Prime Picks: UFC on ESPN 26 ‘Makhachev vs. Moises’

By Jay Pettry Jul 16, 2021

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After a wild week, the Ultimate Fighting Championship slows down with an ESPN offering with little in ranked relevance but the potential for some entertaining violence. Only two of the 11 fights on this card see betting favorites closer than -150, while five currently post favored fighters above -300. The main event is practically untouchable with odds rarely seen for a non-championship headliner, as Islam Makhachev is a rightful but prohibitive favorite at -600. Instead, we take a look at four matches from UFC on ESPN 26 that provide varying bang for their buck, including the intriguing co-headliner, two sure-fire stoppages and a promising contender aiming to make his way up the division.

Miesha Tate (-140)


There are a few major schools of thought for Tate’s comeback after well over four years away from the sport: she has been working hard to return to form, she is taking a cash grab matchup against a winnable foe or she is trying to fight out of her contract so that she can compete elsewhere. No matter the reason, there are several unanswered questions about how she will perform. It is understandable to want to avoid this bantamweight pairing, but given that the main event features odds even more troubling, the co-headliner still allows for some action if one believes in Tate.

Reneau’s four-bout losing streak looks worse on paper than it might in actuality, with all four of her setbacks decision losses to top contenders. Each of the four women that topped her – Macy Chiasson, Raquel Pennington, Yana Kunitskaya and Cat Zingano – were ranked among the Top 10 of the division or still are now. The common thread for the 44-year-old is that in each of those four bouts dating back almost exactly three years ago is that Reneau is capable of being stalled and grinded out, whether against the fence or cage. It often only required one successful takedown, or one tie-up against the wire, to nullify her for the good part of a round. Her best path to victory in those situations would be utilizing her offensive guard, including her triangle, which has served her well over the years. Unless Tate has slipped several steps, however, that guard should not fluster her.

To submit the woman known as “Cupcake” would be to join a pantheon of greats that have tapped Tate, with a membership class consisting solely of Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes. Others have tried, like the legendary Marloes Coenen or the inimitable Zingano, but everyone else has fallen short. On the other hand, Tate’s nickname was once listed as “Takedown,” and she has certainly lived up to that nomenclature through her career. Tate has taken down practically every opponent she has faced inside the UFC Octagon or the Strikeforce hexagon, and along the way, she has tried to submit them. In her nine UFC bouts to date, Tate has officially hunted for 11 submissions, while on the receiving end of eight attempts. Ground activity has never been an issue for the Washington native.

It may be remarkable to some that Tate seemingly retired after her November 2016 match with Pennington, went on to work in athlete relations with One Championship, and was away for over four years -- but still clocks in 10 years younger than her adversary on Saturday. Whether the time off not spent building her family was to help recover mentally or physically, or otherwise allow her to evolve as a fighter, remains to be seen. Tate looked noticeably flat in her post-Holly Holm UFC bouts, including a lackluster decision against Pennington where she all but gave up in the last round. If she is even 50 percent of what she was when she ended Holm’s UFC championship run, this should be her fight to win thanks to her grappling and control. Assuming she is back in full swing, the line of Tate at -140 is worthwhile, but it still may require a leap of faith.

Rodolfo Vieira Wins Inside Distance (-125)


Just like Tate, Vieira has some ‘splainin’ to do, with his February appearance going about as poorly as it possibly could for an acclaimed world-class grappler. Suffering his first submission defeat since Dean Lister tapped him in 2011 in the Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championship, Anthony Hernandez fought through the fire and fury to hit a guillotine choke on “The Black Belt Hunter.” The reason for this shocking result -- Hernandez by Submission closed at a remarkable +3000 -- was almost wholly blamed on his atrocious cardio, which completely abandoned him before the first round ended. The question of how he will bounce back is not quite as in-your-face as Tate taking nearly five years away, but it is a glaring concern that Dustin Stoltzfus will look to exploit. The best hope for the American may yet be to ride out the worst parts of the first round, land a few strikes to keep his foe honest, and take it to him in the later rounds.

