Long-time World Series of Fighting (WSOF) Featherweight kingpin, Marlon Moraes, will look to capture the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) crown opposite Flyweight roost-ruler, Henry Cejudo, this Saturday (June 8, 2019) at UFC 238 from inside United Center in Chicago, New York.
Moraes joined UFC’s roster as a decorated champion on a 13-fight win streak, but he did struggle a bit out of the gate, splitting a pair of fights that both went to a split-decision. Admittedly, I tend to think Moraes won both bouts, but it still wasn’t the best “Magic” had to offer, as he’s since proven. In his previous three fights, Moraes has taken on three foes ranked in the Top 5 (at the time of combat at least). Cumulatively, the three lasted less than a single five-minute round with Moraes, who high kicked and bludgeoned his foes mercilessly to earn this title shot.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Moraes is a former Muay Thai champion in Brazil. To understand Moraes’ kickboxing and success, it’s first important to note that the Brazilian simply kicks harder and faster than the vast majority of his peers. Often times, there’s no technique to analyze, just blink and miss it as Moraes’ shin soars through the air.
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 commonly finds a home for low kicks simply by moving laterally. Whether Moraes is circling to his own left or right, his opponent must continue to turn and face him. If Moraes gets a slight step ahead of his opponent, he can throw the low kick as his opponent shifts to face, meaning his foe is out-of-position to pull the leg back or check.
Moraes also helps himself out by throwing a wide variety of kicks with the same 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 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 knockout wins, 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). That said, the Rivera knockout was also set up with a quick step to Moraes’ left, getting Rivera to turn as he switched his feet and fired the kick.
One of Moraes’ favored kick set ups is the cross-same side kick. Firing a right cross then left kick is more common — and a 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 neat 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 and drilled 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. The Brazilian’s kicks lead with the knee then unfurl 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 — often to cover up that lateral movement — 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, who trained Muay Thai in Brazil with Moraes as well prior to their respective UFC careers.
Another counter option, one that Moraes has used quite well in his current run, is to sit back over his right leg, behind his shoulder, and return fire with a three piece (GIF). In this week’s technique highlight, we cover that setup and the various options from there.
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 very 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.
Moraes is a jiu-jitsu black belt under Ricardo Almeida, and he’s submitted six of his past opponents. Most of his submission victories have come by way of rear naked choke — including a pair of club-n-sub victories in WSOF — but Moraes reminded fans of his grappling prowess last time out opposite Assuncao.
After dropping his fellow jiu-jitsu black belt, Moraes was unable to rip off many strikes from top position, as Assuncao did a good job of wrapping up a guard and controlling posture. When Assuncao moved towards the fence and attempted wall-walk, however, Moraes immediately wrapped up his neck and fell back.
There are a couple reasons why Moraes was able to submit such a high-level black belt. For one, Moraes did a great job positionally: he fell to the correct angle, and he hooked the leg as Assuncao attempted to roll, which prevented an athletic scrambling. The cage position helped as well, trapping Assuncao and making it easier for Moraes to climb into mount. All the while, Moraes did an excellent job of maintaining hip pressure and applying his squeeze throughout the transitions (GIF).
Moraes has torn through his previous three opponents like a hot knife through butter. Prior to all the drama, a kickboxing showdown between Moraes and T.J. Dillashaw would’ve been a fantastic title match. As it stands, Cejudo is still a very worthy foe for the vacant belt. It’s a great fight, and it should really answer questions about Moraes’ defensive wrestling and Cejudo’s kickboxing.
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.