It has been 4½ years since Jose Aldo has been a champion. In the time since then, the longtime UFC featherweight titlist has had spells during which he appeared to be in decline. But on Saturday night, the Brazilian legend showed that, at age 35 and competing in a different weight class than the one he ruled for six years, he is not finished going for gold.
Standing at the center of the Octagon at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, squinting through a right eye that was swollen almost completely closed after five hard rounds, Aldo sounded both relieved and emboldened as he was being interviewed following his unanimous decision victory over fellow top-10 bantamweight Rob Font.
And Aldo had a message for the rest of the 135-pounders.
"No one's gonna stop me," he said. "I want to be a champion in this division, and I'm still working toward that. No one's gonna stop me."
Aldo is a fighter who was known for being prone to fading late in fights, even during his best years, but judging by his performance against Font -- a 34-year-old fighting out of Massachusetts who entered the night on a four-fight winning streak -- that weakness might be a thing of the past. Aldo uncharacteristically got stronger as the rounds wore on, and with his performances over his last three fights, it would be unwise to doubt him. Font gave him a fight, but Aldo always had an answer. This became evident before Round 1 was over: After Font used early aggression to put Aldo on his heels, Aldo changed everything by getting a knockdown in the closing seconds.
Font was saved by the horn then resumed in putting Aldo in reverse gear in the next round. But Aldo then took the fight to the canvas and regained control. Again and again during the fight's 25 minutes, whenever Font appeared to be getting into a rhythm, Aldo was able to redirect the flow of the action in his favor. Like a champion.
So is that where the Aldo story is headed? A title reign in a second, lighter weight class, after many had written him off?
Aldo already had a shot at the UFC bantamweight championship, when he faced Petr Yan for the then-vacant belt in 2020. Aldo was coming off two straight losses at the time and shouldn't have been granted that title bout. And it didn't go well for him, as Yan took the fight to him the whole way and scored a TKO in Round 5.
Now, on the strength of this win, Aldo is more worthy of competing for that belt. But when will he get the chance? The next bantamweight title fight will be a rematch of Yan and Aljamain Sterling, and it has yet to be scheduled. Waiting in the wings is ex-champ TJ Dillashaw. And then there's Cory Sandhagen, who is a win away from staking a claim.
In that sense, calling out Dillashaw was a smart move. Not only do the trajectories of the two former UFC champions line up, their name recognition and marketability makes a lot of sense from a business perspective. And while Aldo looked ageless on Saturday in scoring his third victory in a row and back on a roll, it won't benefit him to sit idle for too long.
Lightweights: Rafael Fiziev (11-1, 5-1 UFC) def. Brad Riddell (10-2, 4-1 UFC) by third-round KO (wheel kick) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
After knocking out Brad Riddell, Rafael Fiziev calls out actor Vince Vaughn.
In a matchup between two up-and-coming UFC lightweights, Kyrgyzstan's Fiziev came out on top. Emphatically.
Fiziev (11-1) knocked out Riddell (10-2) with a spinning back kick to the head at the 2:20 mark of Round 3 in their 155-pound contest. The highly anticipated matchup co-headlined a UFC Fight Night with Rob Font vs. Jose Aldo on Saturday inside the UFC Apex.
Fiziev and Riddell, who fights out of City Kickboxing in New Zealand, actually trained with one another earlier in their careers. Everyone expected a high-level striking battle between them, and that's exactly what happened. The entire fight was a chess match, with Fiziev largely staying just one step ahead.
"I love him, when I met him I loved him from the first second," Fiziev said. "He's a very nice person. I learned from him before and today, also. I hope he comes back."
Despite the friendly relationship, the finishing shot was vicious. Fiziev caught Riddell with the spinning kick as Riddell circled to his right near the fence. Riddell didn't fall down from the shot, but his entire body froze, and it appeared he made a gesture to wave it off himself. Referee Herb Dean stepped in to stop the fight quickly.
