While the Bantamweight division tries to put itself back together after the fall of its champion, its two top Brazilians will duke it out for a potential crack at the 135-pound title. Marlon Moraes and Raphael Assuncao run back their controversial first meeting this Saturday (Feb. 2, 2019) inside Northeast Olympic Training Center in Fortaleza, Brazil, streaming live online via ESPN+. UFC on ESPN+ 2 will also see the legendary Jose Aldo face rising prospect Renato Moicano and Demian Maia look to snap his current slump against former Bellator champ Lyman Good.
The whole card takes place on ESPN+, including the seven “Prelims” undercard bouts. Let’s preview and predict first three, shall we?
135 lbs.: Ricardo Ramos vs. Said Nurmagomedov
Despite being known for his grappling, Ricardo Ramos (12-1) scored one of 2017’s most impressive knockouts with a spinning back elbow knockout of Aiemann Zahabi (watch it), winning “Performance of the Night” and extending his UFC record to 2-0. He wasn’t quite as dazzling against Kyung Ho Kang, but nonetheless walked away with a decision over the Korean grinder in Oct. 2018.
He has scored six submissions as a professional.
Said Nurmagomedov (12-1) put together an impressive run on the Russian circuit before joining UFC, losing only to future Octagon competitor Magomed Bibulatov along the way. He dropped to Flyweight for his UFC debut, where he eked out a controversial decision over Justin Scoggins in July 2018.
He will give up one inch of height and two inches of reach to Ramos.
This may just be me trying to rewrite history after unsuccessfully picking against Ramos three fights in a row, but I’m still not all that impressed by him. I’m confident Michinori Tanaka could have beaten him if he’d just focused on his wrestling and I had Ramos losing to Kang. Nurmagomedov, boasting stout takedown defense and fancy long-range kicks, should be able to outwork him.
Ramos will struggle to find himself in top position, and though he has the better boxing, will have issues getting past Nurmagomedov’s kicking arsenal to land them. The size difference is a concern, but Nurmagomedov has had plenty of success at 135 pounds. He holds his own in the clinch wrestling exchanges and lands enough spinning nonsense to take a narrow victory.
Prediction: Nurmagomedov via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Magomed Bibulatov vs. Rogerio Bontorin
Magomed Bibulatov (14-1) joined UFC as one of the top Flyweights on the planet, and his prospects were not dimmed by his workmanlike decision over Jenel Lausa in his Octagon debut. Things went off the rails in his second appearance, however, courtesy of a savage hook from John Moraga at UFC 216.
This will be his first fight in almost 15 months because of a back injury.
Brazil’s Rogerio Bontorin (14-1) went unbeaten in his first twelve bouts before suffering a submission loss to UFC veteran Michinori Tanaka in October of 2017. After a bounce-back knockout victory, he joined “Contender Series: Brasil,” surviving a near-knockout to submit Gustavo Gabriel.
Eleven of his 13 stoppage wins have come by submission.
Bontorin is a stud prospect, but this seems a little beyond him. Bibulatov’s superior wrestling will allow him to dictate where the fight goes, and the Brazilian doesn’t seem to have enough power to repeat Moraga’s upset. This will boil down to Bibulatov’s top game against Bontorin’s bottom game, and I have quite a bit more faith in the former.
Bibulatov is still an elite Flyweight who could make a real run at the title now that Demetrious Johnson is out of the picture. His chin’s a question, but not one Bontorin is equipped to answer. Bibulatov uses regular takedowns and conservative top control to cruise to victory.
Prediction: Bibulatov via unanimous decision
145 lbs.: Geraldo de Freitas vs. Felipe Colares
Geraldo de Freitas (11-4) opened his career 5-4, including losses in two of his first three bouts, before embarking on his current six-fight win streak. Said streak includes a 2017 decision over Luciano Benicio that earned “Espartano” the Shooto Brazil Bantamweight title.
He has submitted five opponents and knocked out another four.
Felipe Colares has gone the distance just once as a professional, racking up six submission wins and two (technical) knockouts. “Cabocao” has spent his last three bouts in the Jungle Fight promotion, where he claimed the Featherweight belt in Sept. 2017.
This will be his first fight since then.
I’m going to be honest: I can’t find squat for Freitas save for some grappling and a not-terribly-enlightening highlight of one of his recent fights. He’s had some bouts in Shooto Brazil, which has an archive on Fight Pass, but his first appearance was at Shooto Brazil 72 and the archive ends at 69.
Nice, but inconvenient.
I’ve got a better notion of Colares, a submission artist who makes up for weak entries with a lovely array of chain wrestling. Neither man seems terribly adept on the feet, so I expect plenty of fun ground work. Seeing as Colares, a true Featherweight, prefers to do his work against the fence and Freitas doesn’t have the best cage awareness, I say “Cabocão” spends enough time in top position or grinding on the fence to win the decision.
Prediction: Colares via unanimous decision
Four more UFC on ESPN+ 2 “Prelims” undercard bouts to preview and predict tomorrow, featuring an undefeated “Contender Series” standout and a clash of Heavyweight knockout artists. Same time as always, Maniacs.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Fight Night 144 fight card on fight night, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. ET, before the main card start time at 8 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).