Some were surprised when ninth-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight Islam Makhachev accepted a risky fight with a lower-ranked Thiago Moises at UFC Vegas 31. You can also count the Brazilian as someone else surprised when the booking was made. And he's thrilled at the opportunity to face a fighter he feels many of his contemporaries have been "running away from."
Thiago Moises surprised as much everyone else by Makhachev booking
"Actually when I got the call, I was very surprised. I was studying the names that I could fight next but I didn't imagine the UFC was going to offer me Islam, because I thought Islam was going to fight someone closer to the top five to get a title shot," ">Moises told BJPenn.com. "I accepted the fight right away. I know a lot of guys didn't want to fight him. A lot of guys are running away from him. I was very excited and happy with this opportunity...I think they are afraid of his grappling. I think he's a big name, I just think people are afraid of his grappling."
Although he feels other competitors in the rankings have avoided the Russian and his vaunted wrestling skills, Moises, 26, actually likes the clash of grappling styles. And he feels he could offer Makhachev some serious problems on the mat.
"I think my game matches well against his game because I'm a good grappler as well. And I fight well with my back on the mat. As you guys could see in my fight against Michael Johnson [in May 202]. I have a lot of submissions from my back. I think our styles match really well," Moises said.
Thiago Moises sees a finish coming in the UFC Vegas 31 main event
This won't be the American Top Team product's first foray into a matchup against stiff competition. After winning a Dana White's Contender Series contract in 2018, he jumped into the deep end of the pool to face a battle-tested Octagon veteran in Beneil Dariush. A man that has worked his way into a top-five spot in the division's current rankings. When asked how Makhachev stacks up against someone the ilk of "Benny," The No. 14 UFC lightweight felt the Iranian was a more dangerous threat than his Dagestani opponent on July 17.
"I think they are pretty close, but I think Beneil is more dangerous on the feet and has better jiu-jitsu than Islam. But Islam has better wrestling than Beneil. They both have their strengths. I think they are pretty close, but I think Beniel's the [more] dangerous guy," Moises said.
It could be why, despite Makhachev's reputation after winning seven-straight in the lightweight division, that Moises sees this fight ending early, and having his hand raised in the night's headling fight.
"I see myself winning this fight by stoppage," he said.
UFC Vegas 31 takes place Saturday, July 17 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada. The card starts at 7 pm ET and will be air on ESPN and stream on ESPN+.