"I waited for this moment," Fiziev said. "When he goes this way, he drops his hands down and forgets about spinning back kicks."
According to unofficial UFC Stats, Fiziev landed 66 total strikes to 62 for Riddell, illustrating how competitive the bout was. Each fighter bloodied the other over the left eye. Fiziev's best work came in his right hand counters and body kicks.
Fiziev has now collected five wins since the start of 2019. That's the second most in the division during that time, trailing only current champion Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush. Immediately afterward, Fiziev called out actor Vince Vaughn, who was sitting cageside inside the Apex. Vaughn politely declined.
Men's bantamweight: Jose Aldo (30-8, 13-6 UFC) def. Rob Font (19-5, 9-4 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Aldo has already done more than all but a few fighters in the history of mixed martial arts. He is arguably the greatest featherweight of all time, and his résumé is good enough to be on the short list of the very best MMA fighters ever.
Yet, four years after dropping the featherweight belt for the final time, Aldo is still pushing ahead, winning fights and making a move toward a title in a new division.
In a complete performance, Aldo defeated the up-and-coming Font via unanimous decision (50-45, 50-45, 49-46) in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Las Vegas. Aldo rocked Font several times with right hands, hurt his legs with hard kicks and damaged him with hooks to the body. He looked like the Aldo of old while also mixing in some new wrinkles as a bantamweight, such as superior grappling.
Read the full recap for Aldo-Font
Light heavyweight: Jamahal Hill (9-1, 1 NC; 3-1, 1 NC UFC) def. Jimmy Crute (12-3, 4-3 UFC) by first-round KO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Jamahal Hill is going to need to update his highlight reel after this incredible knockout of Jimmy Crute.
Hill's nickname is "Sweet Dreams," and he lived up to it -- twice -- in just 48 seconds of fighting.
The 30-year-old from Grand Rapids, Michigan, dropped Crute with a short right hook in one of the fight's first exchanges. And after the Australian fighter got back to his feet and came at him again, Hill finished the bout with another short right hook -- getting himself back on track after he'd suffered his first career defeat in June.
In less than a minute, Crute was left with a dazed and bloody face, complete with a purple mouse that swelled his left eye closed.
What Hill had after the fight was a chip on his shoulder, as he noted, "Everybody just doubted me for -- I don't know why? What are y'all seeing?"
Crute, 25, has lost two in a row.
Lightweight: Clay Guida (37-18, 17-15 UFC) def. Leonardo Santos (18-6-1, 7-2-1 UFC) by second-round submission | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Santos is an accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu player. He has made the biannual ADCC tournament and gone to the finals of the IBJJF world championships. Santos was once the grappling coach for Jose Aldo, the former UFC featherweight champion.
Yet, all those accolades don't help too much when an athlete is exhausted. And that is how Guida was able to secure a submission (rear-naked choke) victory at 1:21 of the second round against the top-tier ground artist.
"One word: wrestling, baby," Guida said in his postfight interview. "It saved my life, and it's the reason I'm in here now."
Santos hurt Guida with a body kick in the first round and proceeded to throw everything but the kitchen sink at him -- tons of punching combinations to the head and body, ground-and-pound and some knees from the Thai clinch. One even dropped Guida, who was in huge trouble on a number of occasions.
"He had me hurt real, real bad, man," Guida said.
But Santos got tired throwing all those blows, and Guida was able to rally with his wrestling. He picked Santos up and planted him to the mat with a slam, then did some damage from top position at the end of Round 1. Guida went back to his wrestling to start the second round, took Santos' back and cinched in the choke for the win.
Guida, 39, picked up his first finish since a TKO over Joe Lauzon in 2017. The Illinois native is already in the UFC Hall of Fame, as his epic 2009 fight with Diego Sanchez was enshrined in 2019. "The Carpenter," who has been in the UFC for 15 years, has won two of three.
