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Guide to UFC on ESPN 31: Font vs. Aldo

Getting prepared for UFC action this coming Saturday? Here is everything you need to know about the event with our Guide to UFC on ESPN 31: Font vs. Aldo.


UFC on ESPN 31

Date: December 4, 2021

Location: UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada

Main Card

Start Time: 10:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. PT

Where To Watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Bantamweights: #4 Rob Font vs. #5 Jose Aldo

Overall Records: Font 19-4, Aldo 30-7

UFC Records: Font 9-3, Aldo 12-6

Last Fight: Font def. Garbrandt–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 46 (5/22/21), Aldo def. Munhoz–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21)

Last Five Fights: Font 4-1, Aldo 2-3

Betting Odds: Font -155, Aldo +125

Background: The main event of this card is an exciting bantamweight bout featuring an all-time great as title shot implications could be on the line in this one. Font comes into his second straight main event riding one of the more impressive win streaks at 135 lbs., as he’s won four straight, all against top competition. In his last four wins, one is a former UFC Bantamweight Champion, one is the current Bellator Bantamweight Champion, and three were ranked at the time. He’s right on the cusp of a title shot after defeating Cody Garbrandt in May, and was actually offered the shot at the interim title in October, but he wasn’t going to be ready to fight then. He’s ready now and gets a future UFC Hall Of Famer in this one. Aldo, the former long-time UFC Featherweight Champion, has looked as good as ever in winning his last two fights. He’s coming off a strong performance in scoring a decision over Pedro Munhoz at UFC 265 in August. He scored a decision win over Marlon Vera in his previous fight before that, and a third straight win here could set him up for either another shot at winning the bantamweight title, or, perhaps, a long-anticipated showdown between him and former UFC Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw.

How they match up: This should likely be all action on the feet and an exciting fight. Font is more of a volume striker, and he strings together his combinations very well. Aldo is at his best when his combinations are flowing and when he is effective with the leg kicks. Both men are technical strikers, with Aldo maybe being slightly more technical due to his experience edge. Another area where Aldo excels in, and one that could be the difference, is his body work is extremely impressive. It is what got him the win over Munhoz. Font tends to work more behind his jab, using it to set up his combinations. Both men are good defensive strikers who tend to avoid getting hit a lot, while Aldo is slightly more accurate on the feet. If the wrestling gets involved, Font is better at the takedowns, but Aldo has tremendous takedown defense and gets back up quick. It likely won’t matter as this fight should play all out standing. There’s a very good chance it goes the distance, and it’s going to come down to who mixes it up better with their striking.

What’s at stake: This fight should add a little more clarity to the top of the bantamweight title picture. Current UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling has yet to be cleared to return from his neck surgery, but he’s anticipating that happening soon and the rematch between him and current Interim UFC Bantamweight Champion Petr Yan to take place in February or March. TJ Dillashaw is right there in the mix to fight the winner, but he’s also coming off of major knee surgery. If Sterling or Yan are unable to fight in the spring, it opens the door for the winner here to potentially slide in should Dillashaw remain unavailable. If Sterling and Yan fight, the winner here could fight the winner of that bout or even fight Dillashaw. There’s a lot of moving parts in the division, but this will clear up a little bit, and could set up for a little mini-tournament if things come together. This is a very pivotal bout.

Pick: Aldo

Lightweights: #12 Brad Riddell vs. #14 Rafael Fiziev

Overall Records: Riddell 10-1, Fiziev 10-1

UFC Records: Riddell 4-0, Fiziev 4-1

Last Fight: Riddell def. Dober–UDec–UFC 263 (6/12/21), Fiziev def. Green–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21)

Last Five Fights: Riddell 5-0, Fiziev 4-1

Betting Odds: Riddell +110, Fiziev -130

Background: A lightweight bout between two friends and often times training partners takes place here, as top-15 fighters Riddell and Fiziev battle to move up the lightweight rankings. Riddell comes into this fight ranked 12th at 155 lbs., while Fiziev is ranked 14th. They’ve trained together at Tiger Muay Thai in Thailand, and are very familiar with each other and call each other friends. They weren’t too keen on fighting each other, but it’s also a natural match-up given their current positions. Riddell has yet to taste defeat inside the Octagon, as he’s started his UFC career off with four straight wins. He’s coming off a decision win over Drew Dober at UFC 263 in June in a fight that will make top-ten lists of best fights of 2021. He’s still in search of his first UFC stoppage. Fiziev is coming into this fight riding a four-fight win streak. He scored a decision win over tough veteran Bobby Green at UFC 265 in August in his last bout, and has won post-fight bonuses in his last three wins. However, unlike Riddell, he’s been beaten inside the Octagon, and wants to hand Riddell his first UFC loss.

