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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 131’s Marlon Moraes

Arguably the most dominant fighter in World Series of Fighting (WSOF) history, Marlon Moraes, will look to secure a title shot by ending the win streak of “El Terror,” Jimmie Rivera, this Friday (June 1, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 131 inside Adirondack Bank Center in Utica, New York.

Moraes first made his mark as an assumed sacrifice to Miguel Torres. Then holding a record of 7-4-1, Moraes stunned fans and Torres by picking apart the veteran for three rounds. That was the start of an 11-fight win WSOF streak, one that saw him win the Bantamweight title and defend it five times. Inside the Octagon, Moraes lost his debut in a controversial split-decision to the excellent Raphael Assuncao. Since then, Moraes bounced back with a pair of victories, including a massive knockout over Aljamain Sterling.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


An accomplished Muay Thai champion in Brazil, Moraes kicks like one would expect and earned a reputation for shredding legs in WSOF. Beyond his raw kicking ability, Moraes is a very powerful athlete who has made great strides under the tutelage of Mark Henry.

Moraes has a ton of ways to land kicks, some of them rather creative. Much of the time, however, it’s as simple as feint-kick. Moraes is a heavy puncher, enough so that his feints have to be respected. Usually, a little movement from Moraes will see his opponent take a step back, setting up a perfect low kick.

In addition, Moraes helps himself out by throwing a wide variety of kicks with dangerous speed and power. Moraes frequently snaps off kicks to the leg, body, and head from both legs with little warning, making it difficult to properly read and block the strike. Moraes will also throw left kicks with a switch or by actually switching to Southpaw. If a fighter guesses the target wrong rather than simply getting out of range, the result can be disastrous. Overall, Moraes targets the body fairly often, both with kicks and punches. Before kicking high, Moraes will often squat down a bit, a feint that gives the impression that Moraes is kicking low, punching the body, or generally targeting something below the neck.

That impression is false.

One of Moraes’ favored kick set ups is the cross-same side kick. Firing a right cross then left kick is more common — another technique that Moraes does well — but hiding the right kick behind a right cross can allow the kick to sneak around the guard nicely.

Finally, Moraes is very good at kicking the legs of opponents who attempt to kick him. This can happen in a variety of ways, from checking the kick and immediately firing back to kicking the base leg when his opponent goes high. In one particularly cool example, Moraes landed a particularly brutal counter low kick after Assuncao attempted a side kick to the thigh. “Magic” moved his own leg to safety before drilling a kick into Assuncao’s thigh before he could pull his leg back.

The final thing to note on Moraes’ kicking game is his kicking technique itself. Moraes’ kicks lead with the knee then unfurls the rest of his leg, which really ensures that a large amount of his weight is carried behind the blow. It also helps guarantee Moraes lands with the shin rather than the foot. When throwing high kicks in this fashion, landing a knee rather than a kick is very possible (it almost happens in the earlier Josh Hill GIF above as well), but that’s hardly a problem for the Brazilian (GIF).

Moraes’ hands are very solid for a fighter who relies so heavily on kicks. Offensively, he’ll jab occasionally, but Moraes does most of his work with flurries of the left hook and cross. That’s pretty classic Muay Thai, as both strikes can be followed with a variety of kicks. He’ll also dart out to a favorable angle behind the cross, a definite sign of his work with Mark Henry.

Over the years, Moraes has grown as a counter puncher, and this is where his work with Henry and that group of fighters — particularly Eddie Alvarez, Edson Barboza, and Frankie Edgar — has its clearest impact. As opponents advance, Moraes will duck down or slip left before returning with a hard left hook, a very common reaction of Barboza.

More often, Moraes sits down a little bit, letting his opponent’s punches hopefully sail over his head or glance off. From this lower position, Moraes will return with a right to the body and left hook or right uppercut-left hook. That’s very much a Eddie Alvarez staple, and Moraes has found great success with it as of late.


Moraes rarely turns to his wrestling other than to defend takedowns, but he’ll switch things up on occasion. Recently, Moraes has been attempting the Frankie Edgar running knee pick, though it hasn’t quite worked for him yet.

More realistically, Moraes can sprint into a double leg. He drove into a shot every once a while in WSOF, but recently, Moraes did score a nice double opposite John Dodson. Dodson is historically an extremely difficult fighter to pin to the mat, so Moraes’ ability to drive him to the fence and slam from there was impressive.

Defensively, Moraes is generally a very difficult man to pin down. Distance control and athleticism will go a long way in defending the shot, as will working with excellent wrestlers in Northern New Jersey. Aljamain Sterling was set to be a great challenge to Moraes’ takedown defense, but the Brazilian flattened him in about a minute.

I talked earlier how Moraes leads his kicks with the knee and sets them up with feints most of the time, and both of those traits can allow his kicks to be caught. Dodson found success catching kicks and converting them into takedowns, but holding Moraes down is a difficult task. Furthermore, catching those kicks safely is a difficult task as well.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

A Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Ricardo Almeida, Moraes has finished five foes via submission. Four of those victories were rear-naked chokes, including Moraes two most recent tapout wins in WSOF, in which Moraes dropped and strangled opponents in self-explanatory fashion.

More recently, Moraes showed some solid jiu-jitsu in the brief ground exchanges with John Dodson. Twice, Dodson was able to catch a kick and convert into a takedown, but Moraes used the heel hook to stand, a smart strategy we talk about in this week’s technique highlight.

In the waning seconds of the fight, Moraes managed to snap Dodson’s head down and jump into an arm-in guillotine. Just after the bell, Dodson tapped. Only Dodson truly knows whether he tapped to relieve the pressure or because he knew the fight was over, but from all appearances the submission was very deep.


Moraes looked like a killer in WSOF and is largely living up to that repuation, quickly earning himself a place amonst the elite. Not only is this Moraes’ chance to clearly earn a title shot and potentially become the first crossover champion from WSOF, but there’s bad blood with Rivera as well. Interestingly, they’re reasonably similar fighters: Distance low kickers with solid counter punching and reliable wrestling. While Moraes leans more to the kicks and Rivera the counters, it’s sure to be an excellent contest.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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