TNT Sports Reload - Episode 13Oct 10
The lightweight division continues to deliver on its reputation as the most exciting in the UFC after a memorable evening at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas last weekend.
The 155lb-ers are at it again on Saturday night as both Islam Makhachev and Thiago Moises look to take advantage of the fluidity below the top two to continue their climb up the rankings.
Fight fans can look forward to the unmissable return of former bantamweight champion Miesha Tate, who ends her four-and-a-half year retirement in the co-main event against veteran Marion Reneau.
And Jeremy Stephens makes his 34th Octagon walk in a potential Fight of the Night contender against rising Polish standout Mateusz Gamrot in the pick of the other bouts.
With so much to look forward to from another brilliant card at the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, here’s four reasons why you can’t afford to miss the action this weekend on BT Sport.
The new Khabib?
Islam Makhachev looks to extend his winning streak to eight when he faces Thiago Moises in the main event this weekend.
The rising Dagestani star is regarded by many as a future lightweight champion in the making, increasingly dominating fights in the same manner as his mentor, former pound-for-pound king Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Training under the watchful eye of Khabib at coach Javier Mendes’ American Kickboxing Academy, Makhachev has climbed to ninth in the lightweight rankings but believes his progress has been slowed by those ranked above him avoiding him at all costs.
Now headlining a card against a fellow ranked opponent, Makhachev can produce a statement performance that will continue to crank the pressure up on those above him to open the door to the top five.
“I can think of a couple of guys, maybe RDA [Rafael Dos Anjos] or Tony [Ferguson],” Makhachev told MMAJunkie this week when asked who he would like to face next.
“I was supposed to fight RDA in Abu Dhabi. He got corona and they cancelled the fight and then I came to Vegas and I had an infection. We were supposed to fight, but maybe it’s next, I don’t know.”
Brazilian contender Thiago Moises will relish hearing those words ahead of the fight on Saturday night with the 26-year-old hoping to derail the highly-rated prospect already overlooking him.
Moises, who fights out of American Top Team alongside the likes of Dustin Poirier and Jorge Masvidal, is currently ranked 14 in the lightweight division and sees Makhachev as his ticket to the top 10 with a statement win this weekend.
“I’m coming off three great wins in a row,” he said.
“They weren’t just wins, but wins over excellent fighters in our weight class – Michael Johnson, Bobby Green, and Alexander Hernandez. A win over Islam will extend my UFC winning streak to four, and it will bring me up to the top nine or even top eight.
“I’ll be in the mix to sooner or later get a title shot. The hype around Islam, including his association with Khabib Nurmagomedov, will only contribute to that.”
Who will triumph under the bright lights in Las Vegas?
Former UFC bantamweight champion Miesha Tate shocked the MMA world earlier this year when she announced her return to combat after nearly five years out of action.
The 34-year-old has lofty ambitions too, setting her sights firmly on reclaiming the 135lb strap currently held by pound-for-pound queen Amanda Nunes.
“I’m not here for anything less than gold,” Tate told reporters in March.
“I want to be the best in the world. I’d love to say I’m doing this because I’m a mum and I want to inspire my kids and all this… that’s the cherry on the top, I want my kids to see what a strong woman can do and to be that role model for my kids.
I want to be the greatest again
- Miesha Tate
“That’s not the reason I’m doing this. I’m doing this for me. I took four and a half years off, I’ve sat back and watched this sport evolve and watch these amazing women… but I want to come back and add some spice to this division.
“I want to be the greatest again. I want to be the best.”
Her journey back to the top of the bantamweight division begins with a winnable encounter against 44-year-old Marion Reneau on Saturday night.
Reneau, 44, comes into the bout on a four-fight slide and has vowed to retire come what may after fighting Tate this weekend.
“It’s my last dance,” Reneau said.
“That’s what we’ve been saying. It’s my last dance in the ring… Although I still have more left in me, I’m going to go out the way I want to go out, and this is the way I want.”
Can Reneau drag Tate back into retirement or will the former champ rediscover winning form after so long out of action?
Blink and you’ll miss it
UFC veteran Jeremy Stephens will be itching to get back in the Octagon having been denied the opportunity to fight Drakkar Klose at the last second following a weigh-in day scuffle earlier this year.
The 35-year-old revels in the carnage of the fight game but finds himself on the back of a five-fight winless streak coming into this bout.
Allowances must be made for the calibre of competition he has faced during that time but regardless, ‘Lil Heathen’, making his 34th UFC appearance, will be desperate to prove he still has enough left in the tank to remain an elite UFC lightweight.
He faces off against Poland’s Mateusz Gamrot who arrived in the UFC last year with a burgeoning reputation as one of Europe’s most promising MMA exports.
A two-weight world champion of Polish promotion KSW, Gamrot was handed a tough assignment on debut, coming up short during an entertaining striking battle with Georgian kickboxer Guram Kutateladze last year.
But he bounced back in style with a second-round knockout against Scott Holtzman in April – a victory the 30-year-old prospect will hope can be the start of an assault on the 155lb rankings.
Now training at American Top Team for a portion of his training camps, Gamrot believes he is on the right path to satisfying his “obsession” with UFC gold.
“I’m growing every day at American Top Team; my skills and my power are improving and I’m chasing my dream,” he said.
“My name is Gamrot, I am from Poland, and I want to go out and show the best version of myself.
“It’s going to be a war. One where I send him to retirement.”
Rodolfo Viera makes his fourth UFC appearance this weekend coming off the back of a shock submission loss to Anthony Hernandez in February.
Viera, 31, is about as an accomplished grappler as it is possible to be; a four-time Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu world champion with a pro grappling record of 100-9-1 and only one submission loss during that time.
But Hernandez managed to take advantage of the Brazilian’s MMA inexperience to score a stunning sub win of his own that saw him pocket a performance bonus in the process.
Now unburdened by all that comes with an undefeated record, Viera looks to bounce back from the manner of that defeat against Dustin Stoltzfus this weekend.
But it certainly won’t be handed to him on a platter with Stoltzfus, 29, looking for a return to winning ways himself after coming up short on the scorecards against Kyle Daukuas last time out.
That appearance was Stoltzfus’ first since a nasty brush with Covid-19 but with the benefit of a longer layoff, the Contender Series alumni will be confident of an improved performance this time around.