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UFC Vegas 31 Main Event Preview: Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises

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After a whirlwind evening last Saturday which saw Conor McGregor sustain a broken leg at the hands of Dustin Poirier, the promotion is back in action at the UFC Apex for UFC Vegas 31 on ESPN and ESPN+ (inside the United States, check your local listings elsewhere).

As with all non-PPV events, UFC Vegas 31 will emanate from the UFC Apex facility in Sin City, including the anticipated main event taking place in the promotion’s lightweight ranks.

In Saturday’s headliner, barring any late postponements, it’ll be #9 Islam Makhachev (19-1) and #14 Thiago Moises (15-4) in a five-round fight at five minutes per round.

The fight will be a most crucial contest for the latter competitor as he fights to stay in the UFC lightweight rankings — and a loss on Saturday will almost certainly see him fall out of the top 15 at 155 lbs.

UFC Vegas 31 Main Event Fighter Comparison

Going into UFC Vegas 31 this coming weekend, both men stand level in height at 5-foot-10, as well as in reach at 70 1/2 inches apiece.

What separates Makhachev from Moises in this headlining matchup is the leg reach category, as Makhachev owns a 1 1/2-inch leg reach advantage (40 1/2 inches to 39 inches even) over Moises on Saturday night.

Makhachev Looks To Ride Momentum Into UFC Vegas 31 Main Event

Russia’s Makhachev comes into UFC Vegas 31 having gone 5-0 in his last five UFC appearances and enters on the strength of an ongoing seven-fight winning streak, having been extended last time out during UFC 259 versus Drew Dober (third-round submission due to an arm-triangle choke from the half-guard position).

In his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan on March 6, the victorious Makhachev weighed in on where he thought he should be after the win (his first since Sept. 7, 2019, after three previous bouts were postponed) thusly:

“Oh, I know, Joe, I deserve somebody from the top five. Now, I cannot be quiet, because I have a seven-fight win streak now. Please, I need some top guy… I will be ready for anyone, please.”

Moises Coming In Strong, As Well

In the other corner, the 14th-ranked Thiago Moises counters his opponent having posted a 4-1 record in his last five UFC bouts, including a current three-fight winning streak.

Twice in that three-fight winning streak, Moises has fought to the final bell, besting Alexander Hernandez most recently (unanimous decision) at UFC Vegas 20 on Feb. 26.

In a recent interview with Overtime Heroics’ own James Lynch, Moises predicted an electrifying, violent finish to the UFC Vegas 31 main event on Saturday night, saying:

“I see me finishing him,” he confirmed, “I can finish him with striking or submission, but in this fight, I think, knockout.”

Analysis, Film Study, and Prediction

Stylistically, the UFC Vegas 31 main event seems to favor Makhachev, who is a wrestler and sambo fighter, but he has shown glimpses of being a more-rounded fighter on videotape, as was the case nearly three and a half years ago during UFC 220’s opening Fight Pass prelim versus Gleison Tibau from TD Garden in Boston.

Makhachev’s Speed Could Play a Factor Here

That January night in New England, Makhachev got off to a quick start which led to an even faster knockout. All he needed that night was quickness on his feet and one left-handed shot to put Tibau on the canvas for a knockout in just 54 seconds, so those left hands may come into play again here.

However, as previously stated, Makhachev is known as a wrestler and a sambo fighter, so his ground game could also play a role this Saturday night, as evidenced in the film of his fight vs. Kajan Johnson nearly three years ago on FOX Sports from Calgary.

That night, in Johnson’s penultimate MMA appearance, Makhachev was able to dump him and take him to mount.

From the three-quarter mount, he was able to land ground and pound shots on Johnson to soften him up and eventually go to full mount, finally getting the opening he needed to lock in an armbar submission late in the first round.

If Makhachev’s footwork is on-point this Saturday night, look for him to take Moises down to try and set up a fight-ending submission.

Thiago Moises’ BJJ Could Be Advantageous

Don’t rule out Moises in this fight, as he is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, something that could counter Makhachev’s acumen very nicely on Saturday night.

His grappling is most evident on tape, especially when watching him against Michael Johnson in Jacksonville in May of last year, when he took Johnson into the second round of a scheduled three, ending the bout shortly thereafter.

Moises was able to reverse a Michael Johnson takedown and went to guard before ending things with a heel hook submission 25 seconds into the second round.

If Moises is able to grapple effectively on Saturday night, this UFC Vegas 31 main event could be over in a hurry.

Final Thoughts

The UFC Vegas 31 main event has all the trimmings of a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fight — so make that fridge run early.

It’s a fight that could very well be determined exclusively by which of the two fighters gets his opponent to the ground first, so this may end up being a grappler’s treat on Saturday night.

Prediction: Islam Makhachev by Unanimous Decision.


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