How they match up: It should be noted that while they’ve trained together in the past, it was during their pre-UFC days over four years ago, and both have definitely evolved over that time. Both are predominantly strikers who like high-volume attacks, and they aren’t afraid to trade in the pocket and showcase their power. Riddell tends to not get hit quite as much as Fiziev does, but Fiziev has a solid chin on him. It could come down to who makes the better adjustments during the fight, as they might be going combo-for-combo on each other. If it at any time turns into a grappling battle, I lean towards Riddell as he has the better pure takedown game. Fiziev has never been taken down during his UFC career. They’ll probably hurt each other with some hard punches, and probably wobble each other, but this should be fireworks while it lasts. It really will come down to who lands the crisper combinations.

What’s at stake: The winner could join a very crowded top ten of the lightweight rankings. It would also be the fifth straight win for the winner, something that is very tough to do at 155 lbs., and could potentially set them up for a possible main event slot against another top contender. The top ten of the lightweight division is a who’s-who list of names, and just getting in there gives you a chance at fighting for what might be the most prestigious title in UFC at the current moment. Riddell has been on quite a roll since his UFC signing, and Fiziev has been just as impressive since rebounding from a loss in his UFC debut. This is a big chance for both to break out and this could be a late contender in the Fight Of The Year race.

Pick: Riddell

Light Heavyweights: #13 Jimmy Crute vs. #14 Jamahal Hill

Overall Records: Crute 12-2, Hill 8-1 1 NC

UFC Records: Crute 4-2, Hill 2-1 1 NC

Last Fight: Smith def. Crute–R1 TKO–UFC 261 (4/24/21), Craig def. Hill–R1 SUB–UFC 263 (6/12/21)

Last Five Fights: Crute 3-2, Hill 3-1 1 NC

Betting Odds: Crute -200, Hill +160

Background: A light heavyweight bout between two young prospects who were rising up the rankings before recent setbacks takes place here. Crute and Hill both return to action after losses in their most recent bouts where both men suffered some form of limb suffering a bit of damage. Crute is coming off a loss to Anthony Smith at UFC 261 in April in a fight that he was winning early, but then he started suffering from foot drop syndrome, being barely able to stand at the end of the first and the fight being stopped. Hill found himself in a similar situation when he suffered a first-round submission loss to Paul Craig at UFC 263 in June. Craig locked in an armbar that ended up dislocating the elbow of Hill, and Hill’s arm was just dangling there as he didn’t tap and the fight was stopped. Both men are fully healthy after having this bout pushed back from October, and both are looking to start a new run towards the top ten of the light heavyweight division.

How they match up: This could be your classic grappler against striker battle, and both are offense-first fighters. Hill is going to have a five-inch reach advantage and has some power in his hands, and lands with high-volume. Crute is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and has a strong takedown game, which he uses to start hunting submissions as quickly as possible on the ground. Hill has been taken down multiple times in a fight before, and his submission defense still needs some work. Crute is a solid kickboxer and has some power in his hands, and Hill is going to need to use his range in this fight and keep Crute at a distance. A finish looks likely in this fight, and it could easily play out on the feet with no wrestling involved. Crute has more tools overall, and I give him the slight edge in this one.

What’s at stake: Both men are looking to make their way back towards the top ten of the division, and that run starts here. The division is going through a lot of shuffling near the top, with Glover Teixeira being the new top guy at 205 lbs., and both Crute and Hill are young enough that if they can rack up wins, they’ll be contenders in the years to come. Neither man wants to be on a two-fight losing skid, so this is an important bout for both men to get themselves back into the win column and back on track to contention.

Pick: Crute

Lightweights: Clay Guida vs. Leonardo Santos

Overall Records: Guida 36-21, Santos 18-4-1

UFC Records: Guida 16-15, Santos 7-1-1

Last Fight: Madsen def. Guida–SpDec–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21), Dawson def. Santos–R3 KO–UFC On ESPN 21 (3/20/21)

Last Five Fights: Guida 2-3, Santos 4-1

Betting Odds: Guida +160, Santos -200

Background: A long-time UFC veteran takes on a former TUF: Brazil winner as Guida enters the Octagon for the 32nd time to take on Santos, who enters the Octagon for the tenth time. Guida has officially passed the 15-year mark of being a UFC roster member, as he debuted way back in October 2006 with a win over Justin James. Guida’s UFC career has been tons of ups-and-downs, as he’s been close to fighting for UFC gold but never getting a title shot, but he’s also been one of the most popular fighters in the company, headlining several shows and having some amazing fights. Even though he’s never gotten a title shot, he’s fought five men who have been UFC champions, and six others that have gotten title shots. Even as he approaches his 40th birthday, he still wants to mix it up with the young guys in the division. Santos comes into this fight looking to get back into the win column after being finished with one second to go in his fight against Grant Dawson in March. That was his first loss since May 2009, ending a 13-fight unbeaten streak, and a six-fight win streak. Even though he doesn’t have the prolific UFC record or even career of Guida, Santos has actually been fighting professionally longer, as he debuted in June 2002, while Guida debuted in July 2003.

