Islam Makhachev (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moisés Preview and Predictions

After a blockbuster pay-per-view just down the road at the T-Mobile Arena, it’s back to the UFC Apex this weekend for UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moisés. The headliners are a pair of highly touted lightweight prospects turned contenders.

The familial bond between retired former champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and Islam Makhachev is well noted, but it is largely Makhachev’s talent that led to Nurmagomedov anointing him as the apparent heir to his throne atop the division. Makhachev has impressed on his way into the UFC lightweight top 10, where he currently sits at ninth.

Moisés represents Makhachev’s toughest task to date. The Brazilian, who resides at No. 14 in the division’s rankings, has hit a stride while reeling off three straight victories. If the 26-year-old Moisés defeats Makhachev, then he would catapult into the upper echelon of the weight class.


Meanwhile, the co-main event showcases former women’s bantamweight champion Miesha Tate in her first fight since 2016. After retiring and pursuing front-office opportunities abroad with ONE Championship, Tate returns to the UFC against Marion Reneau. While this fight marks the beginning of what Tate hopes to be a run back to the top of the division, it also marks the end of Reneau’s career. The 44-year-old Reneau has made it public that this will be the final outing of her career.

The main card also features longtime featherweight standout Jeremy Stephens in a lightweight contest against Mateusz Gamrot. Stephens’ last scheduled fight was scratched after his opponent Drakkar Klose suffered an injury after the pair got into an altercation during the ceremonial weigh-ins and subsequent face-off. Stephens now seeks to get back on track after a rough patch in his career. Gamrot, on the other hand, will look to add to a stellar pro campaign with what would be the biggest win of his career.

The middleweight division plays host to a featured affair between Rodolfo Vieira and Dustin Stoltzfus. The world-champion jiu-jitsu player Vieira is out to rebound after he was shockingly submitted in his last bout for the first loss of his MMA career. Stoltzfus would like to play spoiler and capitalize on the hype behind Vieira to bolster his own profile.

The opening contest on the main card is a clash of two all-action featherweights when Billy Quarantillo squares off against Gabriel Benitez.

UFC Fight Night: Makhachev vs. Moisés takes place in Las Vegas on Saturday, July 17. The prelims begin at 7 p.m. ET, followed by the main card at 10 p.m. ET. The action can be seen on both ESPN and ESPN+. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the show as they go Toe-to-Toe.

Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moisés have stepped into headlining duties after Max Holloway was forced to withdraw from his fight with Yair Rodriguez. Was this the appropriate fight for the UFC to promote to the top of the bill?

Sumian: This bout is undoubtedly puzzling in the grand scheme of things. Makhachev has proven his worthiness as an eventual lightweight title challenger by rattling off seven straight wins since September 2016. He has only continued to improve each time he steps foot in the cage. The “second coming” of former UFC champion Khabib Nurmagomdeov looks to be almost a sure thing. Makhachev continues to dominate above-average competition to begin his campaign into the top 15.

Moisés is far from a pushover. After a 1-2 start to his UFC tenure, the Brazilian has bounced back impressively by compiling a three-fight winning streak at the expense of Michael Johnson, Bobby Green and Alexander Hernandez. The 26-year-old is still relatively green in his UFC career and will only improve as time goes on due to a well-balanced arsenal that includes improved striking and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s poised to break out and eventually become a ranked fighter, but he will have to prove he is ready for the big leagues against an opponent that many will gladly avoid for as long as they possibly can.

Makhachev will challenge for the title at some point. How quickly he gets there ultimately depends on the UFC and how long the company will continue to build his momentum before giving him a crack at the belt. His path to the gold can involve two more fights or four more. It’s all up to the brass. The Dagestani native is one of the rare few who is already mentally ready to achieve greatness regardless. His dominant win over Drew Dober was an outstanding showing that proved his ground attack is truly on a similar level to that of his mentor Nurmagomedov and will only get better as he continues to compete at a high level and train with a very powerful team.

Moisés will not be pushed around in this contest. Instead, the Brazilian will put up a decent fight. However, he will eventually fall victim to Makhachev’s ground attack and suffer either a late submission or a decision loss. The sky’s the limit for the UFC’s second Khabib.

Petela: This is the perfect headlining affair to keep eyes on this fight card after Dustin Poirier solidified his place as the top contender at lightweight last week. Moisés might not have a ton of name recognition, but he is far from a slouch and will be the perfect opponent for Makhachev.

It’s no secret that the UFC is looking to catch lightning in a bottle twice by creating another Dagestani superstar after Nurmagomedov retired abruptly. Naturally, the fanbase in Caucasia will be behind Makhachev, but a standout performance in this contest will allow him to capitalize on an even wider following as fans tune in after catching UFC fever on the heels of UFC 264.

Moisés will make things just difficult enough to make sure this is no walk in the park for Makhachev. However, the Brazilian will be in unfamiliar territory early and often as he faces the suffocating pressure that Makhachev maintains through the entirety of a 25-minute affair — yes, this one will go the distance.

Don’t be surprised to hear lopsided scorecards read out at the end of the bout. It will wind up being exactly the coming-out party that Makhachev needs to vault himself into contention and begin his emergence as a global superstar.

Miesha Tate emerges from a near five-year absence in the co-main event, where she’ll meet Marion Reneau. Will Tate make a triumphant return?

Petela: There will be nothing triumphant about this return, nor will it be the perfect swan song for Reneau, who plans to retire at the bout’s end regardless of the outcome. This is simply a fight that does not need to happen.

All too often, fighters don’t know when enough is enough. However, it seemed like Tate had realized that she didn’t have either the physical abilities or the burning desire to compete when she hung up her gloves in 2016 after a lackluster performance against Raquel Pennington. Based upon social-media posts, interviews, and training footage, there is no question that “Cupcake” has rediscovered her passion for the sport after her time in the front office of ONE Championship. She just won’t have the skills to fight at a high level after such a layoff.

If there is one positive thing going for Tate, it is that she’s taking on a fighter who the sport has also passed by. There is no need for Reneau, 44, to have another fight. She has lost four in a row, leaving her winless since 2018. Her skills have depleted with age, as is often the case for athletes, and she has ended up taking unnecessary damage.

The story here is all too familiar. It is yet another meeting between two veterans who are well past their prime. They have earned the right to compete, but they should spare themselves from this final, depressing chapter of their respective careers.

Sumian: That’s a fair assessment, but let’s look at this bout from a more positive perspective.

In no shape or form should anyone expect the Tate of the past to return and make a run for gold. Instead, the former champ will take part in a couple of “legend” fights where she is matched up with opponents of similar experience, age and skill at this point in their careers to garner the attention of her fans once more.

Reneau signifies what is definitely a winnable fight for Tate, even after her nearly five years away from competition. Tate will come out cool and confident to earn a submission victory that prompts the crowd to erupt in celebration. Then, she’ll land another opponent similar to Reneau as she continues to ride this comeback campaign for as long as she can.

What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?

Sumian: Marion Reneau. Granted, she’s set to retire anyway, but a fifth consecutive loss would certainly mark the end of her career as a UFC fighter anyway.

Petela: Jeremy Stephens. This fight is really a make-or-break affair for the veteran. If he fails in this bid at lightweight after missing weight badly in his last featherweight contest, then there is nowhere left for him to go. His days as a perennial contender are over and making that weight won’t get any easier at his age. A win would definitely provide Stephens with a longer leash. He is sure to deliver entertaining fights for as long as the UFC will have him, but a loss could very well be the end of the road for “Lil Heathen.”

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Petela: Amanda Lemos and Montserrat Ruiz. These two ladies sport records with only one loss. Each is coming off an impressive victory, too. Lemos stopped Livinha Souza with strikes in the second round in early March, while Ruiz dominated the highly touted Cheyanne Buys just a couple weeks later. Both of these strawweights are only a couple fights away from making a major name for themselves, and the winner of this showdown will take a big leap in that direction.

Sumian: Daniel Rodriguez and Preston Parsons. This is a must-watch scrap. The pair have combined for 20 career finishes. We will likely see an exciting clash of styles, as Rodriguez looks to deliver Parsons’ head on a silver platter and Parsons seeks his 10th career submission win in his UFC debut. Parsons has logged all nine of his wins thus far by submission, and he is now riding an impressive four-fight winning streak. No bathroom breaks during this one!

Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?

Sumian: Miesha Tate. The former champ will earn her 19th career victory by submission when she puts away Reneau in the second round. Tate is only 34 years old and can easily put together a successful comeback campaign if she is mentally and physically prepared after being gone for so long.

Petela: Rodolfo Vieira. The submission ace will not only look to rebound from his first pro loss, but he will also try to recapture some pride after he was submitted by Anthony Hernandez in his last appearance. Vieira will make a big splash this weekend and get a smothering submission finish good enough to draw a bonus check.

If you need to step away from the fights, do it during…

Petela: The co-headliner. Frankly, this is a fight that I just don’t want to see. Miesha Tate has nothing left to prove, and there is no way she will be the fighter she once was prior to her long layoff. Marion Reneau just turned 44 and has said that this will be her retirement fight, but she should have retired already. This bout will be a sloppy and lackluster affair reminiscent of the third meeting between Roberto Duran and “Sugar” Ray Leonard in which both of those legendary boxers were shells of their former selves.

Sumian: The break between the prelims and the main card. Despite severely lacking starpower, this event truly has the aura of a fight night that is sure to deliver a number of exciting battles and finishes. There are many quality fights on this show. They will serve to turn a questionable fight night card into a surprisingly memorable event. Stay tuned as the finishes continue one after another.

Pair this card with…

Sumian: The theme song of Jaws. Much like the great white predator that terrorized Amity Island for a number of years, Islam Makhachev is coming for his latest victim. He’ll leave no survivors in his wake, either. The lightweight contender is poised to make a huge leap while delivering another impressive victory against a very game opponent. He’ll continue to inch closer and closer to the championship island.

Petela: “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen. Both fighters in the co-main event might as well be the character in that song, harkening back to their younger days and looking to recapture a piece of their youth. Sadly, they won’t achieve this goal. Instead, they will be left spouting fight lore at a roadside bar somewhere to anyone who will listen.

Fight Sumian’s Pick Petela’s Pick
Main Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET)
LW: Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moisés Makhachev Makhachev
Women’s BW: Marion Reneau vs. Miesha Tate Tate Reneau
LW: Mateusz Gamrot vs. Jeremy Stephens Gamrot Stephens
MW: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Dustin Stoltzfus Vieira Vieira
FW: Billy Quarantillo vs. Gabriel Benitez Benitez Quarantillo
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 7 p.m. ET)
WW: Daniel Rodriguez vs. Preston Parsons Rodriguez Rodriguez
Women’s StrawW: Amanda Lemos vs. Montserrat Ruiz Lemos Lemos
BW: Khalid Taha vs. Sergey Morozov Morozov Morozov
BW: Anderson dos Santos vs. Miles Johns Johns Johns
FlyW: Francisco Figueiredo vs. Malcolm Gordon Figueiredo Figueiredo
HW: Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Alan Baudot Baudot Nascimento