nice one-two. Allen goes for a takedown and then transitions for a leg lock but Curtis defends it well and ends up on top to end the round. Close round, 10-9 Allen for me but only just.
Hard low kick early from Allen drops Curtis to one knee before another hard low kick lands. Both guys trade in the pocket and Allen just misses with a knee. Allen lands a hard body kick but Curtis replies with a nice one-two down the pipe. Both guys trade big right hooks and Allen is wobbled!! Curtis going for the finish and lands a strong knee and Allen goes down again and the referee waves it off! Amazing! What a KO!
Slow start to this one as Santos looks to keep his distance and use his powerful strikes from range. Santos lands a powerful body kick and Guida drops in pain! Santos goes for the kill with huge ground and pound strikes to the head and body but Guida is surviving currently. Santos blasting him with big strikes and the referee is looking closely but Guida is holding a leg and surviving! Guida gets up and manages to create separation and Santos is exhausted! Guida goes on the offensive for the final minute with his crazy pressure and wrestling! What a round! 10-9 Santos.
Guida comes out super aggressive and lands a big left hook then goes for a takedown again. He gets the fight down to the ground quickly and starts blasting knees to the body of Santos who is completely out of it through exhaustion. Guida goes for the neck, takes the back and sinks in a rear-naked choke and forces Santos to tap! Incredible! What a comeback.
Jamahal Hill def Jimmy Crute via Knockout, Round 1 (0:48)
Crute comes out hard with some heavy leg kicks and high kicks but Hill stepping out and avoiding too much damage. Hill fires a hard right hand down the pipe and drops Crute who immediately shoots for a takedown out of instinct. Hill gets some separation and counters with another solid right hook to the chin that puts Crute down and out! One more strike on the ground before the referee gets there and that’s that! Unbelievable from Jamahal Hill! Wow!
Rafael Fiziev def Brad Riddell via Knockout, Round 3 (2:20)
Tactical start to this one from both guys as they throw out some feelers for each other. Fiziev looks to land one of his trademark head kicks but just misses, before both guys trade hooks. Big exchange of counter strikes from Fiziev in particular as he rips the body with his lead leg. Riddell just misses with a right hand and then slips a kick from Fiziev. Riddell goes for a jab to the body and overhand right but just misses as Fiziev takes the centre and pushes him back against the cage with pressure. Both guys land a big right hook each before Fiziev fires a hard low kick at the end of it. Hard body kicks again from Fiziev before Riddell ends the round with a beautiful combination that sees two strikes land on the chin. Good round, 10-9 Fiziev.
Hard low kick from Riddell opens the round up. Riddell throwing his jab out before committing to combinations, but Fiziev lands a nice right hand counter too. Fiziev lands a jab followed with a step-in elbow that cuts Riddell badly over the eye. Nice left hand from Riddell lands though and then Fiziev lands with a short left hook. Both guys fire the same combination that ends with a left hook at the same time and both land too. Lovely right hook lands from Fiziev and then he goes for a knee but Riddell ties him up in a clinch before they separate. Back to the body kick from Fiziev and that’s the round. 20-18 Fiziev for me but could be 19-19.
Fiziev goes for a low leg kick but Riddell catches it and shoots for a takedown and briefly gets it, but Fiziev pops up to his feet quickly. They clash together again and Fiziev lands a hard right hand in the exchange, but Riddell’s right hand landed too. Big left hook from Riddell lands after a body shot as he starts to get more aggressive in this final round. Riddell changes levels and attempts a takedown but Fiziev denies it, before a big clash of strikes yet again from both guys. Riddell circles away on the outside and Fiziev throws a spinning wheel kick and catches Riddell clean in the face!! Riddell is out on his feet and Herb Dean steps in quickly before any more damage can be done!! WOW! What a KO! Amazing!
Jose Aldo def Rob Font via Unanimous Decision (50-45 x2, 49-46)
Fast start to this fight as Font comes forward and starts to use his jab immediately, following up with one-twos. Aldo lands a body kick before Font charges forward and gets a surprising takedown. Font forcing Aldo to be very defensive in the early going, landing his jab clean and following it with a right hand too. Font just misses with an uppercut but lands a glancing elbow as Aldo looks to step away. Aldo ducks under a straight right and counters with a pull right hand, but Font is putting it on him so far. Big body shot from Aldo lands and both guys trade leg kicks. Font lands his jab again and a nice right hand before Aldo rolls and blocks the follow up strike attempts. Aldo lands a one two straight down the pipe and Font goes down! Aldo goes for the finish but after a couple of shots on the ground the buzzer goes to end the round. Whew. 10-9 Font.