How they match up: He may have lost a step a little bit, but Guida is still an action fighter who comes forward and uses a lot of movement. As he’s gotten older, he’s learned more to sit down on his punches, which has shown off a power game that hadn’t been there in earlier times. He still likes to use his wrestling as a strong suit, utilizing the calf kick to set it up. Santos has seemed to age rather quickly, likely due to lots of inactivity. He hasn’t looked his best in a while, but he still has some underrated power and will have a five-inch reach advantage. Guida’s chin isn’t as strong as it used to be, so he’ll need to use his quick pace to avoid being hit and tire Santos out quickly. Lucky for him, Santos doesn’t have the gas tank that Guida still has. Santos is tough to take down, but this should be Guida at his wrestling best, using the takedowns to bring a grind to this one.

What’s at stake: These two have both seen better days and it’s highly unlikely either will ever challenge for the UFC Lightweight Championship, especially given the depth of the division. However, both have a spot they can fill on the roster, especially Guida given his popularity still being at a high level. This is a kind of fight that feels right for both men, a battle of aging veterans who still have the desire to compete and win. It’s not an important fight in terms of the lightweight division, but should be a fun fight between two men who just want to keep on going.

Pick: Guida

Middleweights: Brendan Allen vs. Chris Curtis

Overall Records: Allen 17-4, Curtis 27-8

UFC Records: Allen 5-1, Curtis 1-0

Last Fight: Allen def. Soriano–UDec–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21), Curtis def. Hawes–R1 KO–UFC 268 (11/6/21)

Last Five Fights: Allen 4-1, Curtis 5-0

Betting Odds: Allen -375, Curtis +280

Background: A middleweight bout that has seen several changes takes place here as rising contender Allen looks to avoid the upset when he takes on short-notice replacement Curtis. Allen was originally scheduled to fight Brad Tavares, who pulled out due to injury. He was then slated to fight Roman Dolidze, who also pulled out due to health reasons. In steps Curtis, taking the fight on just over a week’s notice and less than a month after his most recent fight. Allen comes into this bout riding a two-fight win streak after scoring a decision over Punahele Soriano in July. He’s gone 5–1 since being signed off of Dana White’s Contender Series, with the lone loss coming to Sean Strickland. Allen has scored 14 of his 17 wins by stoppage. Curtis made his UFC debut last month at Madison Square Garden as he scored an upset win over Phil Hawes. Hawes had him hurt early, but Curtis landed a left hand that knocked Hawes out near the end of the first, which marked his sixth straight win, and his 13th career win by knockout.

How they match up: Allen came into the promotion as primarily a strong wrestler, but his striking has shown lots of improvement in recent bouts. He has some good power and mixes his kicks in well. Curtis has shown he has some pop at 185 lbs., even though he’s been mainly a career welterweight and is better suited there. Allen is a huge middleweight, but Curtis overcame the size edge when he beat Hawes last month. Allen is much more durable than Hawes is, so Curtis is going to need to land the perfect combination to get Allen in trouble. Curtis is really in a no-lose situation, but everything about this match-up screams a potentially tough night for Curtis inside the Octagon. I see Allen not wanting to play too much on the feet, and just taking it down and working for the submission and trying to make this a quick night.

What’s at stake: Allen is on the cusp of breaking into the middleweight rankings, and while a win here might not get him there, it would move him closer. He was scheduled to fight a ranked opponent before all of the changes, and a win would likely see him fight ranked opposition in his next fight. Curtis almost seems to be on a freeroll, at least right now. He is someone who had retired a couple of times in the past, feeling that UFC call would never come. It came for a short-notice opportunity, and he made the most of it, and he’s looking to make the most of it in another short-notice opportunity. A loss here won’t hurt him, but a win would show that he probably should’ve been with the promotion sooner.

