Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
Friends and fight fans, this is usually the part where your ol’ pal The Prince of Positivity does the UFC a solid and explains how this weekend’s latest thrown together Fight Night offering is worth your time and attention or how there are hidden stakes in a seemingly inconsequential lineup that will reveal themselves over time.
This time, with respect to all the fighters and all the hardworking folks behind the scenes who keep these cards together, I can’t do it.
No question, the UFC Vegas 53 main event is still a banger and must-see television, even with Font missing weight by over two pounds for a bout that had little rankings or contender implications in the loaded bantamweight division to begin with. Vera, currently No. 11 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings, does have the opportunity jump into the thick of the top 10, a wall that he’s been crashing his head against for years.
The rest of the card is a smorgasbord of quality veterans (UFC fight No. 38 for Andrei Arlovski!), stay-busy matchups, fresh faces, and the briefly postponed Alexandr Romanov vs. Chase Sherman, which, while amazing, is certainly not enough for me to tell you that you have to watch this card from beginning to end.
But hey, live your life and who knows? A year from now when Tatsuro Taira or Yohan Lainesse are household names and headlining cards you can dig this article up and throw these words back in this casual’s face.
What: UFC Vegas 53
Where: UFC APEX in Las Vegas
Rob Font vs. Marlon Vera
I’m torn on this one.
When it comes to the mixing of the martial arts, Marlon Vera has the clear edge as he’s just as likely to wallop you with power punches as he is choke you out. What I like about Rob Font though is that I think his best skill, his boxing, is better than any of Vera’s tools. And I think Font is good enough all around that he can make this primarily a boxing match.
Even so, Vera will happily scrap with him and a major concern for Font fans has to be whether he can do enough damage to win the fight. Font’s striking simply wasn’t impactful enough to beat Jose Aldo even though he got the better of several exchanges and when it came time for the judges to render their scorecards, they favored Aldo’s damage and rightfully so.
Font is going to have to find another gear to remind everyone how he earned his lofty ranking and that could mean getting down and dirty with Vera in the striking, something he’s more than capable of. I’m not too concerned about his weight miss if only because it’s the first time he’s ever made this mistake and any concerns about what it means for his focus or preparation are purely speculative.
Look for Font to get ahead early and weather the storm of an always dangerous Vera in the later rounds. Font by decision.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Jake Collier
First off, let’s make this clear: this is a legitimate co-main event, not just the second-last fight on the card labeled as such by default.
In Andrei Arlovski, you have a former UFC heavyweight champion (and yes, I understand that in the eyes of some fans that’s now about as relevant as Steve Jennum winning UFC 3), one of the all-time greats of the division, and a fighter who just so happens to be on a three-fight win streak and 5-1 in his past six. On the other side is Jake Collier, who is just fun as hell to watch.
Collier is always finding ways to surprise and he’ll really raise some eyebrows if he can impose his all-out style on Arlovski. The ageless veteran seemingly has a way of neutralizing his opponents strategies the moment they step into the cage with him as perhaps they’re awed by his mystique. But Collier should have the formula to outwork him as he brings a mixture of movement and volume that reminds you he once competed at 185 pounds.
Seriously, look at this:
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) April 29, 2022
For all of Arlovski’s shortcomings, he’s rarely blown out by fighters that aren’t top 10 talents like Tom Aspinall and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. If you’re a middle class heavyweight, you’re probably going to a decision against Arlovski, one that you’re going to have to sweat out. Smart money is probably on Arlovski’s unlikely win streak ending here, but I’ve just got a weird feeling that Collier gets dragged into a funky fight that doesn’t suit him.
This has all the makings of a split call for Arlovski.
Don’t expect Joanderson Brito to deviate from his strategy of using his striking to set up shots, an approach that makes a lot of sense given Andre Fili’s reputation as one of the featherweight division’s best standup fighters. Brito has some pop, but his striking vocabulary isn’t as extensive as Fili’s and it will be an easy night for Fili if Brito decides to go full K-1 against him.
Is Fili’s ground game sturdy enough to survive Brito if the strong Brazilian gets him down and starts to slice up his defenses? Fili has great defensive wrestling, so grappling shouldn’t be a weakness for him here. He’ll employ a counter-heavy game plan and score repeatedly as the aggressive Brito leaves himself open. This should be a fun one while it lasts, but I actually predict that Fili gets his first finish in a while, knocking Brito out in the second or third round.
The education of Grant Dawson continues with Jared Gordon, another experienced grinder.
Dawson, who turned 28 in February, is entering his physical prime and his skills are coming along nicely. He’s a force on the ground, with relentless pressure down there and a pace that’s difficult to keep up with. Whether he can put away a resilient opponent like Gordon is another question.
There’s no quit in Gordon and he’s going to make Dawson work to beat him. On the feet, he has the quickness to frustrate Dawson, which could also overwork Dawson and leave him with less gas in the tank in the later rounds. In the end though, I see the size and strength of Dawson as being too much to overcome. He’ll assert himself on the ground and hurt Gordon with strikes before becoming the first fighter to submit Gordon.
Tristan Connelly is all about coming forward and putting on the pressure, which would seem to play perfectly into Darren Elkins’ “come at me, I’m just going to fire back 10 times harder” mind set. But I think this is one occasion where that scenario won’t play out positively for “The Damage.”
As aggressive as Connelly is, he’s also steady and he has the cardio to match Elkins’ late game output. He’s also not a homerun hitter per se and that will actually work in his favor as he’s less likely to just dump all his energy into a finish that isn’t there. That said, Elkins could easily decide that he’s going to play the bull in this one and take the fight to Connelly at the sound of the opening bell.
These two will go back-and-forth for three rounds in a thriller that deserves to be seen by a packed arena and not the select audience of the UFC APEX. Give me Connelly by decision due to his sharper striking and also because he’s a little less shopworn. All of that wear and tear has to catch up to Elkins eventually.
Remember what I was saying about Andrei Arlovski above? How he kind of just finds ways to win fights and it’s rarely pretty? That goes for Krzysztof Jotko, though his bouts are arguably even less distinct, even for a middleweight. Honestly, what is the most memorable moment from Jotko’s fights that you can pull off the top of your head? If you said his 59-second knockout of Tamdan McCrory (shout outs to the “Barn Cat”), you’re a liar who had to look that up just like I had to to even make that reference.
All of this is to say that as persistent and hardworking as Jotko has been in his nine-year (!) UFC career, he should lose to Gerald Meerschaert on Saturday. Meerschaert is one of the most mentally resilient fighters in MMA and he won’t be flustered if he can’t get a quick finish or if the crafty Jotko peppers him with strikes early. “GM3” isn’t here to win decisions anyway.
It’s been a long time since Jotko has been forced to tap, but I think Meerschaert gets it done. At some point Jotko is going to get a little too comfortable, give up a takedown, and then succumb to one of Meerschaert’s many submissions.
Alexandr Romanov def. Chase Sherman
Yohan Lainesse def. Gabe Green
Tatsuro Taira def. Carlos Candelario