We saw UFC bantamweight world champion TJ Dillashaw’s unsuccessful tilt at “champ-champ” status in Brooklyn two weeks ago and now the spotlight turns to the division he currently rules.
Two of the top bantamweight contenders in the UFC going head to head in the main event in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Raphael Assuncao meets Marlon Moraes in what should be a white-hot atmosphere in the South American country
The main event
Both men in the bantamweight main event are Brazilian. Both are legitimate contenders. But, their fighting styles couldn’t me further apart.
Raphael Assuncao fights like a man who is cut from raw granite. His fundamentals are excellent just about everywhere, but he lacks one thing that makes him the clear number-one contender – one-shot KO power.
Assuncao has 27 wins from 32 career bouts, with 14 finishes. But only four of those have come via KO or TKO. He has 10 submissions to his name, but hasn’t subbed anyone since 2013.
There’s no denying’s consistency in the UFC – he’s incredibly tough to beat – but his problem is his recent highlight reel is somewhat thin. And in the “What have you done for me lately” world of the UFC, that’s a problem.
That contrasts markedly with his opponent, Marlon Moraes. The livewire Brazilian who trains out of New Jersey, USA, has finished six of his last seven wins, with four of them coming inside the first round. That’s the sort of form that grabs people’s attention.
But four fights ago, on his UFC debut, Moraes did something he hadn’t done since the 10th fight of his career. He lost.
The man who beat him by unanimous decision that day? Raphael Assuncao.
So we have a teak-tough contender who needs a big win to propel him that final yard to a title shot, and we have a spectacular finisher whose only recent blemish came 18 months ago against that very same contender.
That smells like a rematch to me, and it’s one that should produce the next challenger for TJ Dillashaw’s title (aside from any Henry Cejudo-shaped interventions).
Moraes is the odds-on favourite to take the win, and that echoes my assessment, too. Assuncao’s fundamentals are excellent, but he hasn’t shown enough propensity to finish fights at the very highest level.
Moraes, however, certainly has – and that’s why I’m picking him to take the win and book himself into a future title fight at 135lbs.
Legend versus contender
Assuncao vs Moraes wasn’t actually supposed to be the main event. The UFC offered that spot to former UFC featherweight champion and Jose Aldo, but the Brazilian MMA legend asked instead for a three-round fight rather than a five-round main-event.
His matchup is just about as tough an assignment as you can ask for at 145lbs. Fellow countryman Renato Moicano has a stellar 13-1-1 record, with his only defeat coming against recent title challenger Brian Ortega.
Moicano has recent wins over Cub Swanson, Calvin Kattar and Jeremy Stephens on his record, and while he doesn’t have the sort of “name value” that you’d hope for from a potential title contender, the Brazilian says everyone will know his name after he gets done with Aldo on Saturday night in Fortaleza.
Aldo is still an elite-level operator whose only UFC losses have come against Conor McGregor (once) and Max Holloway (twice). If Moicano can add his name to that very exclusive list, there will surely be no denying his title credentials.
At the time of writing, Aldo is the betting underdog, and while there’s no denying Moicano’s skills, it’s hard not to see the former pound-for-pound star getting his hand raised here.
A gem on the prelims
If, like me, you’re one of the crazies who makes sure they’re in front of the TV for even the preliminary bouts on these regional-heavy cards, then, like me, you’ll be delighted to see the Thiago Alves-Max Griffin matchup slotted in as the penultimate bout on the Fortaleza prelims.
Alves has been throwing down in the octagon for as long as I’ve been attending events to cover this great sport, and the 35-year-old always brings the heat on fight night.
While not anywhere near as experienced as the Brazilian, Alves’s opponent Griffin is cut from similar cloth. He’s been involved in some back-and-forth wars during his relatively short UFC career to date, and always steps into battle with a special kind of intensity that means you always know he’s going to deliver an exciting fight.
His approach isn’t always successful – he’s alternated wins and losses throughout his five bouts in the UFC to date – but he IS exciting.
Alves may be the bigger name, but his form is far from good – he’s lost four of his last five – and that’s meant he’s listed as a clear underdog in this contest.
* All odds correct at time of posting.