Pick: Allen

Welterweights: Alex Morono vs. Mickey Gall

Overall Records: Morono 20-7 1 NC, Gall 7-3

UFC Records: Morono 9-4 1 NC, Gall 6-3

Last Fight: Morono def. Zawada–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 49 (9/4/21), Gall def. Williams–R1 SUB–UFC On ESPN 27 (7/24/21)

Last Five Fights: Morono 3-2, Gall 3-2

Betting Odds: Morono -250, Gall +200

Background: A late move to the main card sees a very interesting bout here as Morono and Gall battle in a welterweight fight. This fight was only announced just a couple of weeks ago, so who knows if it was a short-notice booking or they were already scheduled, but it’s a big fight for both. Morono comes in on a two-fight win streak, and is 5–2 over his last seven, and has been featured highly on main cards lately, which makes this fight placement weird. Gall is someone who we’ve seen almost his whole career before our eyes, as nine of his ten fights have come under UFC’s banner. He’s coming off arguably the best performance of his career, a first-round submission win over Jordan Williams in July.

How they match up: Morono doesn’t look like a guy who would physically intimidate anyone, but he’s proven to be a pretty aggressive fighter who mixes everything well on the feet. He also has smart game plans, often helped by his foray into coaching. Gall has shown deficiency on the feet, preferring to grapple, take down opponents and submit them. After all, Gall does have six submission wins in his seven career wins. Morono has never been submitted in his career, but he can be taken down with relative ease at times. His striking looked better in his last fight, which was his first since moving to Matt Brown’s camp. Morono does have the better gas tank of the two, and he knows how to push the pace on the feet with his aggression. If Gall has improved even more on the feet, he can keep it interesting. The styles seem to favor Morono, but it’s a pretty close fight.

What’s at stake: This is a pretty big fight for both men. Morono is closer to the rankings than Gall is, but Gall would easily leapfrog him with a win. Morono seems to be an underrated threat at 170 lbs., and his improvement shows he’s someone people should be looking out for. Gall has always been someone we’ve been waiting on to break out, and now seems to be the start of that potential coming to fruition. A win here over a solid opponent would lead to bigger things for Gall, and perhaps those high-profile fights we were expecting would begin to take place.

Pick: Morono

Preliminary Card

Start Time: 6:30 p.m. ET, 3:30 p.m. PT

Where to watch: ESPN & ESPN+

Middleweights: Maki Pitolo vs. Dusko Todorovic

Overall Records: Pitolo 13-8, Todorovic 10-2

UFC Records: Pitolo 1-4, Todorovic 1-2

Last Fight: Marquez def. Pitolo–R3 SUB–UFC 258 (2/13/21), Rodrigues def. Todorovic–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21)

Last Five Fights: Pitolo 1-4, Todorovic 3-2

Betting Odds: Pitolo +135, Todorovic -165

Background: A pair of middleweights looking to get back into the win column battle here as Pitolo and Todorovic try to end losing skids. Pitolo comes into this fight trying to close 2021 out on a positive note and end a three-fight losing skid. He hasn’t fought since February, when he was submitted by Julian Marquez in the third round. He’s just 1–4 since signing his UFC contract, which would see most fighters being cut, but he’s someone who constantly wants to fight, which they like, but he needs a win here. Todorovic is attempting to end a two-fight losing skid. He started his career 10–0, which included a win over Michel Pereira on the regional scene, and a bonus-winning finish of Dequan Townsend in his UFC debut. However, losses to Punahele Soriano and Gregory Rodrigues has him likely fighting for his UFC future.

How they match up: When Pitolo was at his best and coming into his UFC deal, he was seen as a powerful boxer with all of the tools that should provide success inside the Octagon. He can be explosive, land with high volume, display good striking defense, and have a solid wrestling game. It just hasn’t come all together as evidenced by his 1-4 UFC record, and he could’ve been 0–5 but Charles Byrd faded badly in the second round after a dominant first. With Todorovic, he’s more of a grinder, but he can strike decently at a high volume, though he leaves himself open to getting hit right back quite often. He goes for a lot of takedowns, but, if you include his Contender Series fight, he’s only 1-for-20 in actually scoring takedowns. Pitolo would be best served keeping this fight standing and landing explosive punches, but he also tends to not perform the best and fall into opponents’ traps, and he can be handled against the fence in a grind. I’m not really expecting a whole lot in this one.

What’s at stake: Both men’s UFC future could be riding on the line in this one. A loss for Pitolo would be four straight losses, while a loss for Todorovic would be three straight losses. This is a critical bout for both, and they should fight like it, as there’s always the chance the loser could stick around if they lose an exciting bout. However, in a time where trimming the roster is happening, neither man can afford a loss, so the stakes are high in this one.