Font coming forward once again behind his jab with a relentless pace trying to offset Aldo’s rhythm. Nice right hand from Font lands but Aldo seems calm. Aldo lands a huge one-two again and the right hand is flush and sends Font backwards reeling, but Aldo goes for a big knee that misses and Font is able to recover. Aldo just misses with a big left uppercut and then blocks a right hook from Font. Right hand lands from Font and gets Aldo’s attention, so he fires back with another hard right hand himself. Font trying to land but he seems to be lacking in power, so Aldo returns with a big right hand again. Font goes for a takedown but Aldo denies it easily, but then eats a right hand. Huge body shot from Aldo. Round ends, what a fight. 19-19.
Aldo has returned to his old ways and lands three very hard low kicks early on that are affecting Font immediately. Nice one-two from Font and then he goes for a takedown that Aldo manages to defend and reverse to end up on top himself. Aldo into side control and lands a nice short elbow before going back into full guard. Font looking to be active from his back but Aldo doing well to control him and minimise the threat. Font gets back to his feet and looks for some combos but Aldo pushes him off. Aldo’s right eye has closed up now but he lands a hard body shot before Font comes over the top with a right hand that just misses. Hard low kick again from Aldo and it drops Font! Another hard one but Font is coming forward again and landing his jab well. Another low kick from Aldo to end the round, but he looks like he’s tiring. 29-28 Aldo.
Font comes aggressively but Aldo rolls with it and lands a huge right hand once again that drops Font! Font is wobbling badly and Aldo going for the finish but Font is scrambling and Aldo eventually settles in side control. Font trying to find a way back to his feet, but Aldo controlling him well and looking to pass. Aldo eventually passes into mount but Font quickly gets full guard back. Aldo looking to get some ground and pound off but Font is defending it well and landing some short elbows of his own off his back. Aldo continuing to control the position on the ground though as the round ends and he’ll take the round. 39-37 Aldo.
Fast start from Font as he comes out swinging hard in combinations to the body and to the head. Aldo looks hesitant and tired now but Font is coming forward much fresher. Font clinches up and Aldo is tying him up against the cage, then Font lands a big elbow. Aldo coming forward and lands a big right hand again before Font clinches again against the cage. Font throwing some strikes but Aldo fairly comfortable with where the fight is currently. Font creates space and lands a big uppercut but Aldo responds with a hard right hand and wobbles Font again! Aldo lands two more and Font goes down but Font ties up Aldo on the mat to try and recover. Aldo gets to his back and gets two hooks in and is seemingly looking for a choke, but he’s not rushing. Aldo locks in a body triangle and is looking for a rear-naked choke with 30 seconds left but Font fights out of it and survives the round to make the buzzer. What a fight. 49-46 Aldo for me.
Alex Morono (20-7) vs Micky Gall (7-3) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A very interesting welterweight fight between two guys still looking to make a big impression in the UFC. Morono is on a two-fight win streak after KO’ing Donald Cerrone at UFC Vegas 26 before a decision win over David Zawada in September. Gall on the other hand has alternated wins and losses since 2016, going 4-3 with a first-round submission win over Jordan Williams in his most recent outing.
Morono is a powerful striker with looping hooks and good timing with his counter strikes, while Gall is a supreme jiu-jitsu grappler with decent wrestling in his back pocket too. Gall has however shown more of a willingness to strike in recent fights, and that is a recipe for trouble in the one. Morono has the power to stop him, but if Gall chooses to wrestle and use his jiu-jitsu then he will likely have much more success.
Morono isn’t hard to take down but he is hard to keep down, so that will be an interesting battle. Ultimately however, Morono’s ability to get back to his feet and keep pushing will likely wear Gall down over the 15 minutes and be able to earn a decision win. PICK – Alex Morono via Decision
Brendan Allen (17-4) vs Chris Curtis (27-8) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
An absolute banger at middleweight as Brendan Allen takes on the short-notice replacement Chris Curtis in this one. Allen is on a two-fight win streak after submitting Karl Roberson at UFC 261 before a decision win over Punahele Soriano last time out. Curtis on the other hand made his debut at UFC 268 against Phil Hawes and after overcoming a tough first-round, he landed a nasty right hand a KO’d him for a huge upset win.
