As the UFC makes its second start of the year this Saturday in Fortaleza, Brazil, two fighters will seek to clean up the mess that was left in the cage two weeks ago in Brooklyn, when bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw was dropped three times and stopped in thirty-four seconds by flyweight champion Henry Cejudo.
The arrogance of Dillashaw, believing that it would be easy to drop ten pounds and take out the newly minted champion in Cejudo, has left the fate of an entire division in limbo, as he continually cries about what was taken from him when the referee stopped the fight, rather on time in my opinion.
Now, the fate of the bantamweight title is in limbo as the UFC considers a possible Dillashaw-Cejudo rematch. Logically, it makes sense for Cejudo to move up and challenge Dillashaw for the 135 crown, given that he’s already knocked him out once and he must desire that lofted distinction of ‘champ champ.’ As problematic as it is for the rest of the division, there is justification both skill and financially wise. Yet there seems to still be some question that Dillashaw will be given another shot for the flyweight championship, which feels like insanity.
But the real number one contender will hopefully be etched in the main event in Fortaleza as bantamweight stalwart Rafael Assuncao and former WSOF champion Marlon Moraes prepare to go at for a second time, but this time for five rounds. This rematch of the number two and three contenders will establish a clear number one contender and if one of these men can deliver an impressive performance, they should be the next contender for Dillashaw-not Henry Cejudo.
The two met in Moraes’ UFC debut in June 2017 in Rio, where a clearly jittery Moraes had trouble finding his footing early against the steady and calculating Assuncao, as was evidenced by his literal tripping several times in the first and second rounds. As the fight progressed Moraes was able to find his footing and began to put his strikes together and land a plethora of combinations. But Assuncao’s combination of defense, accuracy, and experience, along with landing more strikes in those first round, convinced the judges enough to give him a split decision victory.
Since then, Moraes (21-5-1, 3-1 UFC) has gotten his feet under him and is now showing the form in his five-year, twelve fight winning streak outside of the UFC. After out working John Dodson in November 2017, he came back four weeks later to knock out the excellent Aljamin Sterling with a knee that was supposed to be a kick. He served up later a potent encore, ending Jimmie Rivera’s twenty fight win streak with devastating switch kick. It was a shocking victory given that Rivera was undefeated in the UFC and was seen to be on the verge of a title shot.
Meanwhile, Assuncao (27-5, 11-2 UFC) has been the kind of fighter that resulted in invent of mandatory challengers in boxing. Since his losing UFC debut in 2011 Assuncao has gone 11-1 and he is one of the few men to defeat TJ Dillashaw, which he did in 2013. He was supposed to face Renan Barao for the title in March 2015 but was injured, which was part of the trend in his career at this time. Yet after not fighting in 2015 and only once in 2016 (a rematch loss to Dillashaw), Assuncao finally got healthy and busy. He also got more dominant.
After two close wins over Sterling and Moraes, Assuncao ruined the young Matthew Lopez in November 2017 and for an encore, he rolled through Rob Font through three dominant rounds last July. Few, if any, fighters ranked as high as Assuncao have faced as many up and coming prospects in the UFC and damn, you would think the UFC was trying its best to get rid of this guy. But he just keeps winning with his combination of deft counterpunching, solid all around wrestling, and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game that doesn’t get used much, but what he wants to, Assuncao can be suffocating on the ground.
Now that the two are meeting again, with a title shot, sooner or later, hanging in the balance, two things come into play. First, is how will Moraes look now that he has his footing under him in the UFC and he is back to kicking guys heads off. Moraes isn’t the first or last fighter to look sub par in his UFC debut, so we have to wonder how Assuncao will handle Moraes that he has neared his peak.
Then of course there is the question of five rounds. While Assuncao does have the style that seems to be fitting for the five round distance, given he doesn’t throw a lot of punches and uses most of his wrestling only defensively, he has never been past the three round distance. Moraes on the other hand, has been five rounds twice in WSOF title defenses. That experience alone be enough to give him the advantage in a long fight.
Given that Assuncao hasn’t been stopped in five years and Moraes hasn’t been in eleven, it’s likely that either goes down for the count here, especially early. Yet this fight, like every Assuncao fight, will come down to pace. Assuncao is able to win so much because he is so good at fighting at the pace he wants. None of the young fighters that he has faced in the past few years, Moraes included, have been able to make him go faster than he wants. Moraes has five rounds to do that and other than landing that big switch kick, it’s the only way for him to win the fight.
The X-Factor in this fight — Assuncao’s wrestling. He went to against Font and it was a dominant performance. If he chooses to try to take Moraes down, it’s a different fight. Yet it feels like this will be five rounds on the feet, two contenders doing their best to put each other down and earn that elusive title shot.
I just want one man makes a fucking statement.