Pick: Todorovic

Flyweights: Manel Kape vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov

Overall Records: Kape 16-6, Zhumagulov 14-5

UFC Records: Kape 1-2, Zhumagulov 1-2

Last Fight: Kape def. Osbourne–R1 KO–UFC 265 (8/7/21), Zhumagulov def. Rivera–R1 SUB–UFC 264 (7/10/21)

Last Five Fights: Kape 3-2, Zhumagulov 3-2

Betting Odds: Kape -275, Zhumagulov +220

Background: A pair of flyweights looking for their second straight win inside the Octagon square off here. Kape got back into the win column in August when he scored a first-round knockout of Ode Osbourne at UFC 265. It ended a two-fight losing skid he was on to start his UFC career, though many thought he beat Matheus Nicolau in March. It’ll be Kape’s fourth fight in 2021, but his weight will be something to monitor, as he missed weight for his last fight. Like Kape, Zhumagulov is coming off his first UFC win after dropping his first two fights with the promotion. He scored a first-round submission win over Jerome Rivera at UFC 264, which was the first submission win of his career. It was also just the second time in his last 12 fights that he didn’t go the distance. It was also Zhumagulov’s first fight in the United States. He returns to Las Vegas looking for his second UFC triumph.

How they match up: Kape is an explosive striker who really showed it off in his win over Osbourne, and that was the kind of win that is a confidence booster after two disappointing losses. Zhumagulov should be prepared to get into a battle on the feet, and he’s plenty capable of handling it. While he doesn’t have the power or speed of Kape, Zhumagulov is good at putting together flurries that sway the mind of the judges. Kape needs to have some good counters and keep the pressure going if he wants to avoid another close fight. Zhumagulov likes to grind as well and is a good submission fighter, but he’s more of a guy that is going to drag a fight into the deep waters of the very end. Kape’s explosiveness and diversity on the feet, where he mixes hard punches with heavy kicks with beautiful flying attacks, is going to be the difference in this one.

What’s at stake: A chance to break into the top 15 of the flyweight rankings could be on the line here. Kape’s UFC run has to look disappointing on paper thus far, but he really should be at least 2–1 with the promotion, if not 3–0. He’s definitely been better than his record shows, and if he can get the win here, it would likely set him up with a top ten opponent next. Zhumagulov hasn’t been overly impressive, as his lone UFC win came against an opponent who went 0–4 with the promotion. He did score some solid pre-UFC wins, but a loss here could send him back to the overseas regional scene. There seems to be more at stake for Zhumagulov in this one.

Pick: Kape

Welterweights: Bryan Barberena vs. Darian Weeks

Overall Records: Barberena 15-8, Weeks 5-0

UFC Records: Barberena 6-6, Weeks 0-0

Last Fight: Witt def. Barberena–MajDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21), Weeks def. Fairley–R2 TKO–LFA 99 (2/12/21)

Last Five Fights: Barberena 2-3, Weeks 5-0

Betting Odds: Barberena -125, Weeks +100

Background: A fight that came together just a couple of days ago sees UFC veteran Barberena take on newcomer Weeks, taking the fight on short notice. Weeks signed his UFC deal on Tuesday as he replaces Matt Brown in this fight, who had to pull out after testing positive and suffering from COVID-19. Barberena has been in numerous entertaining fights over the years, but he comes into this bout trying to get back into the win column after dropping a decision to Jason Witt in July, which was the Fight of the Night on that card. He’s just 3–5 over his last eight, but some of those losses have come to the likes of Colby Covington, Leon Edwards and Vicente Luque, which shows how tough of a UFC schedule he’s had. Weeks comes into his debut undefeated in his career, with wins in his first five fights. He’s won all five by finish, and also had an extensive amateur career, going 15–3.

How they match up: Barberena is one of the more battle-tested veterans in the welterweight division and will have a massive experience advantage over the prospect in Weeks. Barberena mixes his striking well and has some good power, and is always up for a battle inside the pocket. Weeks is still developing as a fighter, but he has some really solid power in his hands and could put anyone’s lights out. Barberena is very accurate with his attacks, and he should have plenty of motivation coming into this one. You can’t fault Weeks for taking the opportunity, but he’s far from being even close to a finished product, and this is definitely a rough fight for him to take for his debut, even if he had a long camp to get ready. It would be a huge upset for Weeks to get the win.

What’s at stake: Weeks has nothing to lose in this fight, as he’s had just a couple of days to prepare, most of which is spent trying to get the weight down. It’s a fight that gets him into UFC, well before he’s ready, but he’ll be looking to capitalize and score a major upset against a veteran. It’s a fight Barberena should win, but he can’t take Weeks lightly. Barberena said he was going to show up in Las Vegas regardless of whether he had an opponent or not, with that being a sign of being focused to fight no matter who it came against. He really has nothing to lose either, but he does want to avoid dropping his second straight fight.