Middleweight: Chris Curtis (28-8, 2-0 UFC) def. Brendan Allen (17-5, 5-2 UFC) by second-round TKO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Chris Curtis knocks out Brendan Allen as a heavy underdog in only his second UFC fight.
Santos, a 41-year-old Brazil native, has dropped two straight following a 13-fight unbeaten streak from 2010 to 2020.
It took the 34-year-old Curtis a long time to get into the UFC. It has taken him almost no time at all to make a name for himself now that he's here.
The veteran stunned Allen with a right hand midway through the second round and followed up with knees and punches along the fence to earn a TKO finish at the 1:58 mark. Curtis has now recorded back-to-back knockouts over two of the more promising prospects in the division: Allen and Phil Hawes, whom he defeated last month at UFC 268 in New York.
All of this comes more than 12 years into Curtis' pro career.
"I've been in this for a long time," Curtis said. "I don't have a sterling record. I'm a dog. Everybody dismissed me. Brendan did. Phil did too. It's fine. I don't need you guys to believe in me. I believe in me."
Allen, of Louisiana, looked good in the opening round, especially on the feet. He scored one slam takedown early on and quickly took Curtis' back, but after losing the position, Allen went to work with punches, knees and a few effective standing elbows. Curtis turned the tide in a big way in the second round, however, thanks to a piston right hand.
Fighting out of Las Vegas, Curtis has now won seven in a row and is 6-0 overall in 2021. Allen suffered his first loss in the UFC's middleweight's division.
Welterweight: Alex Morono (21-7, 1 NC; 10-4, 1 NC UFC) def. Mickey Gall (7-4, 6-4 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Morono, who has been known to get wild at times, put on a disciplined performance in a standup battle that produced his third straight victory. Judges scored the fight 30-27 across the board, and while it wasn't spectacular, the 31-year-old fighter from Houston stayed out of trouble and remained in control throughout.
Gall, 29, of Green Brook, New Jersey, has had seven wins in his career, six of which have come by submission. But he was never close to getting this fight to the canvas. While he did land his share of punches, Gall was mostly a step behind, and he lost for the second time in his past three bouts.
Middleweight: Dusko Todorovic (11-2, 2-2 UFC) def. Maki Pitolo (13-9, 1-5 UFC) by first-round TKO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Todorovic came out of the gate firing kicks to the legs, body and head, as he and Pitolo exchanged on the feet for the first 90 seconds of the fight. Todorovic shot in for a double leg takedown, but as they went to the ground, Pitolo briefly caught Todorovic in a guillotine choke.
Todorovic punched his way out of Pitolo's grip and got on top of Pitolo. And while Pitolo was able to counter Todorovic's strikes for a stretch, forcing Todorovic to advance slowly, eventually Todorovic passed guard and trapped Pitolo's right arm under his left leg. Todorovic then transitioned into a full guard and took Pitolo's back -- and after a barrage of lefts and rights, referee Mark Smith stepped in and stopped the fight at 4:34 into Round 1.
It was the end of a two-match losing streak for Todorovic, a 27-year-old Serbian fighter. Pitolo, 31, from Hawaii, lost his fourth in a row -- a skid during which he has been finished three times.
Men's flyweight: Manel Kape (17-6, 2-2 UFC) def. Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-6, 1-3 UFC) by first-round TKO (punches) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Manel Kape uses a flurry of punches to finish Zhalgas Zhumagulov in the first round of their bout.
Kape took a few minutes to find his rhythm, but once he did, he used a crisp left-right combination to floor Zhumagulov. And while the 33-year-old fighter from Kazakhstan got right back to his feet, the bout did not last much longer.
Kape, who is 28 and has moved his training from Thailand to Las Vegas, proceeded to trap his opponent against the cage and unleash a barrage of punches until referee Keith Peterson jumped in to wave off the bout at 4:02, giving Kape his second straight win.
Zhumagulov started well but could not build momentum, and he suffered his second loss in his past three fights.