Hernandez has prided himself over the years as a crafty grappler, pulling submissions out of nowhere like his anaconda choke of Jun Yong Park. Stoltzfus is an opportunistic ground fighter as well, and a creative one to boot, hitting a twister to earn a place on Dana White's Contender Series. The contract-winning performance came for Stoltzfus after hitting a takedown on Joseph Pyfer, as Pyfer’s elbow bent the wrong direction when trying to thwart it. Stoltzfus could try pressing the pace on Vieira to tire him quickly, but he would firmly find himself in the danger zone early on if he looks to take the fight to the ground. If Stoltzfus comes in thinking that he can pull off what Hernandez did, he may be in for a surprise. When they are both dry, and a fired up Stoltzfus looks to engage his opponent in grappling, Vieira can strike and make him pay dearly, earning a finish and keeping his stoppage rate at 100 percent.

Amanda Lemos Wins Inside Distance (+115)


For the second selection in a row, a fighter is such a heavy favorite that the best way to pursue value is to narrow down the result to either a stoppage or a decision. In the above Vieira fight, selecting that Vieira would win by submission narrows it too closely in case he manages to pull off a stoppage with strikes, and this is the same for Lemos when she faces Montserrat Ruiz. Brazil’s Lemos’ trip down 20 pounds to strawweight has proved her well so far, as she clocks in as the far larger fighter against opponents like Livinha Souza and Mizuki Inoue. Against Ruiz, it will be much of the same, as she can impose any game she wants, with a far more well-rounded skillset than her adversary brings to the table. Whether due to her fists or by snaring Ruiz’ exposed neck, Lemos has the tools to end this fight before the final bell.

Ruiz surprised some -- but not all -- when her takedowns and scarf holds completely shut Cheyanne Buys down. This will not be that kind of fight, as Lemos can not only serve as a brick wall to block any head-and-arm tosses, but she will make Ruiz pay any time she tries. Lemos has more power in her straight jab than Ruiz likely could muster with a haymaker, and eating a few shots flush on the chin will shake up the Mexican. The Brazilian holds an advantage in practically every category that “Conejo” has to offer, and her size, strength, reach and effective grappling game of her own will have Ruiz guessing before too long. The accumulation of damage can lead to either a stoppage due to strikes, or when Ruiz tries a risky takedown only to get reversed, her back taken and choked out.

Miles Johns (-175)


A fair amount of steam left Johns’ sails when Mario Bautista starched him with a flying knee in 2020. A comeback drubbing of Kevin Natividad helped the Fortis MMA product get back on track a bit, and this appearance against Anderson dos Santos should help him even more. A strong wrestle-boxer that some have compared to a smaller Chad Mendes, “Chapo” possesses both the power that draws respect from an opponent and the grappling chops to suddenly put you on your back for an extended amount of time. The pick for this solid favorite is at least in part due to the idea that Johns should be a far greater favorite, given the level of competition that each man has beaten in their careers.

Dos Santos may hold 21 wins throughout his career, but the only UFC-level name he has overcome is Ricky Simon back in 2016 in Titan Fighting Championships. Various other names like Said Nurmagomedov, Victor Henry, Nad Narimani or Andre Ewell have all turned him away, to name a few. His lone UFC victory, a tapout of Martin Day, has not held up as Day went on to drop all four of his UFC bouts and see his release. Still, his guillotine choke could be a threat if Johns shoots in carelessly, but oftentimes fighters pull for guillotines instead of trying to stuff takedowns, only to put themselves in worse positions – see, for example, Conor McGregor against Dustin Poirier at UFC 264. Like Lemos in the previous line, Johns holds most of the physical advantages other than reach. Competitors in lower weight classes historically have not fared well when advancing in age, and dos Santos will turn 36 in a little over a week. The younger, faster, stronger Johns should take this fight convincingly.

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