Pick: Barberena

Welterweights: Jake Matthews vs. Jeremiah Wells

Overall Records: Matthews 16-5, Wells 9-2-1

UFC Records: Matthews 10-5, Wells 1-0

Last Fight: Brady def. Matthews–R3 SUB–UFC 259 (3/6/21), Wells def. Alves–R2 KO–UFC On ESPN+ 48 (6/26/21)

Last Five Fights: Matthews 3-2, Wells 4-1

Betting Odds: Matthews -185, Wells +150

Background: A welterweight bout between a 27-year-old who already has 15 UFC bouts on his record and a 35-year-old in only his second UFC bout takes place here as Matthews battles Wells in an intriguing match-up. Matthews, who was on The Ultimate Fighter and signed his UFC deal when he was only 19-years-old, looks to rebound from a tough loss in his last fight, when he was submitted by Sean Brady. Prior to that loss, he had won three straight and six of his last seven, and he looks to get back into the win column against one of Brady’s teammates in Wells. After nearly a year of waiting, Wells made his UFC debut in June on less than a week’s notice, scoring an upset over Warlley Alves, finishing him in the second round. It was Wells’ third straight win, and he’s 6–1 over his last seven fights, and seven of his nine wins have come by stoppage.

How they match up: Perhaps because he’s still so young and so raw, Matthews, at times, comes off as someone who doesn’t necessarily get the credit for being as good as he is. That might be because he’s never fought an opponent who was ranked at the time, but a win here could change that as he’s a level above Wells. Wells has some explosive power, but he’s not as technical as Matthews on the feet, and he won’t be able to match the wrestling of Matthews. Even being eight years older, Wells is giving up lots of fight experience to Matthews. Matthews knows how to avoid getting hit on the feet, and we’ve never seen him really hurt on the feet inside the Octagon. Since Wells won’t be able to pressure much with takedowns, where Matthews has the most trouble, this should be Matthews working technically on the feet and mixing in some wrestling of his own on his way to an impressive outing.

What’s at stake: It’s a fight between two men in the middle of the pack at 170 lbs., but looking to work their way up. Matthews would’ve been really close to being ranked had he beaten Brady, and a win here could set him up for a fight against someone right outside of the top 15 next. This will be a full camp for Wells and he’s eager to show that he has some skills to compete with the best of the division despite coming into UFC late in his career. This has the makings to be a fun fight.

Pick: Matthews

Women’s Strawweights: Cheyanne Vlismas vs. Mallory Martin

Overall Records: Vlismas 6-2, Martin 7-4

UFC Records: Vlismas 1-1, Martin 1-2

Last Fight: Vlismas def. de Paula–R1 TKO–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21), Viana def. Martin–R1 SUB–UFC 258 (2/13/21)

Last Five Fights: Vlismas 4-1, Martin 3-2

Betting Odds: Vlismas -175, Martin +145

Background: A pair of strawweight prospects looking for their second win inside the Octagon square off in this bout in a late change. Martin was originally scheduled to fight Montserrat Conejo in this bout, but Conejo pulled out due to undisclosed reasons. Vlismas, who was recovering from a bout with COVID-19, took the fight on just over two weeks’ notice. Vlismas, who is the former Cheyanne Buys, is gunning for her second straight win after scoring a 60-second finish of Gloria de Paula in a co-main event slot in July, picking up her first post-fight bonus in the process. Still young in her career with just eight career fights, Vlismas has won five of her last six. Martin is looking to get back into the win column in this fight. She signed her UFC contract on the heels of five straight wins, but has gone just 1-2 in her first three UFC bouts. She suffered a first-round submission loss to Polyana Viana in her last fight in February.

How they match up: It will be interesting to see if outside of the Octagon issues play into Vlismas’ mind, and if she has battled back from COVID-19, which she just got over and she may not be at full strength. This is definitely a match-up that Martin can exploit, especially given her ample time to prepare and coming in healthy. Martin has struggled with wrestlers, being submitted in her two losses, but Vlismas is more likely to engage on the feet. Martin does have defensive issues on the feet, and Vlismas is technical with her striking and knows how to avoid being hit. At her peak, Vlismas should be able to handle Martin on the feet, but, again, the quick bounce back from the illness leaves some questions. Vlismas has some good grappling, but Martin is more of a takedown artist, though she gets herself in trouble on the mat having to defend submissions. This is a real interesting fight given the circumstances coming in.

What’s at stake: This is a much more pivotal bout for Martin than it is Vlismas. Martin needs a win to avoid going 1-3 as a UFC roster member, which could potentially lead to a release from the promotion. The company seems to like Vlismas, as she’s been featured highly on cards, is willing to fight on short notice, and has shown some personality and a little bit of marketability to her. She’ll get more leeway than most, though she definitely doesn’t want to fall to 1-2 on her UFC record. The winner will also be moving closer to the strawweight rankings.

