Prior to Max Holloway’s injury, many MMA fans had this weekend circled, as the former featherweight champion was scheduled to face Yair Rodriguez. Then the injury occurred in early June, and the UFC was unable to find a main event replacement; resulting in Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moises being promoted to the main event. Throw in the fact this UFC Vegas 31 event is in the shadow of Dustin Poirier and Conor McGregor (possibly) settling their feud and this event is being overlooked. At the expense of sounding like a jerk, it kind of deserves to be. Makhachev and Moises is a fine fight, but a main eventer? No. For those of you that say it’s better than Louis Smolka and Patrick Holohan from a few years ago, your argument sucks when you compare it to arguably the worst main event in UFC history. Just saying….
Regardless of the underwhelming state of the card, there are some interesting fights. The woman Amanda Nunes wrestled the bantamweight title from, Miesha Tate, returns from retirement. Jeremy Stephens and Daniel Rodriguez are fun no matter who they are fighting, though I should note they aren’t fighting one another. But on the whole, this looks similar to the event headlined by Jessica Eye and Cynthia Calvillo last year. Can’t remember anything from it? That’s my point.
Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises, Lightweight
For those of you that think I’m overlooking Makhachev by crapping on this event, I can assure you that isn’t the case. I’m with that wide swathe of fans who believe Makhachev will be fighting for the title in short order. The issue I have with this contest is that I have no idea what a win over Moises will do for Makhachev. This is a trap contest for the Dagestani. Win and it’s no big deal since he was supposed to against the lower ranked Moises. Lose and it’s one of the bigger upsets of the year. Makhachev has little to nothing to gain in this fight.
Given all the comparisons, I’ll give a brief statement right away: Makhachev isn’t a carbon copy of Khabib, though I admit no one else is more comparable to Makhachev’s teammate. Following his lone KO loss, Makhachev is a bit more cautious on the feet in addition to being more methodical in advancing his position than the mauling Khabib is on the mat. Oh, it could also be argued that he’s even better at timing his takedowns than the former champ. Given the comparisons to Khabib, many see Makhachev as a mauling wrestler, but that’s a disservice to his methodical grappling chops. The biggest key for Makhachev in every contest is whether he can bait his opponent into giving him the angle he wants on his takedown before they can test his chin given the biggest thing that seems to separate him from Khabib is confidence in his ability to take a punch.
Though Moises has exhibited a more aggressive striking game in his most recent contests, there hasn’t been any proof to say he’s got the power to turn out the lights of Makhachev. Most would agree the best chance Moises has to win is with his grappling chops as the Brazilian is considered to be one of the better pure BJJ practitioners in the division. However, combining the wrestling with the grappling for MMA was troublesome for him against Beneil Dariush and Makhachev has dealt with someone similar in Davi Ramos. I can see Moises nabbing a guillotine on a Makhachev takedown, but that’s about the only road to victory that seems likely to me. The methodical Makhachev breaks Moises down with physicality before securing a late stoppage. Makhachev via TKO of RD4
- The contest between Miesha Tate and Marion Reneau is very much just a bunch of unknowns. Tate hasn’t fought since November 2016 – having a child and serving as the VP of One Championship in that time – and the 44-year old Reneau has lost four in a row. To be fair to Reneau, she has been fighting tough opposition during that streak and she still shows more athleticism than the typical bantamweight in the division. Executing a strategy is typically what puts Reneau in trouble, showing reluctance to let her hands go and being too content to work off her back. She does have a strong guard, but that tends to be problematic if the fight goes the distance. Given Tate is a wrestler first and foremost, it’s easy to see the former UFC champion spending long stretches controlling Reneau on the mat. If Reneau is willing to let her fists fly, she could pull off the upset as Tate is stiff on the feet, getting by on grit and a strong clinch. Then again, perhaps Tate has reinvented herself. It’s impossible to say until the fight takes place, but Tate has always had an innate ability to find a way to rise above her talent level with her guts and guile. Tate via decision
- After falling in a tight split decision in his UFC debut, Mateusz Gamrot rebounded as well as he could in his sophomore UFC effort, expertly mixing in takedowns with his strikes and sitting down with power at just the right times to put down Scott Holtzman. Gamrot is getting a step up against one of the most battle-tested members in the entire sport in Jeremy Stephens, returning to lightweight after a long excursion at featherweight. Many see Stephens as a brawler with a tough chin, but one doesn’t last as long as he has by simply brawling. Stephens a great at making reads in order to eventually sleep his opponent, winning small tactical battles. However, Stephens’ chin is deteriorating after so many battles and though he isn’t a bad wrestler, he has been controlled for long stretches against some of the better wrestlers in the sport. Though the jury is still out, I’d say Gamrot has the chops to touch up Stephens just enough behind his feints and fakes to take a decision. Gamrot via decision
