Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 2 as Raphael Assuncao takes on Marlon Moraes in a clash of top five bantamweights.
Raphael Assuncao (Record: 27-5, +127 Underdog, Fighter Grade: A-)
The 36-year old Recife, Brazil-born fighter has been training in the United States for many years. He trains in Atlanta at Ascension MMA. Assuncao has quietly become one of the best bantamweights in the world. He’s won eleven of his last twelve fights. His lone loss was to TJ DIllashaw in 2016. The Brazilian bantamweight has been and continues to be one of the most underrated fighters in the UFC.
Assuncao has a really well-rounded game combining sharp punches with an excellent right legged switch kick which he likes to land to the lead leg of his opponent. He fights mainly as a counter striker and finds holes when his opponent moves forward. What Assuncao does very well is feint and move away from strikes. He doesn’t get hit a lot; absorbing just 2.23 significant strikes a minute. Furthermore, Assuncao tends to get in a slow, technical striking matchups and therefore ends up in really close striking matches that are hard to judge. He’s a capable wrestler, but it’s not an integral part of his skill set. The biggest concern with Assuncao is that he’s not a finisher. Despite his tremendous record, he needs to squeak out close decisions against quality opposition that are more capable finishers.
Marlon Moraes (Record: 21-5, -157 Favorite, Power Ranking: A+)
The 30-year-old Brazilian is surging in one of the sport’s deepest divisions. He enters his second straight main event on the back of consecutive knockout victories over Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera.
The Brazilian bantamweight rose to prominence in the now defunct World Series of Fighting. Along with Justin Gaethje, Moraes’ stardom was born out of that organization. Moraes won all eleven of his fights in that organization doing so in dominant fashion. Moraes’ game begins with his stand up. He’s one of the most technical strikers in the division. He mixes in punches well with a tremendous kicking game. His last five finishes have come by some variety of a kick including the devastating finishes of the aforementioned Rivera and Sterling. Moraes has not been a heavy volume striker (3.25 significant strikes per 15 minutes), but has proven to be effective. He’s shown that he can compete with the best fighters in the division and is one win away from a chance to compete for the title.
In a rematch of a three round fight booked in 2017, Raphael Assuncao takes on Marlon Moraes in what is now a number one contender five round contest. In their first fight, the strikes landed were nearly identical with Moraes landing 44 strikes and Assuncao landing 43. It was a coin flip fight when it hit the final bell with two of the three judges ultimately scoring it for Assuncao. Since then, both fighters have faired well and are deserving of a top contender fight. In this fight however, I believe there will be more to separate these two men. Assuncao is a fighter who tends to be at his best the first time he faces an opponent as his counter attacking is tough to gauge until being in the cage with him. Moraes will be able to make adjustments in his second time out against Assuncao in order to have a tangible advantage. Furthermore, Moraes is the only of these fighters that has gone five rounds before having done so twice while in the World Series of Fighting. Assuncao is now 37 years of age and rarely has a fighter in this weightclass been able to compete with the elite in the division at this advanced age. Combine all of that with Moraes being the much better finisher and the advantages sit with Moraes to win the bout. Moraes is currently down to -157 at Several Bookmakers and is -165 or better at other books as well. If his number hits -150, this will become one of my top two plays for this fight card.