Consider it a chance for a star turn. When Yair Rodriguez vs. Max Holloway fell off the UFC Vegas 31 card, the event was drastically altered. What was one of the most anticipated fights of the summer was lost, and suddenly, the event became an afterthought.
Yet after being promoted to the five-round headlining slot, Islam Makhachev versus Thiago Moises suddenly felt like a star turn for whoever came out on top. A dominant performance from either fighter could very well land them a top five opponent next, and land them in the thick of the title hunt.
If you were expecting a Khabib-like performance from Makhachev, given his association with the now-retired lightweight champ, it didn’t look that way early. Instead, there was a tentative opening round, with no takedown until the final minute.
Moises actually opened the affair with a right high kick. Makhachev, however, soon had the Brazilian backed up against the fence. He’d throw out some leg kicks, and seemed happy to keep the fight standing. With just over two minutes remaining, Makhachev hit home with a combination; moments later the pair would clinch, and it was Moises looking for a takedown, to no avail. Makhachev, however, would land his own with a minute remaining, sealing the round, which he was already winning, for him.
— UFC (@ufc) July 18, 2021
The second round opened with a quicker pace, as the lightweight duo continued to trade as they had through most of the first. Makhachev once again backed Moises up, clinching along the fence — but Moises reversed, and soon scooped up Makhachev and slammed him down. Just when it seemed like Moises was in the driver’s seat, Makhachev reversed and got on top with ease. He then looked to take the back as Moises tried to work his way up.
By the end of the second, Makhachev had dragged Moises down, and locked in a body triangle. The only problem, he didn’t have control until the dying seconds of the round, and Moises was saved by the bell.
The third saw Moises again looking to impose his own takedowns on Makhachev. But when Moises did take the fight down, Makhachev was right back up. Still, it was something of a surprise to see Makhachev, back to the cage, eating knees. Then, almost at will, he reversed position after defending another takedown. That gave him control of Moises’ back. Landing his own takedown, Makhachev got both hooks in, but Moises scrambled free and worked for a heel hook. Makhachev dropped a few hammer fists while Moises held onto the submission, switched to a toe hold briefly, and did whatever he could to hurt Makhachev, with little success.
Within two minutes in the fourth, Makhachev again had the back. Moises fought the hands, but soon had his own wrist trapped. That allowed the Dagestani fighter to work the body and the head. He then looked in the rear-naked choke, forcing the tap!
Always in control 🔒
— UFC (@ufc) July 18, 2021
The end result, a strong performance from Makhachev, who proved to be very-well rounded. “Why all these guys run?” Makhachev questioned following the fight, referring to fighters not taking bouts with him. Calling out Rafael dos Anjos next, he added “you can run, but you can’t hide.”
Official Result: Islam Makhachev def. Thiago Moises by submission (rear-naked choke), Round 4, 2:38