The bantamweight division was a revelation for the UFC in 2021, and the promotion ends the year with another scorching 135-pound fight.
Rob Font will meet former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at the UFC Fight Night main event on Saturday in Las Vegas. The winner could put himself in a position to challenge the bantamweight title next year. ESPN ranked Font # 5 and Aldo # 6 at 135 pounds.
Aldo (30-7), an electric forward, has won back-to-back wins since falling to interim champion Petr Yan in a vacant UFC 251 title fight in July 2020. The Brazilian is one of the most great champions in the history of MMA, holder of the UFC / WEC featherweight title for six years, from 2009 to 2014. Today, Aldo, 35, is trying to make one last race to the top.
In his own way is Font (19-4), a fighter who takes his ease at 34 years old. The Massachusetts native has won four in a row and is putting on impressive performances against former champion Cody Garbrandt and Marlon Moraes.
Will the crafty veteran of the flawless stand-up Aldo overcome the hump and try another chance at the belt at the end of his career? Or can Font establish himself more as the sleeper of this stacked division? ESPN asked several of MMA’s top coaches for their analysis and predictions.
Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Eddie Cha, Fight Ready Strike Coach
How Font wins: It must start a little faster than usual. This first round against Cody Garbrandt, it started very slowly. If he starts like that against Aldo, it could be a problem. Everyone knows that Aldo’s biggest kryptonite fights for five rounds. He is pacing up and down and he could take a walk. Font must take advantage and pay it like Yan did to Aldo. Increase the pace of the fight, whether it’s the number of hits or even the pressure. Make Aldo react to the feints and support him. Maybe put it on the cage. Font’s jab is awesome, and he has power in that right hand.
How Aldo wins: It’s a great game for him. Aldo is the best boxer and the best kickboxer. I don’t think Font can take him down. Few guys can. When you talk about Font’s strengths, those are also Aldo’s strengths, and he’s better at it than Font. If you let Aldo dictate the pace, he’s not going to gas. Aldo is a great boxer, but he stepped away from his kicks. I do not know why. Rob is sensitive to those kicks, as you saw in Cody’s fight. I would love to see Aldo mix that up with kickboxing.
X factor: The power of Rob Font. Anyone with that kind of power is definitely a game changer. But Aldo has an amazing chin. The problem for Aldo is when the gas tank drains. Another factor: the level of experience, which could be an advantage for Aldo. Font didn’t participate in many main five-round events.
Prediction: Stylistically, it’s a big fight for Aldo. I think Aldo does it by decision. I think he sends Font, throws him. Aldo’s ground defense has been amazing his entire career. He just needs to be careful with the cardio.
Sayif Saud, Fortis MMA Head Coach
How Font wins: You have to watch Yan’s fight against Aldo. When I say that, I mean boxing. Aldo is fighting very well now, fighting at a high level. His defeats only concern the best, like Alexander Volkanovski and Yan. But I watch Font’s boxing, especially the jab. He has to touch Aldo with those hands. Font is a tall dude, bigger than Aldo, who was fighting at 145. Font needs to use that range advantage and jab. Font outboxed Garbrandt, and that says a lot.
How Aldo wins: He must be very dynamic and aggressive. The place where Font could be vulnerable is in trade. Aldo is going to try to kick, I think – kick his leg, his calf. He will try to stop Font’s movement and mobility. It will be Font’s boxing against Aldo’s kicks. But Aldo must lead the fight in Font. He can’t wait. He doesn’t have that kind of luxury against this guy. When Aldo has his pace and gets that rebound, he’s very dangerous. Aldo must set the pace. He’s still very dangerous with a knockout power. He can’t let Font pull him apart like Yan did.
X factor: Aldo is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and a damn good Nova Uniao player under coach Andre Pederneiras. However, it might be difficult for him to bring Font to the web. Garbrandt shot Font down, but Font immediately rose to his feet. Still, you don’t want to underestimate Aldo’s roundness. It can play a role if things go downhill.
Prediction: Barely leaned towards Font, because of his jab, size and because I think he’s starting to peak as a fighter. It is a close combat. This is a slight incline. Aldo could come over there and shoot full blast. I just think in a five-round fight, if Font could get into the rhythm he had against Cody, that’s a great formula for winning in MMA. Just good, clean boxing.
Eric Nicksick, MMA Xtreme Couture trainer
How Font wins: Range management. I think that’s Rob’s biggest job, keeping Aldo at the end of his jab combinations and long crosses. Boxing range. Keeping Aldo there is very important to Rob in this fight. I think dealing with the early rounds with Aldo – not taking too much damage at the start – is key for Font. And then he can catch reads and rhythms and be able to speed it up as the rounds go on.
How Aldo wins: He comes back to his kicks. I have wondered in the past if there had been an injury or something that had happened that kept him away from the kicks. But you saw it come back to that old form. He’s going to want to put Rob on his back foot, and he’s going to want to cut off his legs and work Rob’s body. If you’re Aldo, you need to pull Font’s gas tank out through his body and legs. When it comes to leg kicks and body kicks, someone like Aldo won’t just take a guy’s breath away, but he can finish a guy like that. It wouldn’t hurt Aldo to struggle a bit either. We saw it against Marlon “Chito” Vera.
X factor: Who can win the championship rounds? Who is better in the fourth and fifth rounds, and who set the tone in the opening rounds so that he can build on his late game plan? Rob has to manage his distance, find a way to seal these roundups and not let Aldo steal rounds sooner. Even if Aldo wins the first round or the first two rounds, the 3rd round is that round of swing. I know Rob can hit the accelerator late in rounds 4 and 5 as we saw Aldo disappear in those championship rounds like in the Max Holloway fight and Yan fight.
Prediction: I have to lean over to Rob. I think Rob can get ahead of Aldo. I think it’s going to be close to round 5. I just believe in Rob and coach Tyson Chartier and those guys over there. They’ve got the game plan and they’re smart enough to know how to make late adjustments. I rely heavily on what Rob and his teammate Calvin Kattar and Tyson and this team are capable of. Rob Font by split decision.