This weekend (Sat., July 17, 2021), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will return to UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada, for UFC Vegas 31. After perhaps the biggest pay-per-view (PPV) event of the year, UFC is looking to capitalize on any potential new fans with … a barely there card put together at the last-second? Admittedly, it’s hard to blame the promotion when an event is savaged by injuries and illness.
Still, these under-the-radar nights occasionally overdeliver on action, so let’s take a closer look at these main card donnybrooks:
Lightweight: Jeremy Stephens vs. Mateusz Gamrot
Best Win for Stephens? Josh Emmett For Gamrot? Scott Holtzmann
Current Streak: Stephens is winless through five (to admittedly elite Featherweights), while Gamrot bounced back from his first pro loss last time out
X-Factor: Stephens is back at 155 lbs. for the first time since 2012
How these two match up: I don’t see how this won’t be a great fight!
Sure, Stephens has lost a bunch of fights in a row, but “Lil Heathen” has still showed some life in those performances, which came against the absolute best. Stephens still has ridiculous power in his hands, and the technical aspects of his game have improved considerably over the last five years or so.
Gamrot lost a bit of steam with an upset loss in his UFC debut, but there’s a reason why fans in the know were excited about “Gamer.” The former KSW champion has a seriously well-rounded game with top-notch wrestling, high-level grappling, and as his knockout of Holtzmann demonstrated, rather surprising power.
I don’t know that I like Stephens move to Lightweight. It’s become something of a necessity due to Stephens’ problems making 145 lbs., but the simple fact remains: Stephens was much more successful as a Featherweight. His punches carried more weight, and his takedown defense held up much better.
It’s not like this is a softball for his return to Lightweight, either. Gamrot is very, very good! He has the skills to keep moving and frustrate his opponent, then when Stephens really chases, the takedown will open up.
Furthermore, Stephens is 35 years of age, and he’s been fighting for a remarkably long time. His performances have remained solid, but at some point, the fall off is going to happen … that time may be now.
Prediction: Gamrot via decision
Middleweight: Rodolfo Vieira vs. Dustin Stoltzfus
Best Win for Vieira? Oskar Piechota For Stoltzfus? Joseph Phyfer
Current Streak: Vieira suffered his first pro defeat last time out, while Stoltzfus lost his debut
X-Factor: How will Vieira respond from such a dramatic loss?
How these two match up: Grapplers collide!
Vieira is one of the most accomplished jiu-jitsu players to crossover into the sport of MMA. While his wrestling already appears to be very solid, Vieira’s defeat to Anthony Hernandez really called into question his conditioning in the case that the early submission does not materialize.
No matter background or skill set, cardio is ultimately king.
On the flip side, Stoltzfus is a “Contenders Series” pickup who also excels on the mat. He’s got some power in his striker, but it typically doesn’t take long for the Pennsylvania-native to duck down into a shot and look for the submission himself.
One of the worst matchups for a jiu-jitsu fighter is a better BJJ guy! On paper, Vieira should overwhelm his opponent on the mat, as Stoltzfus is unlikely to have his sprawl-and-brawl game dialed in. The question comes, however, in the potential second and third round, at which point Stoltzfus may find takedowns easier to shuck and his own offense easier to score.
For now, I’ll trust Vieira to have at least slightly improved upon his gas tank woes, but it’s far from a guarantee.
Prediction: Vieira via submission
Featherweight: Gabriel Benitez vs. Billy Quarantillo
Best Win for Vieira? Jason Knight For Quarantillo? Spike Carlyle
Current Streak: Benitez recently returned to the win column, while Quarantillo lost inside the Octagon for the first time
X-Factor: Benitez kicks absurdly hard
How these two match up: Striker vs. grappler, clear as day!
Benitez is a nasty Southpaw with lots of UFC experience. Anything that comes from his left side is simply so powerful: big kicks, knees, and punches. However, he’s perhaps a bit too defensively lax, which has resulted in Benitez struggling to really gain momentum despite strong performances.
Quarantillo, meanwhile, employs a very effective grinding style of fighting. He puts the pace on his opponents, constantly forcing them to the back foot before looking to set up his takedowns.
This match up reads rather poor for “Billy Q.” Sure, he holds the advantage if able to gain top position, but Benitez is quite accustomed to opponents trying to drag him to the mat. The Mexican athlete is a dedicated out-fighter, quite good at scoring with his kicks and counters before resetting back to the center.
Furthermore, Quarantillo cannot just walk through Benitez’s left kick. If sent low, it will knock him from his stance, and any middle or high kick is a potential fight-ender.
Prediction: Benitez via decision