- Many have written off Rodolfo Vieira following the BJJ ace’s submission loss at the hands of Anthony Hernandez. While it was shocking, it was also a strong reminder that grappling tournaments are a different world than MMA. Plus, doubters should remember fighters usually learn the most from their first loss. What Vieira needs to learn: how to pace himself as he lost to Hernandez after emptying his gas tank in the first round. Vieira’s takedowns have been solid early and his grappling chops were as sharp as ever prior to wearing himself out. The question is whether Dustin Stoltzfus can survive Vieira’s early onslaught. If he can, no doubts he’d be able to finish Vieira. A well-rounded competitor who doesn’t excel in any one area, Stoltzfus has never been finished in his MMA career and has enough pop to put down Vieira should Vieira flag down the stretch again. Regardless, what I have seen from Stoltzfus on the ground has me leaning towards Vieira catching him early, though I wouldn’t put money on this contest. Vieira via submission of RD1
- Both Billy Quarantillo and Gabriel Benitez are coming off disappointing appearances, Benitez not even getting to fight as he missed weight bad enough his opponent didn’t want to take the fight. It’s a bit confusing the proud Mexican wants to stay at 145 given he relies more on his quickness than his size and looked solid in his recent excursions to lightweight, but whatever. Perhaps Benitez sees it as an effective form of takedown defense against the likes of Quarantillo, a former lightweight himself. Quarantillo is a dogged pressure fighter with a takedown game more reliant on tricks and trips than traditional wrestling. He’ll have issues scoring those trips against the southpaw Benitez, though I have a hard time believing he won’t get Benitez down at some point given Benitez’s past wrestling struggles. However, Benitez is a hell of a scrambler who is hard to keep down and is the superior striker by a wide margin. Though Benitez’s kicks have long been vaunted, his boxing shouldn’t be overlooked either. Plus, Quarantillo tired down the stretch of his most recent contest. I don’t know if it was an aberration or the beginning of a trend, but it firmly swayed me towards Benitez. Benitez via TKO of RD3
- Preston Parsons has a hell of a chore ahead of him. A submission specialist, he joins the UFC on short notice to challenge the rugged Daniel Rodriguez. Rodriguez has surpassed all expectations from his joining the organization, pressing an impressive pace in every contest and demonstrating an awesome level of durability. He isn’t the slickest striker, leading to him eating his fair share of damage, but it’s hard to keep pace with him. Parsons is well conditioned, but lacks Rodriguez’s power, thus his best hope will be on the mat. Parson’s level of competition doesn’t inspire me to believe he’s ready for such a big leap, especially given one of the reasons Rodriguez has exceeded expectations is his sound takedown defense. Rodriguez via TKO of RD3
- One of the reasons the UFC stays ahead of Bellator is it is more consistent in making contests that are hard to pick. Amanda Lemos and Montserrat Ruiz appears to be one of the rare exceptions. It isn’t just where they’re ranked either; Lemos appears to be a terrible stylistic matchup for Ruiz. Lemos is a powerhouse of a striker, one of the few in the division who might have legit one-punch KO power. Ruiz is a one-trick pony, utilizing her striking solely to close the distance so she can get the fight to the ground. Undersized even for strawweight, she’ll have a hell of a time getting Lemos to the mat, even with her patented head and arm throw as Lemos is hard to budge in that manner. Lemos via TKO of RD1
- Given all the skilled young talents at bantamweight, it’s easy for Khalid Taha to get lost in the mix. Given he isn’t quite the athlete many of the more touted prospects in the division, it’s understandable. What Taha does have is the power, durability, and enough submission prowess to develop into a notable mainstay. It’s hard to know if Sergey Morozov can even become that, but there is enough promise in him that he can’t be counted out as he can do a little bit of everything. Morozov’s best weapon is his counter right, but he can also be overly reliant on it to the point opponents know to look for it. Taha can be rote, but he isn’t nearly as predictable as Morozov. Taha via decision
- Known primarily as a wrestler when he entered the UFC, Miles Johns has been forced to rely primarily on his jab to pick up wins at this level. Good thing his jab is pretty damned good, as the rest of his standup could use some more seasoning. Regardless, he still needs the threat of the takedown for his striking to work while his wrestling has worked when his opponent is expecting a fist to the face. In other words, he can’t fall in love with just one aspect. Anderson dos Santos is a longtime veteran of the Brazilian scene who gets up in his opponent’s face in hopes of eliciting a mistake he can capitalize on. Johns can fall in love with just one aspect, but he doesn’t usually make mistakes. Regardless, dos Santos has never been easy to put away. Johns via decision
- Francisco Figueiredo isn’t his brother, but he isn’t a slouch either. Not quite as powerful as his older brother, Deiveson, he is a little bit taller and longer with a more consistent outside game centered around a jab and kicks. Though he can wrestle a bit, he might want to avoid doing so as the only area Malcolm Gordon has a clear advantage is on the mat. Gordon is a skilled submission artist, but his wrestling is porous enough that it’s impossible to trust he can get the fight to the mat and his striking has looked terrible since coming to the UFC. It’s hard to pick against Figueiredo. Figueiredo via TKO of RD2
- It’s rare you get a grappler vs. striker type contest at heavyweight, but that’s what we’re getting between Alan Baudot and Rodrigo Nascimento. Neither are particularly experienced, so there’s a good possibility they can smooth out some of their rough edges. Nascimento, the grappler in this equation, is more dominant in his area of expertise, though there is some question to how high he can climb relying on trip takedowns. Regardless, he shouldn’t have too hard of a time with Baudot as the Frenchman is on the smaller side for heavyweight with severe struggles on the mat. The Brazilian should find a finish. Nascimento via submission of RD1