Preview: UFC on ESPN 31 ‘Font vs. Aldo’

Font vs. Aldo

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship after a rare week off returns for a stronger-than-usual card at the UFC Apex on Saturday in Las Vegas. UFC on ESPN 31’s main event is excellent, as former featherweight champion Jose Aldo looks to continue a surprisingly strong late-career run at 135 pounds against Rob Font, a man once again in search of his most significant win to date. Beyond that sits an excellent co-feature between lightweight violence artists Brad Riddell and Rafael Fiziev, while a surprisingly interesting light heavyweight affair between prospects Jimmy Crute and Jamahal Hill provides further depth. Add in some reliably exciting veterans like Clay Guida, and this has the makings of a solid six-fight main draw.

Now to the UFC on ESPN 31 ‘Font vs. Aldo’ preview:


#4 BW | Rob Font (19-4, 9-3 UFC) vs. #5 BW | Jose Aldo (30-7, 12-6 UFC)

ODDS: Font (-140), Aldo (+120)

Aldo continues to break the aging curve. After back-to-back losses to Max Holloway took Aldo out of the title picture for the first time in his UFC career, it was nice to see the Brazilian legend recapture some of his younger form in three-round fights. Knockout victories over Jeremy Stephens and Renato Carneiro were Aldo’s first finishes in nearly five years. However, a 2019 loss to Alexander Volkanovski fully shut down Aldo’s path back to featherweight glory, and so it was not a surprise when he announced he would be changing weight classes. Instead, the shock came from the fact that Aldo was not pursuing his long-assumed move up to lightweight that seemed to best fit his patient style; instead, he was cutting down to bantamweight. Aldo was immediately thrown into the fire against Marlon Moraes for his 135-pound debut, and the fight was a mixed bag. While Aldo looked terrible aesthetically, he put in a strong performance that surprisingly saw him play the role of bully as he attempted to march down Moraes. It wound up as a close fight that saw Moraes get the decision win, but the latter point seemed to get completely ignored. Then-champion Henry Cejudo and the UFC, needing to sell tickets for a card in Brazil, agreed that Aldo would be the next title challenger despite the loss. The coronavirus pandemic intervened and Cejudo subsequently retired after a title defense against Dominick Cruz, but Aldo was still grandfathered into a fight for the vacant championship against Petr Yan. Once again, Aldo put in a game effort despite a loss, surviving some moments of trouble but holding his own against Yan until the Russian took over and finished the fight in the championship rounds. In the year-plus since, Aldo has seemingly only gotten sharper. He broke out his wrestling to clinch his first bantamweight win against Marlon Vera and somehow kept pace with Pedro Munhoz to score a dominant victory as the much more diverse and effective striker. Aldo is still only 35 years old, so while he is not quite at Old War Horse status, it is still stunning to see him continue to evolve and defy conventional wisdom by getting more aggressive and effective as he ages, particularly at a lower weight class. With another win, Aldo could suddenly find himself right back in title contention, though he will have to prove himself as a five-round bantamweight against Font.

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It has been nice to see Font finally turn a corner into a true contender after a few years of false starts. The Massachusetts native announced himself as a prospect to watch in his UFC debut—a 2014 knockout win over George Roop—but then quickly became a forgotten man as injuries prevented him from capitalizing on that momentum. Once Font was back healthy and able to fight a more regular schedule, he proved himself to be a sharp finisher up to a certain level of competition but struggled greatly in his biggest opportunities. Against established fighters like Munhoz and John Lineker who were willing to bring the pressure, Font was the one who backed off, sapping his game of the aggression that made it work in his best performances. After an inconsistent few years, a December 2019 win against Ricky Simon seemed to suggest that Font had worked out his issues. He met Simon’s pressure head-on and managed to answer with enough offense to earn a one-sided decision. With that win under his belt, Font has been in position to cash in on major opportunities against Moraes and Cody Garbrandt to establish himself at a main event level, and he gets a chance at his biggest win of all here.

This would be a much better fight for Aldo at only three rounds, but there is still a chance that the former champion can find his way to victory; it is foolish to doubt Aldo at this point in his career. This run at bantamweight, counting both his successes and his losses, has confirmed him as one of the most adaptable all-terrain fighters in the history of the sport. However, the wrestling that he showed against Vera—which would have been a lost cause against Yan and too risky against Munhoz—could serve Aldo well as a way to conserve energy, given that opponents have generally been successful at getting Font to the mat, albeit unable to keep him there. Otherwise, this should be a relatively even bout. Aldo is the faster and more diverse striker, but Font has developed an increasingly measured game built around maximizing his length and effectively using his jab. Aldo has more to work with in terms of skill and would likely be the pick if this were a three-round fight, but this essentially has to come down to the fact that, between needing to balance pace and cardio, the Brazilian will either not pour on enough offense he needs to win rounds or will wind up exhausting himself by the championship frames, thus allowing Font to take over. The pick is Font via decision.

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