Allen is a primary grappler with terrific wrestling, while he has also improved his striking in recent fights to be able to mix it up well. Curtis on the other hand is a very well-rounded fighter with tremendous power in his hands to go with his high level wrestling. He was a UFC calibre fighter way before his debut, and he proved it on the night. In this one though, it could be a rough night. Allen is relentless with his pressure and his takedowns, then once he gets it down he possesses a very real submission threat.
Curtis has the ability to knock anyone in the division out, without a doubt, but Allen just seems to be a bit too much of a level up on this occasion. Curtis is a natural welterweight too and Allen is as big a middleweight as there is. He’s going to pressure him, use his size and eventually grind his way to a relatively comfortable decision win. PICK – Brendan Allen via Decision
Clay Guida (36-18) vs Leonardo Santos (18-5-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The grizzly veterans go head-to-head in the lightweight division here. Guida is 1-3 in his last four, with a split decision defeat to Mark O Madsen last time out. Santos on the other hand saw a 13-fight unbeaten run snapped last time out when Grant Dawson knocked him out in the final second of their bout at UFC Vegas 22.
Guida is a grinder, who steps forward with reckless abandon and then shoots for a double leg takedown to try and earn top control. Santos uses his jiu-jitsu and Muay-Thai skills generally to damage his opponents, but at 41-years-old now he is certainly slowing down. He seems to fatigue earlier and earlier in bouts, but he is still super dangerous in the first round.
With that said, Guida’s chin hasn’t started letting him down yet and with his amazing cardio and volume-heavy style the likelihood is that he grinds his way to another career win. PICK – Clay Guida via Decision
Jimmy Crute (12-2) vs Jamahal Hill (8-1) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
A very fun light heavyweight bout in this one as two prospects look to bounce back from unfortunate defeats last time out. Crute was beaten by Anthony Smith at UFC 261 when a leg kick caused his leg to completely give way, forcing the doctor to stop the fight after the first round. For Hill, he took on Paul Craig at UFC 263 and saw his arm disturbingly dislocated and then was elbowed into oblivion for defeat.
Beyond those defeats though, both of these guys are excellent prospects. Crute is a decent striker with a good job and winging hooks, but it’s his amazing wrestling and ground game that separates him from the pack. Hill on the other hand is a power striker with unbelievable knockout power and good speed on the feet. He probably has a slight edge in a striking battle, but Crute has a huge edge when it comes to the ground game.
Crute will likely stand on the feet for just long enough to time a takedown and secure top control, where he will work his way to the back via ground and pound and then secure a rear-naked choke at some point in the middle round. PICK – Jimmy Crute via Submission, Round 2
Brad Riddell (10-1) vs Rafael Fiziev (10-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
This one is a genuine contender for fight of the night. Riddell is on a seven-fight win streak with four coming in the UFC, including a decision over Drew Dober at UFC 263. Fiziev is on a four-fight win streak, with a decision over Bobby Green at UFC 265 in his last outing.
Both guys are amazing strikers, with brilliant kickboxing technique and knockout power as well as some decent wrestling defence on both sides too. Both have kick heavy attacks, with Fiziev’s body kick a trademark weapon of his while Riddell is arguably more comfortable with his hands in the striking department.
Both will throw leg kicks but Fiziev’s preference to fight at range is likely to be a difference maker here. He’s had some cardio issues in the past which Riddell could look to target in the latter rounds, but I do think that Fiziev’s kicking game and edge in power will see him claim a hugely entertaining victory. PICK – Rafael Fiziev via Decision
Rob Font (19-4) vs Jose Aldo (30-7) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A truly brilliant main event to headline this card between two top five bantamweights. Font is on a four-fight win streak, after stopping Marlon Moraes at UFC Vegas 17 and dominating Cody Garbrandt most recently. Aldo on the other hand has picked up consecutive wins for the first time since February 2019 when he earned decisions over Marlon Vera and Pedro Munhoz most recently at UFC 265.
Both of these guys could easily have turned professional when it comes to their boxing skills, with brilliant jabbing skills and excellent combinations. They both also have solid leg kicks, while Aldo is also a jiu-jitsu black belt although he very rarely uses it at all. Font has a slight reach advantage in this one which will undoubtedly play a part in the striking battle that will ensue.
