Long-time World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Bantamweight kingpin, Marlon Moraes, will look to settle the score with crafty veteran, Raphael Assuncao, this Saturday (Feb. 2, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 144, which will stream live online via ESPN+ from inside Northeast Olympic Training Center in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Moraes has been nearly perfect for eight years now. The Brazilian emerged from the regional scene as a sacrifice to Miguel Torres — a complete unknown with four stoppage losses on his record. Instead, things began to click for Moraes, who smacked Torres around and proceeded to dominate his next 12 fights. After that incredible run in WSOF, Moraes jumped ship to the UFC and seemed to win his debut as well. Instead, two of the three judges sided with Assuncao in a close fight. It’s been less than 18 months since, but Moraes has strung together an impressive trio of wins and more than earned this title eliminator rematch.
Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:
At first, I didn’t think much of the “Magic” moniker of Marlon Moraes; I figured it was just a convenient case of alliteration. Following his last two wins — a pair of out-of-nowhere high kick KOs in the opening minute of the fight — I’ve grown to appreciate it. Moraes’ speed could fairly be described as magic: one second his foot is on the ground, the next instant it’s upside a skull.
Prior to his mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Moraes was a Muay Thai champion in Brazil and trained with Edson Barboza quite a bit. I’ll discuss the similarities between the two in a moment, but whoever their mutual coach was... that guy sure knows how to teach the proper way to kick.
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.
In his last two fights, the simple switch high kick has brought an early end to his opponents. There was no brilliant setup, only a single blow thrown with brutal speed and power. Aljamain Sterling happened to duck into the strike (GIF), whereas Rivera’s right hand guarded his chin, but the kick landed to his temple (GIF).
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 too quickly for anything to really be learned.
I talked earlier how Moraes leads his kicks with the knee and sets them up with just feints much 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, as reaching down at the wrong time is likely a mistake that ends the fight.
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.
In his brief ground exchanges with John Dodson, Moraes showed a bit of his craft. When Dodson managed to catch kicks and briefly score takedowns, Moraes countered by immediately attacking the leg. Driving his outside leg across Dodson’s knee — reaping the knee — forced Dodson to turn away to escape, meaning his weight was no longer on top of Moraes. At that point, it was easy for Moraes to abandon the potential leg lock and simply stand up.
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 walked into cage opposite two of the toughest foes of his career in the last yearand ended them both in a combined 100 seconds. Assuncao represents the same challenge as before: crafty, well-rounded, and unlikely to go away. It could once again be a close fight that forces Moraes to dig deep into his bag of tricks, but there’s also a real chance one of those high kicks slips through at any point in the 25 minutes.
Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown 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.