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UFC Fight Night 123 card: Marlon Moraes vs Aljamain Sterling full fight preview

MMA: UFC 212-Assuncao vs Moraes Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight contenders Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling will battle this Saturday (Dec. 9, 2017) inside Save Mart Center in Fresno, California.

Moraes dominated in the World Series of Fighting (WSOF), but his first pair of bouts in UFC have been incredibly competitive. Moraes proved himself a top contender in those bouts despite splitting the pair of split-decisions, and the Brazilian stepped up on short-notice here to further assert himself into the title picture. Sterling was speeding toward a title shot back in 2015, but consecutive losses cooled his rise. Since then, however, Sterling has showed some serious improved and scored a pair of strong victories to return to the mix.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for both athletes:

Marlon Moraes
Record: 19-5-1
Key Wins: John Dodson (UFC Fight Night 120), Josh Hill (WSOF 32, WSOF 18), Miguel Torres (WSOF 1)
Key Losses: Raphael Assuncao (UFC 212)
Keys to Victory: Moraes is a very athletic Muay Thai fighter who has developed insane takedown defense. The best known weapon of Moraes are his low kicks, which have left multiple opponents tripping over their own puffed up thigh.

It’s a very interesting match up with Sterling. In general, Sterling sticks to the outside and kicks, though lately he’s been more willing to box. Then, when given the opportunity, he dives for his opponent’s hips, and Sterling’s combination of strength and wrestling experience nearly guarantees a finished takedown.

Luckily, Moraes is pretty damn excellent at getting his legs far out of the way the second he smells a shot coming. With that in mind, low kicks will be important for Moraes. Sterling likes to remain far away, and the easiest thing to hit against an opponent backing away is the legs. In addition, I’d love to see Moraes counter his opponent’s kicks with low kicks. If Moraes can damage Sterling’s legs, the fight becomes easier. Not only will Sterling be without his excellent drive, but he’ll have a harder time stopping Moraes from getting into punching range.


Aljamain Sterling
Record: 14-2
Key Wins: Renan Barao (UFC 214), Augusto Mendes (UFC on FOX 24), Takeya Mizugaki (UFC on FOX 15)
Key Losses: Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling is a really stellar wrestler and grappler. In general, once he plants a man on the mat, his opponent is going to be trapped underneath “Aljo” for the rest of the round. He’s long been a solid kicker as well, but lately Sterling’s hands have come a long way.

Is Moraes the man who Sterling wants to test out his boxing against? Not really, but it’s what Sterling has to do. Trying to trade kicks and time a shot against a brutal kicker with great takedown defense just is not the best strategy.

To get Moraes to the mat — which should absolutely be Sterling’s goal — the New Yorker has to back Moraes up and close the distance a bit. To do so, he needs to use those long limbs to cut the cage off and prevent Moraes from making this a kickboxing match. If the two are close enough to trade punches, Sterling is close enough to grab onto his foe’s waist.

Bottom Line: It’s a huge fight for the 135-pound division.

Things at Bantamweight are weird right now. There’s a new champion, but he’s focusing on the champion 10 pounds lighter. In the meantime, guys like Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao are building strong cases for a title shot, and the recently dethroned Cody Garbrandt is in the mix as well.

The winner of this match up asserts their own name into that list. Will they receive a title shot off this win? No, but if T.J. Dillashaw is fighting Demetrious Johnson next as Dana White claims, no one else is fighting for the belt in the near future either. Therefore, more match ups of top contenders must be made until there’s one clear top contender for Dillashaw to face on his return to Bantamweight.

Winners face winners, so the victor of this fight is just one or two more wins away. Alternatively, the loser takes a step back in a division full of rising stars looking to move forward. He’s not out of the Top 10, but it’s a significant loss of momentum at a bad time.

At UFC Fight Night 123, Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling will throw down. Which man will earn the victory?

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