Marlon Moraes well and truly established himself as the number-one contender in the bantamweight division with a phenomenal submission of Raphael Assuncao in the UFC Fortaleza main-event.
And yet, when the dust settled and we were able to properly assess just how impressive Moraes has been in recent times, it became abundantly clear that very little had changed.
In a time where the money-fight rules all, being the most talented-fighter in the world can mean nothing if you don’t have a gold-belt around your waist to bring to the table.
We’ve seen the UFC desperately scrambling to create interim-titles in the past simply to add a narrative to a particular fight in order to draw the more casual viewers in.
In the eyes of the UFC, people apparently won’t hit ‘buy’ unless the eventual victor can hoist a shiny piece of memorabilia over their shoulder once the actual fight is over.
This is why every UFC pay-per-view these days absolutely needs to have a belt on the line. Sure, titles add an extra level of intrigue but the world’s premier mixed martial arts promotion are misinterpreting and undervaluing what brings the fans to the table.
Marlon Moraes may well have had a shaky debut under the bright lights of the UFC when he first stepped into the octagon to face Raphael Assuncao back in June of 2017, but in the time since, his victories over John Dodson, Aljamain Sterling, and Jimmie Rivera have led him to his opportunity to truly prove himself.
And boy, did he take it.
Catching Assuncao with several hard shots on the feet, he eventually softened his opponent up before locking in a beautiful gullotine to hand his fellow Brazilian only his second loss in eight years.
Assuncao is no joke and a mainstay in the top-5 of the bantamweight division and for Moraes, it was a performance that made it very clear that he is the only worthy contender to TJ Dillashaw’s bantamweight title next time around.
Or so it would seem.
It’s hard to know how much heed the UFC pay to the potential ramifications of their cross-divisional super-fights but with Henry Cejudo set to fight the champ for the bantamweight title next, one would have to assume that Moraes will be forced to wait it out.
But what happens if TJ Dillashaw wins against the flyweight king in his own more natural weight-class?
With two massive fights under their belt and both of their statuses as champions intact, are we supposed to believe that the UFC won’t jump on the opportunity to make a trilogy fight and strike while the iron is hot?
Let’s say Dillashaw goes out there and absolutely starches Cejudo in their rematch – an outcome that is not as unlikely as many would think. Our official prediction for their first fight was that Cejudo would flatten him in the first-round – a call that came from the assumption that TJ’s chin would not be able to hold up against the massive weight-cut he was putting his body through.
But at 135lbs, and with ample time for recovery, the playing field would certainly be leveled to a greater extent.
So if TJ does manage to pull off the win, the UFC will be forced to look at their options and make a call:
- TJ Dillashaw vs. Henry Cejudo III
- TJ Dillashaw vs. Marlon Moraes
If you think Dana and co. won’t jump at the opportunity to cash-in you have not been paying enough attention to the way the company has been managing itself of late.
There are very noticeable shades of Tony Ferguson to be found in this scenario.
During both the Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov eras of the UFC lightweight division, the man with the most (and arguably most impressive) victories on the roster was being snubbed for a title-shot on several occasions.
And yes, there were some freak-injuries and whatnot to contend with but ‘El Cucuy’ had been passed over in favour of the so-called ‘money-fight’ more times than many would see as fair to him and his record. First at UFC 205 and then again at UFC 229.
Marlon Moraes has well and truly delivered on the expectations we had for him during his destructive reign atop the WSOF bantamweight division but even with this brutal finish of an old-foe in Fortaleza last night, I would be very surprised if he is the UFC’s first choice for a title-shot within the next 6-9 months.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena