UFC On ESPN 26 takes place tomorrow night in Las Vegas and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Islam Makhachev vs. Thiago Moises
Makhachev may only be ranked No.9 at lightweight heading into this fight, but he’s won seven fights in a row inside the Octagon and has the support of none-other than Khabib Nurmagomedov, who has gone on record that he thinks he’ll be champion one day.
With that in mind it seems a bit strange that the UFC decided to pair him up with Moises, who to his credit is on a three-fight winning streak, but is only ranked No.14 in the division, so isn’t the step up in competition that some had hoped for.
It was a similar story for Khabib earlier in his career and perhaps it’s down to the fact they both share the same kind of exceptionally dominant wrestling game that can wear down opponents, though Makhachev is also comfortable on the feet too, so it’s no surprise that other ranked 155lb’ers aren’t falling over themselves to fight him.
Certainly, for Moises it seems like a tricky match-up as while he’s a talented grappler who will offer up a submission threat, he may find he has little time to actually utilize that as he’s repeatedly ragdolled to the mat and stifled under ‘Mach’s’ oppressive top control, so I see this being another decision win for Makhachev.
Pick: Islam Makhachev wins by decision.
Miesha Tate vs. Marion Reneau
Tate shocked everyone when she abruptly retired from MMA in the Octagon following a decision loss to Raquel Pennington five years ago, in the same year that she’d won the bantamweight title.
In recent days she’s revealed that her decision was largely due to being depressed at the time, but she’s done a lot since then, including being a Vice-President for ONE FC and giving birth to two children, and now she’s at a moment in her life at 32-years-old where she feels ready to return to the sport.
On the other hand, the 44-year-old Reneau has actually said that she plans to make this bout her swansong from the sport, so she’ll be eager to end her four-fight losing streak and walk away with one of the biggest wins of her carer.
Given Reneau’s age and recent form this does feel like a fight that’s designed with the intention of easing Tate back into life in the octagon after such a long absence, but while time may have caught up with “The Belizean Bruiser” to an extent, she still remains in good shape and has a solid all-round skill-set that means Tate will have to work hard if she wants to emerge victorious.
Tate was never the most athletic or explosive fighter, but she does possess a very solid foundation in wrestling and has some fundamental boxing ability to go alongside it, while she’s also a fierce competitor with a never-say-die attitude and appears to have got herself in very good condition physically for her comeback.
As such, I’m going to take Tate to win on the scorecards here, but I don’t think she’ll have it all her own way.
Prediction: Miesha Tate to win by decision.
Jeremy Stephens vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Stephens returns to lightweight on Saturday night after failing to pick up a win in his last five fights at featherweight, albeit against a string of top-flight opponents.
Gamrot may not be as high-profile as some of Stephens other recent counterparts, but he is a well-rounded fighter whose striking prowess led to a KO win over Scott Holtzman last time out, while he compliments that with good wrestling ability too.
Stephens is first and foremost a striker who is known for having power in his hands, but isn’t as much of a head-hunter as he was years ago, and tries to be more technical nowadays. Even so, at 35 he’s at that age where there’s hints of decline and it’s certainly troubling that he was KO’d by Calvin Kattar last time out.
The other issue for Stephens is that he can get outwrestled at times, and so with Gamrot having the skills to give him problems both on the feet and on the mat, I like his chances to secure a decision win here.
Pick: Jeremy Stephens wins by decision.
Rodolfo Vieira vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
Vieira suffered a surprising upset loss last time out when, despite his highly decorated background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he was submitted by Anthony Hernandez.
The reason that unlikely outcome occurred was clear to everyone as the muscular Vieira appeared to gas out surprisingly early in the fight, and he’s since acknowledged that was the case- admitting it was a surprise even to himself.
Now he goes up against a fighter in Stoltzfus who is also grappling orientated and had put together an unblemished 12-0 record up until joining the UFC for his last fight, where he suffered a unanimous decision defeat against Kyle Daukaus.
Stoltzfus will surely be looking to take Vieira into deep waters here to put pressure on his cardio one again, but while that’s certainly a real concern, I still feel that Vieira’s proven record of tapping out opponents both in UFC and in high-level grappling, will be his get-out-of-jail-free card here as he secures a first round submission stoppage.
Pick: Rodolfo Vieira wins by submission in Rd1.
Gabriel Benitez vs. Billy Quarantillo
Benitez heads into this featherweight match-up after a TKO stoppage victory against Justin Jaynes, while Quarantillo endured the first loss of his UFC career to date on the scorecards against Gavin Tucker.
This should be an entertaining fight between two fighters who are capable of holding their own wherever the fight goes, but on the feet I like Benitez’s work on the outside and he’ll make particularly good use of heavy leg kicks and will work to the body too, while also being sharp on the counter.
Quarantillo’s best chance will be to press forward and push the pace while seeking out opportunities to grapple, but I think that’ll be easier said than done against Benitez’s offensive output, and he’ll struggle to keep him down if they do hit the mat.
So, overall I think it’ll be a good fight, but one where Benitez’s more impactful striking wears on his opponent and helps him secure a decision victory.
Pick: Gabriel Benitez wins by decision.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Daniel Rodriguez vs. Preston Parsons
Miles Johns vs. Anderson dos Santos
Amanda Lemos vs. Montserrat Ruiz
Khalid Taha vs. Sergey Morozov
Francisco Figueiredo vs. Malcolm Gordon
Don Madge vs. Guram Kutateladze
Rodrigo Nascimento vs. Alan Baudot