Welterweight: Bryan Barberena (16-8, 7-6 UFC) def. Darian Weeks (5-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Barberena knew he was going to have to dig deep on this night. After all, he originally was slated to face the rugged Matt Brown. But that fight fell apart, and instead, Barberena got a short-notice replacement who came into his UFC debut undefeated.
Weeks, a 28-year-old from Missouri, is unbeaten no more. But he'll likely see the Octagon again after giving Barberena all he could handle in a slow-paced but rough three rounds, after which Barberena got the 29-28 nod from all three judges.
Weeks got takedowns in all three rounds and landed with power while the fighters were on their feet, but Barberena got stronger as the fight went on, especially with his attack of body punches. The 32-year-old from Tennessee has won two of his past three.
Strawweight: Cheyanne Vlismas (7-2, 2-1 UFC) vs. Mallory Martin (7-5, 1-3 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+
As you read these words, realize that Vlismas is probably still moving. Does she ever stop? She surely didn't stand still during the 15 minutes she spent inside the cage with Martin. And the relentless movement was not to disengage; it was to put Vlismas in position to throw strikes with frequency and accuracy.
It all added up to a pair of 29-28 scorecards in her favor, to go with a 30-27. Vlismas has now won two in a row and six of seven.
Vlismas, a 26-year-old who fights out of Las Vegas, had a clear advantage when the bout was contested at boxing range. When Martin closed the distance and tried to take the fight to the canvas, Vlismas was a step ahead there too, fending off five takedown tries.
Martin, 27, of Denver, has lost three of four.
Light heavyweight: William Knight (11-2, 3-1 UFC) def. Alonzo Menifield (11-3, 4-3 UFC) by unanimous decision | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Knight's coaches might want to invest in a pair of those blocks that cageside officials use to signal there is just 10 seconds left in a round. Because every time Knight heard that sound, he turned up the aggression -- and in two of the three rounds, he did damage. That was enough for him to eke out the unanimous decision win over Menifield, as all three judges scored it 29-28 in Knight's favor.
Knight, 33, of East Hartford, Connecticut, did not do a lot during the first 4½ minutes of the fight, but in the closing seconds of Round 1, he badly hurt Menifield. The Dallas fighter bounced back well in Round 2, before getting caught late. And in the final round, Menifield controlled a seemingly endless clinch against the cage before Knight finally got away, with just enough time for Knight to once again turn up the heat and secure his second straight win.
Menifield, 34, saw a two-fight winning streak come to an end.
Lightweight: Claudio Puelles (12-2, 4-1 UFC) def. Chris Gruetzemacher (15-5, 3-4 UFC) by third-round submission (knee bar) | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Gruetzemacher has the wrestling acumen to dictate where a fight will take place, but he continually played with fire by engaging in a grappling contest against Puelles -- and it eventually caught up with Gruetzemacher. Puelles locked in a knee bar with less than two minutes left in the fight then got the tapout at 3:25 of Round 3.
Puelles, a 25-year-old Peruvian fighter who trains at Sanford MMA in South Florida, got the fight to the canvas early and controlled the action. But Gruetzemacher did not shy away from going to the mat again in the second and third rounds. While he escaped trouble a couple of times, Gruetzemacher eventually paid the price.
It was Puelles' fourth straight win. Gruetzemacher, 35, from Arizona, has dropped two of his past three bouts and four of six.
Men's bantamweight: Vince Morales (11-5, 3-3 UFC) def. Louis Smolka (17-8, 8-8 UFC) by first-round KO | Watch this fight on ESPN+
Vince Morales stuns Louis Smolka with an incredible right hand early in their bout.
Morales found himself locked in a clinch midway through the first round in the opening bout of the night on Saturday, and while he was pulling away, that did not ease up his attack. The 31-year-old from Oregon unloaded a right hand from in tight and sent Smolka crashing to the canvas.
The end came at 2:02 of the round, giving Morales his second win in a row.
Smolka, a 30-year-old Hawaiian fighter who trains out of Irvine, California, has lost two of his past three.