Following a tremendous Pay-Per-View event in UFC 264, the UFC will return for the first Fight Night in card in three weeks with UFC Vegas 31, broadcasted live from the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas.
The card will be headlined by a ranked Lightweight matchup between Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moises, after the original headliner fell through.
Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises (LW)
Islam Makhachev (19-1, 8-1 UFC), cousin to former champion and Lightweight GOAT Khabib Nurmagomedov, embodies a similar style and was cited as the next real threat to the LW throne. They are cousins and have been training partners since children. Islam has a similar wrestling style, but a slightly less aggressive top control more focused upon submissions than ground and pound. Instead, he has more power in his hands and a scary talent for wrapping up the neck. Still, the wrestling is his bread and butter but he is a fiend on the ground, regardless. Makhachev was last seen in March, submitting Drew Dober in the third round to secure his seventh straight win. Islam is most threatening with his violent top control and he favors position over submission, but still brings in a nasty threat of multiple chokes. As if that wasn’t enough, he has, on average, absorbed less than one significant strike per minute in the Octagon through his nine bouts in the promotion.
Thiago Moises (13-4, 2-2 UFC) is coming off of three straight wins after a 1-2 start to his Octagon career. His most impressive performance to date was his win over veteran Michael Johnson, earning a second-round heel hook finish after being soundly outstruck in the first round. Moises has capable kickboxing and solid power, but his main skill is in the submissions. Moises was the LFA and RFA champion and he has incredible cardio that has been well displayed in five-rounds bouts. His Octagon career has shown his lapses in striking and poor movement when backed up against the cage and he often lacks the takedown chops to force it into the grappling arena, but is more than capable off of his back.
It’s hard to expect anything other than complete domination from the Dagestani, and the betting lines reflect that. He is simply too efficient at establishing top position and does vicious work once there. Even on the feet, he appears to have an advantage over Moises with his kicks and high striking defense rate. Though there is some chance for Moises to score a submission upset, I expect a mauling from Makhachev to end the fight with ground and pound.
My Pick: Islam Makhachev via Knockout
Marion Reneau vs. Miesha Tate (BW)
Even at 44 years old, Marion Reneau (9-7-1, 5-6-1 UFC) keeps on clipping, most recently seen on the wrong side of the decision back against Yana Kunitskaya. Reneau has some heavy hands by her side and throws some good shots, but her technique has faltered in her last few matches. She also brings along some slick submissions off her back, but is a well rounded threat in all regards. Though her submission skills are well regarded, her wrestling is not at the same caliber, contributing to her recent skid. She has not found victory in her last four fights.
Miesha Tate (18-7, 5-4 UFC) has not been seen in five years time, retiring after a decision defeat to Raquel Pennington back in 2016. This loss came just one fight removed from losing her title to Amanda Nunes. She has competed against top names in the division like Ronda Rousey, and Nunes, also capturing the title with a last chance submission against Holly Holm. “Cupcake” is most comfortable on the mat, using her adept wrestling and quick submission attempts to constantly threaten the finish. She has ten across her career, with seven of those coming by submission.
This is a tough matchup to predict simply because we all have no clue how Tate will look when she actually enters the cage. With that said, she has probably the easiest ranked opponent in the division standing across from her. Reneau is now the oldest fighter on the UFC’s roster and that has shown in her recent fights. However, Miesha has been out of competition for YEARS now, along with having a child and numerous personal issues. With that said, Tate has the style to defeat Reneau if she shows up in proper form. Her wrestling is skilled enough to breach Reneau’s lackluster takedown defense, along with the submission skills to potentially finish the bout, though I expect her to win out on the scorecards.
My Pick: Miesha Tate via Decision
Mateusz Gamrot vs. Jeremy Stephens (LW)
Mateusz Gamrot (18-1, 1-1 UFC) made his debut with a lot of hype, but suffered his first loss in a split decision to Guram Kutateladze. He got back on track in his next outing, flattening Scott Holtzman in the second round. Gamrot has an extremely versatile skillset, with high volume striking and expert angle cutting, keeping range behind a quick jab. He is also a threat on the mat, with powerful top control and an insane takedown pedigree. “Gamer” has ten career finishes, with six of those coming via knockout. His pace is his best weapon, pounding his opponent into the ground with heavy top control and constant volume.