Pick: Vlismas

Light Heavyweights: Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight

Overall Records: Menifield 11-2, Knight 10-2

UFC Records: Menifield 4-2, Knight 2-1

Last Fight: Menifield def. Herman–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21), Knight def. Cherant–R1 KO–UFC On ESPN 29 (8/21/21)

Last Five Fights: Menifield 3-2, Knight 4-1

Betting Odds: Menifield -155, Knight +125

Background: Two physically imposing light heavyweights battle here in a fight that is really main card worthy as Menifield and Knight both look to add wins to their record. These two were originally scheduled to fight at two different points early in 2021, but both suffered from COVID-19, forcing the cancellations of both bookings. Both men have fought since then, with Menifield scoring two wins over Fabio Cherant and Ed Herman, while Knight went 1-1, but is coming off a win over Cherant. Both are exciting prospects at 205 lbs., and are proven finishers, as Menifield has won ten of his eleven fights via a finish, while Knight has scored nine of his ten wins by knockout.

How they match up: These are both power houses at light heavyweight, and, looking at them on the surface, you kind of expect some crazy finish. That might not happen, though, but it very easily could. Menifield’s gameplan should involve fighting on the outside and really utilizing the lead calf kick. Knight isn’t much of a boxer and has trouble fighting at range, but he can do tons of damage inside the clinch. That is an area that Menifield has struggled most in, especially if put against the fence. It’s where Herman was able to actually inflict damage onto Menifield in his last fight, and Knight’s finish of Cherant came when they were inside that range. Knight is accurate on his feet, but has defensive flaws. Knight could decide to wrestle, where he’ll have the edge even though Menifield has an 85% takedown defense rate. Whatever happens, this should be one of those fights where you don’t want to walk away from.

What’s at stake: The winner of this fight should fight a ranked opponent in their next fight, and could possibly slide into the 15 spot at 205 lbs. depending on some outcomes on this card. Both men are strong prospects, but they are both in their mid-30’s, so winning now is important if either man wants to make a run at contending for the light heavyweight title. This is a big fight for both, and each could say that a win is the biggest win thus far in their respective careers.

Pick: Menifield

Lightweights: Claudio Puelles vs. Chris Gruetzemacher

Overall Records: Puelles 10-2, Gruetzemacher 15-4

UFC Records: Puelles 3-1, Gruetzemacher 3-3

Last Fight: Puelles def. Leavitt–UDec–UFC On ESPN+ 47 (6/5/21), Gruetzemacher def. Garcia–UDec–UFC On ESPN 28 (7/31/21)

Last Five Fights: Puelles 4-1, Gruetzemacher 2-3

Betting Odds: Puelles -110, Gruetzemacher -110

Background: A pair of lightweights with three UFC wins each will face one another in this one as Puelles and Gruetzemacher look to put on an early contender for Fight Of The Night. Puelles is looking to notch his fourth straight win in this one. He returned from a lengthy layoff in June to score a decision win over Jordan Leavitt, which was the tenth win of his career. He’s scored seven wins via a finish. Gruetzemacher will be going for his second straight win after scoring a decision win over Rafa Garcia in an exciting fight in July. It’s been up-and-down for Gruetzemacher during his UFC run, as he’s just 3-3, but he’s won two of his last three, and this will be only the second time since 2012 that he’s fought multiple times in a single calendar year.

How they match up: While Puelles has the win streak going, his strength of schedule leaves a lot to be desired. Gruetzemacher has fought the tougher competition and it’s going to show in this fight. Gruetzemacher is well-rounded and aggressive on his feet, something that Puelles is going to have trouble against. Puelles wants to get this to the mat, as he lands less than two significant strikes per minute, while Gruetzemacher lands nearly seven significant strikes per minute. Puelles has scored eleven takedowns in his four UFC fights, but he’s also been knocked down twice on the feet. Gruetzemacher has solid takedown defense. If it stays on the feet for a prolonged amount of time, this will be all Gruetzemacher. If it goes to the mat, Puelles will likely come out ahead.

What’s at stake: A win by Puelles would be his fourth straight and could set him up with a solid opponent next time out on a similar win streak. That’s not to say that Gruetzemacher isn’t a solid opponent, but a loss for Gruetzemacher would put him 3–4 for his UFC career, and that would be a spot where having him remain in the promotion would be a question (though I think they’d keep him with a loss). A win is more vital for Gruetzemacher when it comes to the future, especially given he’s in his mid-30’s while Puelles is still young at 25. This should be a sneaky good fight.