Font’s combinations are truly great and if he can work the body of Aldo then it could pay dividends in the latter rounds, with the Brazilian fading in his most recent fights. However Aldo has got his own combinations, throws super-hard leg kicks and his own body work is great too. The grappling is something we could end up seeing out of Aldo which would lean it towards him, but it’s the low kicks and combinations to the head that have me edging the victory in Aldo’s favour. PICK – Jose Aldo via Decision
Cheyanne Vlismas (6-2) vs Mallory Martin (7-4) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
The only ladies on the card step up next in the strawweight division. Vlismas (aka Buys) lost her UFC debut to Montserrat Ruiz at UFC Vegas 22 before earning a head-kick KO next time out at UFC Vegas 33. Martin on the other hand earned a win over Hannah Cifer at UFC Vegas 8 before being submitted by Polyana Vieira at UFC 258 last time out.
Vlismas is a solid striker who throws with good technique and great power, while Martin generally tends to wrestle her opponents and look to secure top control in her fights. That bodes well for Martin stylistically, but Vlismas has shown in the past that her wrestling isn’t as bad as it may have seemed on her UFC debut.
Martin has had some big problems on the feet in the past and defensively she has big flaws that Vlismas can exploit. If she is able to rediscover her wrestling defence and keep the fight standing, then she should piece up Martin on the feet for a potential stoppage win. Ultimately though, I think this goes the distance. PICK – Cheyanne Vlismas via Decision
Jake Matthews (17-5) vs Jeremiah Wells (9-2-1) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A banger at welterweight between two unranked fighters in this one. Matthews saw a three-fight win streak snapped by Sean Brady back at UFC 259 last time out, while Wells secured a second-round KO win over Warlley Alves at UFC Vegas 30 in his debut last time out.
Both guys are strikers primarily, but Matthews is far more technical than the powerhouse that is Wells. The only times Matthews has looked in trouble during his UFC run has been against supreme wrestlers, and that is something Wells is not.
Wells has issues with his cardio mainly, but he does have legitimate power to end a fight early at times. Both guys are solid wrestlers in their own right too, but ultimately the technique and cardio of Matthews should see him secure a fairly comfortable decision win. PICK – Jake Matthews via Decision
Bryan Barbarena (15-8) vs Darian Weeks (5-0) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
A super short-notice welterweight bout opens the main card. Barbarena is on a 1-3 run currently with a loss to Jason Witt most recently, and he’ll take on Weeks who is 5-0 in his professional career. Weeks steps in on less than one week’s notice for Matt Brown, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Barbarena is a powerful striker with good wrestling skills and plenty of experience, fighting from southpaw with a great jab. Weeks on the other hand is a powerful right-handed striker himself, with great pressure and some decent wrestling in his back pocket too. The short-notice aspect of this fight is telling, because it could well come down to conditioning in the latter rounds.
Barbarena is capable of fighting on the outside but if Weeks is able to time the takedown attempts when Barbarena throws his one-two, then he could secure some control and manage his gas tank. Ultimately though, I think the experience of Barbarena and the fact it’s on short notice means he will be able to earn a close decision win. PICK – Bryan Barbarena via Decision
Manel Kape (16-6) vs Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-5) – (Flyweight/125lbs)
An intriguing flyweight bout between two ranked stars looking to move towards the top of the division. Kape lost his first two UFC bouts where a lack of volume cost him on the scorecards, but he secured a highlight reel flying knee KO of Ode Osbourne last time out at UFC 265. Zhumagulov suffered defeats in his first two UFC bouts too, before earning a submission win at UFC 264 over Jerome Rivera last time out.
The former RIZIN champ has got brilliant striking techniques and legitimate knockout power for the weight class, but volume has been a big problem for him and has cost him in the past. He has decent wrestling too but it’s his flurries on the feet that are where he’s at his best. Zhumagulov is a relentless pressure fighter with good wrestling and eyecatching flurries that could catch Kape out if he is a deer in the headlights once again.
If Kape is flying though, then he should win this bout. He is the better striker, with more power and more routes to win the fight on the feet and with a reach advantage too he should be able to stay on the outside and secure a victory with a counter-strike knockout. PICK – Manel Kape via Knockout, Round 1
Maki Pitolo (13-8) vs Dusko Todorovic (10-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
A middleweight clash is the featured prelim bout for this card. Pitolo has lost his last three in a row with a submission loss against Julian Marquez at UFC 258 last time out, while Todorovic has suffered the only defeats in his career in his last two fights with a decision loss against Gregory Rodrigues at UFC Vegas 28 in his last outing.