After numerous occasions of missing weight and five bouts without victory, Jeremy Stephens (28-18, 15-17 UFC) has made the jump back up to his former stomping grounds of 155 pounds. “Lil Heathen” has amassed a stunning nineteen knockouts in his pro career and has repeatedly shown himself as one of the most feared one-punch knockout artists. Though his main skill is his power, he also brings in stunting leg kicks and an adaptable ground game. That killer blow is often a must for Stephens, as he can be outgunned by more technical strikers, as Calvin Kattar and Yair Rodriguez did in recent efforts. Although his volume and cardio have rarely been concerns, Stephens will need to establish his knockout threat early and often in this bout.
This will undoubtedly be a firefight and Dana might as well write the Fight of the Night checks now. Jeremy Stephens has his back against the wall in this fight, so his fearsome one-punch KO power and signature brawling style will be as aggressive as ever. On the other hand, Gamrot is perfectly fine to throw down as well. The difference is that he is the more technical striker, keeping superior distance with long straights and nasty calf kicks. His real threat to Stephens is with his wrestling, as he will dominate the fight if he can secure it on the mat, with the relentless takedown assault to reliably get it there. I see a competitive fight reaching the scorecards, where “Gamer” edges out his second Octagon win.
My Pick: Mateusz Gamrot via Decision
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Dustin Stoltzfus (MW)
If you are not tuned into the competitive jiu-jitsu scene, you may not be familiar with Rodolfo Vieira (7-1, 2-1 UFC). “The Black Belt Hunter” is widely regarded as one of the greatest jiu-jitsu practitioners of all time, winning the IBJJF and ADCC World Championships multiple times, as well as championing numerous other BJJ organizations. The former Heavyweight has won has finished all of his seven victories, with six coming by submission and has the grappling ability to make even black belts like Oskar Piechota look like they have no place being in there with him, as well as some terrifying power. However, with his impressive physique comes a cardio concern, as he ran out of gas in his most recent fight with Anthony Hernadez, leading to a submission loss in the second round.
After a loss in his fourth pro bout, Dustin Stoltzfus (13-2, 0-1 UFC) rattled off nine straight wins to end up on the Contender Series. After his opponent injured himself executing a takedown, Stoltzfus was awarded his tenth win in a row along with a UFC contract. His debut fight against Kyle Daukaus did not go as planned, dropping a decision to the Philadelphia native. Stoltzfus is a competent grappler, with five submission wins among his seven stoppages. However, he can be outwrestled, and his striking is not diverse enough, depending primarily on kicks. Though Stoltzfus has the edge on the feet and in cardio as well, the jiu-jitsu advantage that Vieira brings to the table is simply too much, as Stoltzfus is not one to avoid the mat. Unless he is able to defend takedowns and wear out the Brazilian, I expect another quick submission from Vieira.
My Pick: Rodolfo Vieira via Submission
Billy Quarantillo vs. Gabriel Benitez (FTW)
Billy Quarantillo (15-3, 3-1 UFC) had me thinking that his strengths laid in his striking prior to his UFC debut, then came in against Jacob Killburn and made Killburn look like he had no busy with Billy Q on the mat. He danced around him at ease, alternating between vicious ground and pound and chokes before the second round submission. He followed that up with a decision win against Spike Carlyle where he utilized his skill off of his back and his reach to great success. A match with Kyle Nelson saw his win streak improve to eight, but Gavin Tucker put a stop to that in a competitive decision. He has 11 stoppage victories, six of which have come by knockout. Billy Q has an unrelenting gas tank and pressure, as well as a long and lanky form that partners well with his grappling skill.
The last outing for Gabriel Benitez (22-8, 6-4 UFC) ended quickly, flooring Justin Jaynes with a body kick in the waning moments of the first round. Benitez has a jiu-jitsu background and is skilled st wrapping up his opponent’s neck, but his chief strategy is to strike with vicious intent. However, he has struggled with wrestling and instead taking a ground advantage when his opponent goes for it. His striking is clean, mainly kicks and an occasional power hand from that Southpaw stance. That said, he is one of the most brutal kickers in the sport, up there with the likes of Edson Barboza.
The fans are in for a through and through scrap in this one, as both fighters have the tools to succeed wherever the match ends up going. Both fighters bring a high striking rate, though the volume of Quarantillo matches up well against the pure power and quick leg kicks of Benitez. On the mat, I give Quarantillo the advantage, with his top control and slick scrambling skills able to ward off any submission threats. The key advantage I see for Quarantillo is his cardio and pace, able to engage in a firefight for longer. I see Billy Q winning a decision with superior volume and stints of top control.
My Pick: Billy Quarantillo via Decision
There are six fights set to go down on the prelims, so be sure to tune into Joao Mendes Coehlo’s breakdown of those fights!
Categories: UFC Predictions