Pick: Gruetzemacher

Heavyweights: Jared Vanderaa vs. Azamat Murzakanov

Overall Records: Vanderaa 12-6, Murzakanov 10-0

UFC Records: Vanderaa 1-2, Murzakanov 0-0

Last Fight: Romanov def. Vanderaa–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN+ 52 (10/9/21), Murzakanov def. Scheffel–R1 TKO–Dana White’s Contender Series 37 (8/31/21)

Last Five Fights: Vanderaa 3-2, Murzakanov 5-0

Betting Odds: Vanderaa +185, Murzakanov -225

Background: A fight that wasn’t on the card until just a few days ago takes place here as Murzakanov makes his UFC debut against Vanderaa. Murzakanov was originally slated to fight Philipe Lins in a light heavyweight bout, but Lins pulled out, and Vanderaa steps in on just a few days’ notice. The fight will now be at heavyweight, meaning Murzakanov won’t have to cut weight. Vanderaa will be fighting for the fourth time in 2021 and is looking to rebound from a second-round TKO loss to Alexandr Romanov in October. He’s gone just 1-2 since signing his UFC deal off of Dana White’s Contender Series, but he does have an 83% finish rate. Murzakanov has done nothing but win during his professional career, as he comes in with a perfect 10-0 record. Eight of those ten wins have come by knockout, all in the first round, and four inside the first minute. He was signed to UFC once before, but his contract was rescinded after a failed USADA test got him a two-year sanction, but he re-earned that contract after a first-round win on Dana White’s Contender Series in August.

How they match up: There will be a distinct size advantage inside the Octagon for Vanderaa. He’ll have five inches in height and nine inches in reach over Murzakanov, and he also has to cut weight to make the heavyweight limit. After that, all of the other advantages in this fight lean towards Murzakanov. Murzakanov is a powerhouse with his striking, but it remains to be seen if that will translate at heavyweight. He’s going to have a big speed advantage and will be looking to blitz Vanderaa early-and-often on the feet. Vanderaa gets hit more than he lands and his striking defense is pretty poor. If Murzakanov has some trouble with the size of Vanderaa, he could look to take it down, and Vanderaa’s takedown defense is also pretty poor. This should be a decisive win for Murzakanov, who has lots of potential.

What’s at stake: Had this been under normal circumstances, Vanderaa would likely be fighting for his UFC roster spot. With him taking this fight on a week’s notice, he’ll get another fight win-or-lose, but a win would be impressive and would also be the first loss in Murzakanov’s career. Murzakanov wants to keep that record perfect and show why he was one of the most interesting fighters from this Contender Series season. He’s also 35, so if he wants to fight for UFC gold, he has to start his run immediately. It might be a weight class above what his normal division will be, but it’s still a fight that Murzakanov wants to win impressively in.

Pick: Murzakanov

Bantamweights: Louis Smolka vs. Vince Morales

Overall Records: Smolka 17-7, Morales 10-5

UFC Records: Smolka 8-7, Morales 2-3

Last Fight: Smolka def. Quinonez–R2 TKO–UFC On ESPN 19 (12/5/20), Morales def. Rodriguez–UDec–UFC 265 (8/7/21)

Last Five Fights: Smolka 3-2, Morales 2-3

Betting Odds: Smolka -150, Morales +125

Background: Bantamweight action kicks off the card as long-time UFC veteran Smolka opens the show against prospect Morales. It’s weird positioning for Smolka, who has been in a UFC main event (though in a late notice situation), and he was supposed to fight Sean O’Malley on the main card of the biggest show of the year in July, but he’s just as fine opening the show as he looks to score his second straight win. Smolka hasn’t fought in a year as he’s coming off a second-round TKO win over Jose Quinonez last December. Morales got back into the win column in August, scoring a decision win over Drako Rodriguez at UFC 265 in Houston. It ended a two-fight losing skid that Morales was on, and he’s looking for his first win streak in over three years. He started his career 7–1, but has gone just 3–4 over his last seven.

How they match up: Both land a decent amount on the feet, with both averaging nearly five significant strikes landed per minute. Smolka is the more accurate of the two, and is the more aggressive fighter of the two. Morales has more of the one-punch finishing power, but he can’t quite string combinations together with the fluidity that Smolka can, as he’s more of a counter-striker. Smolka is very durable and has yet to be knocked out in his career. Smolka has the better takedowns and ground game of the two, and he’s very active hunting for submissions if fights go to the ground. Smolka’s aggression and willingness to get hit on the feet should open up the takedown game, and I see Smolka submitting Morales in an action-packed battle.

What’s at stake: This feels like a bigger fight for Smolka than it is for Morales. Smolka went from being in a high-profile fight that he had to pull out of to the opener of a Fight Night card, and he wants back in those high-profile fights, so he needs a win to get that. Morales is looking to avoid a loss, which would make his UFC record 2–4 and put him in danger of losing his spot on the roster. It’s a bigger fight in that sense for Morales, though neither wants to open this card on the losing end.

Pick: Smolka

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