Pitolo is a decent boxer who has really let himself down with his showings so far in the UFC, while Todorovic is a bit of an all-rounder with no stand-out skills. This fight is in a weird spot on the card, because it shouldn’t be the featured prelim. But with that said, the match up is interesting. If he’s firing, Pitolo is more than capable of using his boxing skills to light Todorovic up who tends to block punches with his head.
The issue is that he almost never uses his skills, often trying to stop his opponent from dominating rather than trying to dominate himself. Todorovic is able to step forward and use his kickboxing, but also hold Pitolo against the cage in clinch situations and likely will secure a victory using that tactic. PICK – Dusko Todorovic via Decision
The UFC light heavyweight division has got a huge main event set for 2022 after former champion Jan Blachowicz was matched up with Aleksandar Rakic.
Blachowicz was the champion until his most recent bout, where he was submitted in the second-round by Glover Teixeira at UFC 267. He will look to bounce back immediately against the number three ranked Rakic, who is currently on a two-fight win streak.
The two have agreed to a main event bout on March 26th 2022, in a location yet to be determined.
Blachowicz will be looking to get back to winning ways after seeing his title reign and five-fight win streak snapped in October.
He had beaten top contenders Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza, Corey Anderson, Dominick Reyes to win the title at UFC 253 and then Israel Adesanya in his only successful title defence before the defeat at UFC 259.
Rakic on the other hand has won 14 of his last 15 bouts, with the only blemish in that run coming in a split decision defeat to Volkan Oezdemir. Most recently he has seen off the threat of Anthony Smith at UFC Vegas 8 and Thiago Santos at UFC 259.
He was scheduled to face Smith in a rematch at UFC 269 this month, but Smith was forced to withdraw with an injury.
Ariel Helwani was the first to report the bout agreement.
The bout will take place as a five-round main event bout on a Fight Night card. Those events have taken place exclusively at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s possible that could change between now and the fight happening in March 2022.
We also get to finally see the exciting bout between Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev, while Jimmy Crute and Brendan Allen also return to action on the main card.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 43 we went 6/11 on the night with two perfect picks to move to 482/752 (64.1%) with 202 perfect picks (41.91%).
We’ll look to improve on that this time around, starting with the early prelims here.
Louis Smolka (17-7) vs Vince Morales (10-5) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very fun bantamweight bout to open the card here. Smolka is 2-2 in his last four fights, but earned a win over Jose Alberto Quinonez via KO at UFC Vegas 16 last time out, while Morales bounced back from consecutive defeats to earn a decision win over Drako Rodriguez at UFC 265.
Smolka is an excellent grappler with some solid submission skills, earning seven tap-outs wins in his career, while Morales is a technical striker who has a missile of a right hand. This is a fight that is close because they both have glaring advantages over their opponent in different areas and it’s all about where the fight takes place. Smolka’s submission skills mean he will want the fight on the mat, while his ‘kill or be killed’ mindset plays right into Morales’ hands.
With that said, Smolka is notoriously bad at securing takedowns himself and while the fight is on the feet he is in danger of being clipped. Because of that, I expect Morales to be able to keep it standing and land enough power shots to secure a judge’s decision. PICK – Vince Morales via Decision
Jared Vanderaa (12-6) vs Azamat Murzakanov (10-0) – (Heavyweight/220-265lbs)
A heavyweight bout up next with a short-notice opponent stepping in against an undefeated prospect. Vanderaa steps in on a week’s notice to take on UFC debutant Murzakanov after getting stopped by Alexandr Romanov at UFC Vegas 39.
Vanderaa is a power puncher on the feet who is a natural heavyweight fighter, with a six-inch height advantage and a nine-inch reach advantage over Murzakanov in this fight. ‘The Professional’ is a natural light heavyweight fighter who has great power in his hands too and has earned eight stoppage wins from ten career wins. Murzakanov has got excellent footwork and movement, but this size difference is a big thing to overcome.
