The Ultimate Fighting Championship on Saturday makes its way back to the UFC Apex with UFC Fight Night 188—a fun card with some surprising relevance. The main event between surging contender Rob Font and former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt will take center stage in what figures to be a guaranteed banger, while the co-headliner between Xiaonan Yan and Carla Esparza could determine the next challenger for women’s strawweight titleholder Rose Namajunas. Beyond that, a scrapped UFC 262 pairing between Jack Hermansson and Edmen Shahbazyan—worthy of being on a UFC Fight Night marquee on its own—opens the main draw, former title challenger Felicia Spencer returns to action and David Dvorak faces Raulian Paiva in an excellent flyweight affair.
Now to the preview for the UFC Fight Night “Font vs. Garbrandt” main card:
Bantamweights#3 BW | Rob Font (18-4, 8-3 UFC) vs. #4 BW | Cody Garbrandt (12-3, 7-3 UFC)
ODDS: Font (-110), Garbrandt (-110)
It has been an unpredictable UFC career for Garbrandt, but for the first time in a good while, the former bantamweight champion is at least coming off of a win. Garbrandt’s physical gifts made him a promising prospect through his first two UFC bouts, but there was no indication that a breakout to the level of his 2016 campaign was coming. Garbrandt rode a wave of explosive first-round knockouts—including a main event victory over the more heralded Thomas Almeida—that made him Dominick Cruz’s top contender heading into the last card of the year. That bout figured to be where Garbrandt’s undefeated run came to an end, as his rather rudimentary approach appeared to be no match for the varied and off-kilter stylings that Cruz brings to every fight. Instead, Garbrandt’s hand speed essentially tore open Cruz’s game. No matter what Cruz tried, Garbrandt managed to make him pay in return before he could safely get out of range. It led to a shockingly one-sided win that suddenly set up Garbrandt to be a future star and a promotional favorite as champion. However, despite the high-water-mark nature of the victory, things went sour in a massively damaging fashion over the next few years. A blood feud with former teammate T.J. Dillashaw ended clearly in the latter’s favor. Over the course of two title fights, Dillashaw was eventually able to read Garbrandt’s reactions and lure “No Love” into wild misses that left him open to eat knockouts in return. A subsequent bout against Pedro Munhoz seemingly established Garbrandt as a fighter unable to learn from his mistakes. Garbrandt once again tried to spark a brawl at the first sign of trouble, leading him to the losing end of an exchange and another quick knockout. Faced with a much more cautious opponent in Raphael Assuncao in June, Garbrandt did show some more patience to his game that paid off nicely, as he obliterated the Brazilian with a beautiful counter just as the second round ended. Still, Garbrandt has not been able to build on that momentum in the year since. The UFC tabbed him to move down to flyweight to challenge Deiveson Figueiredo for that title, but a case of COVID-19 took Garbrandt out of that fight and has left him with some lingering issues. For now, that flyweight future appears to be scrapped, as Garbrandt returns at bantamweight for what should be a war against Font.
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This main event is a nice reward for Boston’s Font, who has put in some good work over his seven-year UFC career but struggled to build momentum. Part of that has been injuries. Font missed all of 2015 after a crackling debut win over George Roop, and his last two bouts have each come after year-long layoffs. However, when Font has been given a showcase opportunity, he has made the most of it. Against overmatched opponents, he has shown a knack for constant pressure and finishing ability in both the striking and grappling phases. For a while, the worry was that Font was unable to get over the hump, even if part of that was the UFC’s matchmaking. Font’s steps up in competition typically came in clear intended action fighters, as his most prominent bouts were against John Lineker and Pedro Munhoz. Against those opponents, Font was clearly the one willing to cede pressure and suffered for it, getting taken out of the best parts of his game and not getting much done on his way to a loss. If his last two bouts are any indication, Font appears to have gotten over that hurdle. He stayed active and effective in turning back Ricky Simon’s constant pressure in 2019, then quickly knocked out a surprisingly wrestling-focused Marlon Moraes in December. There is no shortage of potential title contenders at 135 pounds, and a win here puts Font near the front of that line.
Garbrandt looked improved against Assuncao, but this should be a much tougher test of his more patient approach. Font figures to bring a level of danger to Garbrandt that Assuncao simply could not, and that seems true no matter which approach the former champion takes. If Garbrandt decides to hang back and avoid a war, Font figures to pressure and bring the war to him; and if Garbrandt goes back to his more aggressive ways, then things obviously figure to descend into a brawl sooner rather than later. Either way, Font’s combination of length and knockout power figure to make “No Love” uncomfortable at some point, and when that happens, it is hard not to see Garbrandt reacting by trying to knock his counterpart’s head off. That could still work. While Font has never been knocked out, he has not quite yet proven to be able to take inhuman amounts of damage in the same way that the aforementioned Munhoz previously has done. However, once things start to get wild, it is hard not to predict that Garbrandt is going to be the one to go careening off the rails to get finished once again. This should end in some fun violence, but the pick is Font via first-round knockout.
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