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UFC Vegas 31 preview, ‘Makhachev vs Moises’ predictions

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UFC 259: Makhachev v Dober Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

With Khabib Nurmagomedov riding into the sunset, it falls to Islam Makhachev to reestablish Dagestani dominance in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) lightweight division. In his way stands Brazilian submission machine Thiago Moises, who faces Makhachev this Sat. night (July 17, 2021) inside APEX in Las Vegas.

LIVE! Stream UFC Vegas 37 On ESPN+

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sat., Sept. 18, 2021, with an exciting match up in the Light Heavyweight division, as No. 6-ranked contender, Anthony Smith, faces off with No. 11-seeded contemporary, Ryan Spann. In UFC Vegas 37’s co-main event, fellow 205-pound veterans Ion Cutelaba and Devin Clark aim to steal the show.  

Don’t miss a single second of face-punching action!

One fight prior, former UFC Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate returns to the cage after more than four years away to fight Marion Reneau, who’s scored eight of her nine professional victories inside the distance.

Our usual main card guy sealed himself in a concrete bunker to ride out the Delta variant, so I’m on duty once again. As usual, you can check out our “Prelims” preview and predictions here and here, our odds breakdown here, and Andrew Richardson’s champion-level analysis of the remaining UFC Vegas 31 main card fights right here.

Let’s get to it.

Islam Makhachev

Record: 19-1 | Age: 29 | Betting line: TBA
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 8 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 1 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 0 DEC
Height: 5’10” | Reach: 70” | Stance: Southpaw
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.00 | Striking accuracy: 56%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 0.77 | Striking Defense: 70%
Takedown Average: 3.46 (68% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 93%
Current Ranking: No. 9 | Last fight: Submission win over Drew Dober

Thiago Moises

Record: 15-4 | Age: 26 | Betting line: TBA
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 6 SUB, 6 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 4 DEC
Height: 5’9” | Reach: 70” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 2.85 | Striking accuracy: 37%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.88 | Striking Defense: 60%
Takedown Average: 1.06 (33% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 63%
Current Ranking: No. 14 | Last fight: Unanimous decision over Alexander Hernandez

It’s easy to forget that Moises, despite his extensive experience and championship run in RFA, is still just 26 years old. I’ve made the mistake of looking at him as the same promising but underdeveloped fighter who first stepped foot in the Octagon in 2018, possessed of a withering offensive arsenal held back by a total inability to fight off the back foot. He’s unquestionably improved, as seen in his total defusal of Alexander Hernandez last time out, and there’s every reason to believe the best is yet to come.

But man, what is he supposed to do here? Even without deifying Makhachev as the second coming of Khabib, there’s nothing in Moises’ arsenal that Makhachev’s overpowering takedowns and ironclad top control can’t counter. Moises’ improved striking doesn’t matter much when he can’t keep it standing, he’s highly unlikely to finish Makhachev off of his back, and he’s not out-scrambling Makhachev when a bigger, stronger ground technician in Arman Tsarukyan failed to do so.

None of this is to say that Moises doesn’t have a chance; we all saw the Michael Johnson fight, and the man’s both skilled and gritty enough to survive 25 minutes with an elite Lightweight. Unfortunately, we’re well past the days where Makhachev runs face-first into the sorts of punches that Adriano Martins used to deck him all those years ago, and neither Moises’ positional BJJ game nor his quick-kill submissions look sufficient to overcome the infamous Dagestani top control.

Moises will have to content himself with denying Makhachev a statement finish. Makhachev’s top-tier takedowns, deep gas tank, and impeccable control net him a wide decision.

Prediction: Makhachev def. Moises by unanimous decision

Marion “The Belizean Bruiser” Reneau

Record: 9-7-1 | Age: 44 | Betting line: TBA
Wins: 5 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 1 DEC | Losses: 0 KO/TKO, 0 SUB, 7 DEC
Height: 5’6” | Reach: 68” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 3.29 | Striking accuracy: 41%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 3.37 | Striking Defense: 61%
Takedown Average: 0.66 (63% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 50%
Current Ranking: No. 12 | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Macy Chiasson

Miesha “Cupcake” Tate

Record: 18-7 | Age: 34 | Betting line: TBA
Wins: 3 KO/TKO, 7 SUB, 8 DEC | Losses: 2 KO/TKO, 3 SUB, 2 DEC
Height: 5’6” | Reach: 66” | Stance: Orthodox
Significant Strikes Landed Per Minute: 1.93 | Striking accuracy: 41%
Strikes Absorbed Per Minute: 2.71 | Striking Defense: 50%
Takedown Average: 2.06 (31% accuracy) | Takedown Defense: 52%
Current Ranking: Unranked | Last fight: Unanimous decision loss to Raquel Pennington

Outside of Amanda Nunes’ unimpeachable reign and Holly Holm’s eternal contender status, a lot has changed in the Bantamweight division since Tate fell to Pennington in November 2016, New names have risen, old ones have fallen, and the path to title contention has developed a fresh set of twists and turns.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Reneau’s takedown defense. She’s given up at least one takedown to each of her last 10 opponents, and that fact alone makes Tate my pick despite the layoff. Reneau’s legitimate power is and always has been offset by her inability to keep it standing and tendency to lapse into passivity; if Tate is in good enough condition to wrestle for three rounds, as she has so many times before, there’s little stopping her from grinding out another win.

I’ll admit that I could be underselling Reneau. Sure, she’s 44 and has lost four straight, but those four opponents are all capable Bantamweights and she still looks sharp. I just can’t trust her to get it done against a strong takedown artist, or at least a strong takedown artist without the implosive tendencies of Sara McMann. This fight calls for Tate’s bread and butter, and while I may come to regret it, I trust her to deliver it. 15 minutes of grind puts “Cupcake” back in the win column for the first time in five years.

Prediction: Tate def. Reneau by unanimous decision

Remember to get the rest of the UFC Vegas 31 main card predictions HERE.

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.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC Vegas 31: “Makhachev vs. Moises” news and notes, be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the finalized UFC Vegas 31 fight card and ESPN/ESPN+ lineup click here.