Thankfully for him, Murzakanov has got excellent wrestling available to him too and that could be the difference here. Vanderaa’s takedown defence is basically non-existent and with the power both guys have, the likelihood is he takes it down to the mat and works him with ground and pound to secure a big debut win. PICK – Azamat Murzakanov via Knockout, Round 3
Claudio Puelles (11-2) vs Chris Gruetzemacher (15-4) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The lightweight division is on show in this one to close out the early prelims. Puelles has won three-in-a-row with a decision win over Jordan Leavitt at UFC Vegas 28 most recently following a two-year absence, while Gruetzemacher earned a decision win over Rafa Garcia last time out to get back on the winning trail following a 1-3 run.
Puelles’ record looks good but when you watch the fights in the UFC, they’re less than impressive. He was battered by Felipe Silva before securing a comeback submission, Mariano isn’t UFC calibre and Leavitt was dead on his feet after the first round. He’s still a good submission artist though and has a solid top game. Gruetzemacher is a power puncher with solid wrestling and terrific cardio, which makes this bout a rough time for Puelles.
On the feet Gruetzemacher has a clear edge and Puelles’ takedown game isn’t strong enough to get his top game going here. Overall, Gruetzemacher has a clear edge everywhere unless he ends up under Puelles, so I think Gruetzemacher will be able to slam an exclamation point with this win with a KO. PICK – Chris Gruetzemacher via Knockout, Round 2
Alonzo Menifield (11-2) vs William Knight (10-2) – (Light Heavyweight/205lbs)
Fireworks at 205lbs in this one as Menifield and Knight finally get to meet after their bout was scrapped twice earlier this year. Menifield earned consecutive wins with a submission of Fabio Cherant at UFC 260 before a decision over Ed Herman at UFC 265, while Knight KO’d Cherant at UFC Vegas 34 following a mauling against Da Un Jung at UFC Vegas 23.
Knight’s striking isn’t the cleanest and his offensive wrestling isn’t the most impressive, but he uses his brute strength in clinch situations to get the fight down to the ground and then unleash violent ground and pound. Menifield is a bit more well rounded but seems to lack some cage IQ and struggles to make in-fight adjustments. He seemed shocked by the strength of OSP and if that’s the case, then Knight could blow him out of the water.
That said it’s a 50/50 fight between these two and while Knight’s ground-game is better, Menifield has changed up his approach in recent fights and fought well from the outside in his most recent bout. It’ll be competitive, but I think Menifield lands a big right hand on a blitzing Knight to secure a KO win. PICK – Alonzo Menifield via Knockout, Round 2
There is an argument to be made that Jose Aldo is one of the very best of all-time and has had the storied, fairytale career that many fighters dream of.
After being crowned featherweight champion during the WEC days back in 2009, he was promoted to UFC’s featherweight champion when the organisation completed a buyout in 2010.
As the UFC’s crown jewel at 145lbs, Aldo dominated the division for the best part of four years. He beat everyone there was to beat at the time, until he ran into Conor McGregor’s violent left hand.
It seemed that knockout at UFC 194 in 2015 was the start of a downward spiral that every great fighter seems to have these days.
It marked the start of a run of six losses in nine fights, which was remarkable considering he didn’t taste defeat for over ten years prior to that fight.
It was a defeat to now featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski that sparked a change for Aldo though, who decided to drop down in weight to 135lbs to try and challenge for the bantamweight title.
In a back and forth battle with Marlon Moraes, it started with a defeat that many disputed. Ultimately though, it was yet another loss on his record as part of that run.
The performance was enough to convince the UFC to give him a title shot for the vacant belt though after TJ Dillashaw was suspended for using banned substances and stripped of his reign.
He went up against Petr Yan and ultimately fell short at UFC 251, with the Russian using superior boxing skills to eventually wear the older Aldo down and earn a TKO victory in the fifth and final round.
Since then though, the Aldo we have seen at 135lbs has been nothing short of excellent. Another fun scrap between himself Marlon Vera got him back on the winning trail at UFC Vegas 17, before facing off with Pedro Munhoz at UFC 265 and coming out on top in a three-round war.
Now ranked at number four once again, Aldo takes on Rob Font for a chance at possible redemption against Yan in yet another title fight.
But more than that, a win over Font could set up a dream fight between Aldo and Dillashaw that many wanted to see years prior.
While both men reigned supreme at the bantamweight and featherweight divisions, neither seemed keen to switch into the other’s path.
After his last win though, Aldo called Dillashaw out for his return bout only for him to instead fight Cory Sandhagen and win. That seemed to set him up for the next title shot, only for knee surgery to set him back a few places.
