The lightweight division takes centre stage once again for the UFC this weekend as the highly rated Islam Makhachev headlines his first card against Tiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31.
Makhachev is hotly anticipated to make a run for the lightweight title in the future but takes on arguably his biggest test so far in this main event clash, replacing Max Holloway vs Yair Rodriguez which fell apart due to an injury for ‘Blessed’.
Last week at UFC 264 we had an excellent run, going 11/12 with three perfect picks to move to 363/566 (64.13%) with 163 perfect picks (44.9%) overall.
Lets see if we can improve on that run here with this 11 fight card and after starting with the early prelims and prelims here, here are the picks for the main card.
Gabriel Benitez (22-9) vs Billy Quarantillo (15-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A super fun fight in the featherweight division as Benitez takes on fan-favourite Quarantillo. Benitez bounced back from two defeats in a row with a nasty knockout win over Justin Jaynes at UFC Vegas 16, while Quarantillo suffered the first defeat of his UFC run at UFC 256 against Gavin Tucker.
Benitez has got some incredible body kicks and good striking technique with his hands, while also using a chopping leg kick to his advantages. Quarantillo is a good wrestler with good striking too, using his range well and some great cardio. When you match them up skill-for-skill at 145lbs it’s hard to see Benitez losing but he’s had trouble making weight in the past and with his cardio.
Benitez will land plenty of strikes and damage but if Quarantillo can close the distance and drag the fight down to use his wrestling and wear on Benitez’s cardio issues. It’s a close fight but I think the damage will be enough to earn a decision win.
PICK – Gabriel Benitez via Decision
Rodolfo Vieira (7-1) vs Dustin Stoltzfus (13-2) – (Middleweight/185lbs)
The return of the jiu-jitsu phenom that is Rodolfo Vieira as he takes on another good grappler in Stoltzfus. Vieira is known as the black-belt hunter, but lost his last fight via submission against Anthony Hernandez after completing exhausting himself in the first round. Stoltzfus lost his UFC debut against Kyle Daukaus via decision at UFC 255, but his overall record is decent.
Vieira is a jiu-jitsu master with six of his seven wins coming via submission, while Stoltzfus has won five of his 13 victories via submission too. Vieira’s striking is completely non-existent but the level of his jiu-jitsu usually means if he gets you down it’s a wrap. Stoltzfus has got decent kicks in his arsenal, attacking the thigh and knee often knowing that he’s safe on his back. He isn’t against Vieira though.
Despite his last fight, Vieira is a supreme athlete with amazing jiu-jitsu and I do think he’d be able to get him down and get a submission. But Stoltzfus is good enough too to survive the opening round and capitalise on Vieira’s cardio issues to get the win himself as an underdog.
PICK – Dustin Stoltzfus via Knockout, Round 3
Jeremy Stephens (28-18) vs Mateusz Gamrot (18-1) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The delayed lightweight debut of Jeremy Stephens against Mateusz Gamrot is finally here. Stephens has lost his last four fights at featherweight and hasn’t fought in over a year, while Gamrot bounced back from a split decision defeat at UFC Fight Island 6 with a KO win over Scott Holtzman at UFC Vegas 23.
Stephens is a great boxer with a bomb of a left hand, great durability and decent defensive grappling and is a veteran on the UFC roster. Gamrot on the other hand is a tremendous wrestler with decent striking to back him up which makes this fight a really interesting one. Stephens had legitimate one-punch KO power at featherweight and the move up to 155lbs will only help him in that regard but Gamrot is a very well-rounded fighter.
Gamrot is the naturally bigger man, and if he gets hit flush he’ll either go out or go straight into wrestling mode. If it’s the latter, then this could be a very long night for the veteran.
PICK – Mateusz Gamrot via Decision
Marion Reneau (9-7-1) vs Miesha Tate (18-7) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A final run against a returning champion in the women’s bantamweight division as Reneau takes on Tate. Reneau is 44 and in her final fight of her contract, coming off four defeats in a row against Cat Zingano, Yana Kunitskaya, Raquel Pennington and Macy Chiasson most recently at UFC Vegas 22. Tate retired back in 2016 after a loss to Pennington, but returns now after five years away from the cage.
Reneau is a jiu-jitsu black belt with a limited striking game, while Tate is a strong wrestler with good submission skills of her own. Reneau is awful off her back and Tate is a good enough wrestler to get her down quickly and hold her down, using her boxing well to enter range. Reneau has much more power in her hands but her technique isn’t great.
Realistically this is set up for Tate to win the fight impressively and make her comeback a moment to remember.
PICK – Miesha Tate via Decision
Islam Makhachev (19-1) vs Thiago Moises (15-4) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
The next big thing at 155lbs as Makhachev takes on Moises who is coming in off a three-fight win streak. Makhachev returned from a year-and-a-half lay off back in March with a highly impressive submission win over Drew Dober at UFC 259, while Moises beat Bobby Green at UFC Vegas 12 and Alexander Hernandez at UFC Vegas 20.
Makhachev is an excellent striker with even scarier grappling, with his top position among the best in the entire sport never mind in the UFC lightweight division. Moises is a solid striker himself but he is also known for his jiu-jitsu skills, with six submission wins in his career. Makhachev’s wrestling is just such a big differential between the fighters that I can’t look past him winning.
He has his own submission skills but his positioning and pressure from the top is just as good at holding someone down and wearing them out and pounding them out. Moises has threats, but Makhachev’s cardio is likely to hold out and he’ll secure a big win.
PICK – Islam Makhachev via Decision