Marlon Moraes will get a chance to avenge his controversial Octagon debut loss this Saturday (Feb. 2, 2019), taking on Raphael Assuncao in UFC on ESPN+ 2’s main event inside Northeast Olympic Training Center in Fortaleza, Brazil, a match that could decide the next Bantamweight contender. Fortaleza fight fans will also see local heroes like Jose Aldo, Demian Maia and Charles Oliveira, as well as rising stars like Johnny Walker and Livinha Souza.
We’ve got four more UFC on ESPN+ 2 “Prelims” undercard bouts left to preview and predict (check out the first batch here), so let’s not waste time:
185 lbs.: Anthony Hernandez vs. Markus Perez
Anthony Hernandez (6-0) dispatched his first five professional opponents in less than one round apiece before going the distance in victory in his LFA debut. “Fluffy” needed just 40 seconds to destroy Jordan Wright on “Contender Series,” but a failed drug test for marijuana turned it into a No Contest.
All four of his submission wins have come by guillotine.
Markus Perez (10-2) pulled off an impressive submission of Ian Heinisch to earn the LFA Middleweight title and a spot in UFC, where he lost an entertaining decision to Eryk Anders in his debut. “Maluko” bounced back with a submission over James Bochnovic six months later, but came up short against Andrew Sanchez in Lincoln.
Though he is one inch taller than Hernandez, he will give up two inches of reach.
Perez is a tricky bastard, and I mean that in only the most complimentary of ways. His fight with Anders was a Genki Sudo-esque spectacle, complete with sneakily devastating grappling. I’m just not sure he can consistently apply that ground prowess enough to make a real run towards the top, which could prove fatal against a strong wrestler in Hernandez.
“Fluffy” is the bigger hitter of the two and should have the better positional control on the mat. Perez is dangerous, but Hernandez’s punching onslaughts, top control and guillotine threat should earn him the win.
Prediction: Hernandez via unanimous decision
125 lbs.: Mara Romero Borella vs. Taila Santos
Mara Romero Borella (11-5) extended her unbeaten streak to seven in her UFC debut, pulling off an upset submission of Kalindra Faria at UFC 216. She struggled with Katlyn Chookagian’s output her next time out, losing a decision in one of the weirder fights in recent memory.
This will be her first fight in more than one year.
Taila Santos (15-0) racked up 12 stoppages in her first 14 fights, 10 of them knockouts and all but one coming in the first round. She was a bit more reserved on “Contender Series,” where she used a stiff jab and hard leg kicks to take a decision over Estefani Almeida.
She stands two inches shorter than Borella at 5’4.”
You may not be surprised to hear that Santos’ record is deceiving; only four of the women she’s fought had winning records and she went the distance against three of them. She does look like she’s got the skills, though, particularly with one of the division’s best jabs.
She could cruise past Borella without issue if she just stays on her feet.
If Borella can get her wrestling going, she can get the submission without too much issue. Santos showed some decent hips on the Contender Series, though, and should be able to repeat her efforts with patient sprawl-and-brawling.
Prediction: Santos via unanimous decision
170 lbs.: Thiago Alves vs. Max Griffin
Once the terror of the Welterweight division, Thiago Alves (22-13) finds himself just 1-4 since his ridiculous comeback knockout of Jordan Mein. “The Pitbull” was last seen in May 2018, following up a grievous knockout loss to Curtis Millender with a surprisingly competitive decision defeat against unbeaten Alexey Kunchenko.
Twelve of his 14 stoppage victories have come by form of knockout.
Max Griffin (14-5) — who had struggled with the power of Elizeu “Capoeira” in his “Fight of the Night” defeat — surprised most with his one-sided victory over Mike Perry four months later. He went on to face the rising Curtis Millender, ultimately losing a decision to the towering “Curtious.”
He is two inches taller than Alves and will have a six-inch reach advantage.
The sad thing about Alves’ decline is that the technique is still there ... he’s just not fast or durable enough to make it work anymore. Griffin is a quality Welterweight, but the Alves of yore would tear him to pieces.
Too bad he’s not the one fighting, though.
Alves is going to have tons of trouble getting past Griffin’s reach, especially since he can’t walk through incoming fire with confidence anymore. Alves could, theoretically, leg kick and counter his way to a classic “Pitbull” victory. More likely, Griffin clocks him on the way in for a quick finish.
Prediction: Griffin via first-round technical knockout
265 lbs.: Junior Albini vs. Jair Rozenstruik
Junior Albini (14-4) came out of nowhere to knockout spoiler Timothy Johnson in his Octagon debut, winning “Performance of the Night” in the process. He has since lost two straight, a sedate decision against Andrei Arlovski and an Ezekiel choke courtesy of Alexey Oleinik.
He has knocked out and submitted six men apiece, 11 in the first round.
Jair Rozenstruik (6-0) put together a 76-6 record as a kickboxer, including 64 knockouts, and has knocked out five of his six mixed martial arts (MMA) opponents. In his biggest fight to date, he took on unbeaten Andrey Kovalev in Rizin and took home a split decision.
He replaces the injured Dmitry Sosnovskiy on short notice.
Albini is one of the biggest men in UFC and has legit power — he really should be doing better than he is. His size advantage and Rozenstruik’s inexperience on the mat gives him a clear avenue to victory, but if he comes in with the same torpor that he did against Arlovski, Rozenstruik is going to eat him alive on the feet.
Even beyond that self-sabotage, Albini is facing a hard 180 in terms of opponents, going from the all-wrestling-all-the-time Sosnovskiy to a kickboxing veteran. Plus, he hasn’t really been the takedown type in the Octagon. So long as Rozenstruik doesn’t grease again and get disqualified, he tears apart his lumbering foe early in the first round.
Prediction: Rozenstruik via first-round knockout
UFC on ESPN+ 2 features a kickass main event, Jose Aldo against a rising contender, and a guaranteed barnburner between Charles Oliveira and David Teymur are worth the price of admission by themselves — don’t miss it! See you Saturday, 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+).