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UFC Fight Night 144 card: Raphael Assuncao vs Marlon Moraes 2 full fight preview

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight contenders Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes will battle once more TONIGHT (Feb. 2, 2019) at UFC Fight Night 144 (watch on ESPN+ here) from inside Northeast Olympic Training Center in Fortaleza, Brazil.

It’s been 17 months since Moraes and Assuncao first met in the Octagon, a pivotal moment for both. Moraes was looking to earn a title shot and making his UFC debut as the most decorated champion in World Series of Fighting (WSOF), but a split-decision loss would force him to build a new win streak. Meanwhile, the close decision fell to Assuncao, arguably the biggest win of his career, and one that distanced him from the T.J. Dillashaw loss and pushed him back into contention. The pair have done nothing but win since that scrap, and there’s a divisional logjam in the title picture buying time for a rematch with even higher stakes. Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Marlon Moraes

Record: 21-5-1
Key Wins: Jimmie Rivera (UFC Fight Night 131), Aljamain Sterling (UFC Fight Night 123), 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 one of the fastest, hardest kickers in his division. The potent Muay Thai fighter made a habit of kicking the legs from underneath his opponents in WSOF, but lately Moraes has found early connections direct to the skull.

To reiterate the video above, Moraes’s general strategy should be to keep a higher volume than Assuncao. Activity is often the deciding factor in close fights. Plus, there’s the added benefit of Moraes’ kick-heavy style breaking down fighters rather quickly, which will pay off greatly in the later rounds.

For specific techniques, the biggest adjustment Moraes can make is to feint more often and never fall away from feinting. Assuncao is a sharp counter puncher, and his timing must be dulled. In addition, answering Assuncao’s attacks with combinations of counter punches will also help keep himself ahead of the scorecards, as he’ll be putting up numbers while deterring Assuncao from being offensive.

There’s a chance for a high kick to land at any point, but Moraes needs to fight like this one will definitely see the final bell.

Raphael Assuncao

Record: 27-5
Key Wins: Marlon Moraes (UFC 212), Aljamain Sterling (UFC on FOX 23), TJ Dillashaw (UFC Fight Night 29), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 54), Rob Font (UFC 226)
Key Losses: TJ Dillashaw (UFC 200)
Keys to Victory: One of the craftiest 15-year veterans still competing at a very high-level, Assuncao is a well-rounded and smart fighter. Earlier in his career, Assuncao was more likely to pursue the takedown and employ his jiu-jitsu black belt, but Assuncao does most of his work as a kickboxer now.

In the first fight, a few of Assuncao’s overhands were powerful enough to sway the judges, and they certainly left their mark on Moraes. In this bout, Assuncao’s goal should be to find a home for his power hand more often, as he’s likely to be on the wrong end of the volume equation.

His shots must be significant.

To land that overhand, I’d like to see Assuncao commit more to body work. Beyond the obvious advantage of getting the hands to drop and setting up the overhand that way, body work should help slow Moraes down. “Magic” is a remarkable athlete for whom speed is a great gift, but he’s likely far less effective if his ribs are touched until he doesn’t feel quite so quick.

Bottom Line: It should be a title eliminator.

Unfortunately, there is no clarity at 135 pounds as a result of Dillashaw’s failed Flyweight title bid. Is Henry Cejudo going to follow him back to Bantamweight an attempt to steal that crown? I cannot argue against the idea of him deserving that opportunity, but it would really screw over the winner of this fight. If there’s a silver lining to potentially having to fight again after this bout, it’s that the victor is absolutely the clear-cut top contender.

Still, Tony Ferguson status is rough.

There are significant consequences on the line as well. In Moraes’ case, losing to the same fellow contender twice is a bad situation — he cannot argue himself number one if the same guy beat him twice. Of course, Assuncao is 36 years old and deep into his pro career, even going 1-1 with the younger contender would push him back from the title.

At UFC Fight Night 144, Marlon Moraes and Raphael Assuncao will throw down in a pivotal Bantamweight bout. Which man will take a step closer to the title shot?

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