The heir apparent to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Lightweight crown, Islam Makhachev, meets one of its more dangerous finishers, Thiago Moises, this Saturday (July 17, 2021), putting his seven-fight win streak on the line against the lethal finisher. The ESPN/ESPN+ card will also see former champ Miesha Tate return to mixed martial arts (MMA) after almost five years away to face Marion Reneau and Mateusz Gamrot look to make it two straight at the expense of Jeremy Stephens.
UFC Vegas 31 features a half-dozen “Prelims” to get through before that, though, so let’s get cooking:
135 lbs.: Miles Johns vs. Anderson dos Santos
Seven months after beating current top prospect Adrian Yanez for the LFA Bantamweight belt, Miles Johns (11-1) used a steady diet of takedowns to beat Richie Santiago on “Contender Series” and earn himself a UFC contract. He’s now 2-1 in the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion, including a bonus-winning knockout of Kevin Natividad in his most recent effort.
“Chapo” is the taller man by two inches, though he gives up that same amount of reach.
The three-fight win streak for Anderson dos Santos (21-8) came to an end upon his Octagon arrival, dropping a decision to Nad Narimani on a two-week turnaround and subsequently fell short against Andre Ewell. He finally made it into the UFC win column 17 months later, choking out the favored Martin Day in Nov. 2020.
“Berinja” has ended 17 professional fights inside the distance, 12 of them by submission.
While I won’t pretend that Johns has wowed me in his three-fight UFC tenure, this definitely looks winnable. Dos Santos’ upright, hook-heavy striking attack leaves him vulnerable to the same piston jab Johns used to neutralize Natividad, and “Chapo’s” rock-solid wrestling ensures that he’ll set the terms of any and all ground engagements.
Dos Santos’ impressive ground attack does pose a legitimate threat, but the aforementioned wrestling discrepancy makes it unlikely that he’ll get a chance to use it. So long as Johns doesn’t play the same passive game that got him stopped by Bautista, he potshots his way to a wide decision win.
Prediction: Johns via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Francisco Figueiredo vs. Malcolm Gordon
Francisco Figueiredo (12-3-1) — brother of former UFC champion Deiveson Figueiredo — made his UFC debut in Jan. 2021 after nearly 16 months on the shelf. He made up for lost time against Jerome Rivera by utilizing sharp counters and lengthy stretches of top control to claim a unanimous decision.
He has submitted seven professional foes and knocked out another three.
Malcolm Gordon (12-5) made two defenses of the TKO Flyweight title — one of them a 92-second submission of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) veteran Yoni Sherbatov — to pave his way to UFC. He’s yet to taste victory in the Octagon, however, suffering first-round stoppage losses to rising prospects Amir Albazi and Sumudaerji.
He’ll have one inch of height and reach on “Sniper.”
Losing to elite up-and-comers like Albazi and Sumudaerji does not a bad fighter make; by the same token, beating Jerome Rivera — who’s now winless (0-4) inside the Octagon after last Saturday’s loss — does not a great fighter make. Still, while I don’t consider this as lopsided a match up as the bookies seem to, Figueiredo has the crisp boxing and solid wrestling that’s bedeviled Gordon during his two Octagon appearances.
In short, the Canadian will have to show some real improvement to get the win here.
Gordon’s best chances lie in either trying to finish Figueiredo from his back, as the former has a genuinely dangerous guard, or try and bring Figueiredo’s historical cardio issues back to the fore. Neither would be super shocking, but odds are that Figueiredo plugs him with a straight left down the pipe before Gordon gets a chance to try them.
Prediction: Figueiredo via first round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Alan Baudot vs. Rodrigo Nascimento
Alan Baudot (8-2) rode a two-fight win streak into his UFC debut, which saw him step up on short notice to face top prospect Tom Aspinall. The fight — Baudot’s first in nearly 18 months — lasted just 95 seconds before Aspinall’s ground-and-pound forced a stoppage.
Though one inch taller than Nascimento, “The Black Samourai” gives up one inch of reach.
Despite entering on the heels of a nearly two-year layoff because of visa issues, Rodrigo Nascimento (8-1) excelled on Contender Series with a contract-winning submission of Michal Martinek. He kept the momentum up by tapping Don’Tale Mayes in his UFC debut, but fell short against fellow up-and-comer Chris Daukaus in Oct. 2020.
His professional finishes are split 6/2 between submissions and (technical) knockouts.
I understand that UFC is meant to be the ultimate MMA crucible and force fighters to address their weaknesses, but I don’t see why the promotion decided to throw Baudot in against another grappler. The guy’s fun as hell on the feet and absolutely hopeless on the ground; he’s clearly not long for the organization, so why not have some fun with him while he lasts? It’s always a drag to see a bonkers striker demolished by a grappler before they even get a chance to show their stuff.
That’s not to say that Baudot has no chance of victory — he’s wildly aggressive enough to potentially clip Nascimento if the latter’s recent loss makes him hesitate. Still, it’s a lot likelier that Nascimento just takes him down in the first couple minutes and strangles him shortly thereafter.
Prediction: Nascimento via first round submission
Three more UFC Vegas 31 “Prelims” undercard bouts remain to preview and predict, including a violent Bantamweight showdown and an interesting Welterweight debut. Same time tomorrow, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 31 fight card right here, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 10 p.m. ET.
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