UFC Vegas 31: Makhachev’s Showcase or Moises’ Upset?

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JUNE 25: (L-R) Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moises of Brazil face off during the UFC weigh-in at UFC APEX on June 25, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Islam Makhachev has already been named the heir apparent to the UFC title by Khabib, but Thiago Moises is looking to spoil his ascension at UFC Vegas 31.

Though he is quick to detach himself from the title, there comes a level of pressure with being named the heir apparent to Khabib Nurmagomedov.  His childhood friend, teammate, and now coach has publicly expressed his support of him.  But while the comparisons are plentiful and obvious, Makhachev is well on his way to a memorable run in his own right.

After opening his career at a perfect 12-0, Makhachev stumbled in his second UFC fight against Adriano Martins.  Since then, he’s put together an impressive seven fight win-streak against veterans such as Nik Lentz, Gleison Tibau, and Chris Wade.  After a litany of causes kept him out of action in 2020, Makhachev returned to action with a dominant victory against Drew Dober.  After reportedly being turned down by several ranked opponents, Makhachev now looks to stay busy as he continues his climb up the rankings.

Thiago Moises may not be the opponent Makhachev was looking for, but he is nonetheless a prospect he should be wary of.  The 26-year old entered the UFC via Dana White’s Contender Series: Brazil 3 in 2018.  He struggled at first, alternating wins and losses as he faced competition such as current top contender Beneil Dariush and Damir Ismagulov who is on a 15 fight win-streak.  While that cooled the 11-2 run he had put together to make it to the Octagon, his style kept him in relevant spots on the main card or as a featured prelim.

In 2020, he turned the corner by opening his year with a submission of Michael Johnson in the original Florida series of events during the pandemic.  He followed that up in October with a decision victory against durable veteran Bobby Green.  Earlier this year, he defeated fellow climbing contender Alex Hernandez for his third victory in a row.  In lieu of other options, the surging Makhachev accepted a fight with Moises to stay active in a bout that was originally scheduled for three rounds on the undercard.  After the fight between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez fell off the card, Makhachev and Moises were given the headlining slot and promoted to a five round contest.

Though not as proven on the big stage, Makhachev’s ability to get opponents to the mat so far is reminiscent of Nurmagomedov and that will be the key to neutralizing the offense of Moises.  Moises is a competent grappler in his own right, but he is unlikely to be able to catch someone of Makhachev’s caliber with a submission from the bottom unless Makhachev makes a mistake upon entry for his takedown.  That said, an aggressive attack for Moises should be his strategy as he is the more fluid striker and keeping Makhachev on his heels will give him the best opportunities to do damage.

A victory for Moises would skyrocket the 14th ranked Moises up the lightweight ladder and set him up with one of the surging contenders in the top ten.  A victory for Makhachev would be his eighth in a row and likely set up a high profile matchup with a top five opponent.  More than likely he will wait to see who is available between Michael Chandler, Justin Gaethje, and Beneil Dariush towards the end of the year.