With Aljamain Sterling set to defend against Yan in their highly anticipated rematch early in 2022, Dillashaw may need another bout to keep himself active before potentially getting that shot again.
If Aldo can earn the victory at UFC Vegas 44 over Rob Font, he will be perfectly placed to finally get that fight that he has wanted for a long time.
Should he manage to get that fight and get the win that he is so sure he can deliver, then the only logical next step from that would be another shot at UFC gold.
It would mark yet another chapter in the fairytale of Aldo’s career to date and whether he was successful or not, it would cement his legacy and add even more certainty to the argument surrounding his G.O.A.T status.
Former lightweight interim title contender Kevin Lee has been released from his UFC contract after eight years with the company.
Lee has lost his last two fights and four of his last five, with his only win since May 2018 coming via a head-kick knockout against the then-undefeated Gregor Gillespie at UFC 244.
‘The Motown Phenom’ was recently suspended for six months by USADA after failing a drug test, which he attributed to medication he takes for ADHD.
Lee was a popular figure on his rise through the promotion, racking up a record of 16-2 at one point with notable victories of Francisco Trinaldo and Michael Chiesa via submission.
Those victories earned him a lightweight title fight against Tony Ferguson at UFC 216, where he was submitted in round three after coming into the bout with a staph infection.
He bounced back from that with a win over Edson Barboza in a main event bout, but his poor run followed that. His most recent appearance came at UFC Vegas 35 where he was beaten via unanimous decision in a welterweight bout by Daniel Rodriguez.
Lee’s inactivity in recent years has been an issue, fighting just four times since 2019 and just once in each of the last two years.
The decision to release him from his contract certainly comes as a shock to many, but at 29-years-old he still has plenty of time to rejuvenate his career elsewhere and potentially make a return.
His name still has star power and somewhere like Bellator or ONE Championship will surely be interested in bringing him in now that he is a free agent.
The UFC returns from a two week break to close out the year with some heavy main events, starting off with bantamweights Rob Font and Jose Aldo going head-to-head.
The two top five ranked 135-pounders will meet at UFC Vegas 44 this weekend in a bout that will decide whether it’s time to usher in a new generation of title contenders, or whether one of the best ever is still good enough to compete at the highest level.
For Font though, it stands as much more than just beating one of the best champions in the history of the UFC.
After making his debut with the company way back in 2014, Font’s boxing skills were always on show for all to see.
His first fight with the organisation ended in a brutal first-round knockout win and performance of the night bonus, but he then missed over a year of action following injuries that forced two separate bouts to be scrapped.
He finally returned in January 2016 and KO’d another opponent, before a decision loss to John Lineker. That would be the first of just three losses to date in the UFC, with the others coming against Pedro Munhoz and Raphael Assuncao.
Despite 12 fights in the organisation, Font has never lost consecutive fights in his UFC career. He has a 9-3 record against elite opposition and a 19-4 record overall throughout his career.
Yet only now, after four wins in a row against Sergio Pettis, Ricky Simon, Marlon Moraes and Cody Garbandt is he being recognised as a potential threat to the throne currently occupied by Aljamain Sterling.
But at UFC Vegas 44 he will step into the cage against one of the true greats of the mixed martial arts world. This is his chance to become a household name and break through that glass ceiling that has been silently holding him back throughout his career.
At 34-years-old, it isn’t quite now or never for Font. Aldo is 35-years-old but his career has seen much higher highs and much lower lows, while also going on for much longer.
Despite being ranked number four in the world, Font doesn’t have that marquee name on his resumé as of now. He’s beaten good guys, including former champion Garbrandt, but it was a ‘No Love’ who had one foot in the flyweight division as hasn’t been himself since losing the title.
A win over this Aldo, who is past his best and yet still has managed to climb his way back up the title ladder by beating some solid guys and recovering from losses, would be the top layer of the cake for Font.
He has a great chance to cement himself as one of the very best 135-pounders in the world currently with a win. With Cory Sandhagen suffering back-to-back losses and TJ Dillashaw recovering from knee surgery, a statement victory could put Font right in line.
Sterling will fight Petr Yan early in 2022 to unify the division, but after that the next contender is up for grabs. If Font can secure a stellar performance and victory, it will be very hard for the UFC to deny him his chance to claim gold for the first time.