Saturday’s fight night in Fortaleza will be a showcase for the past, present, and future of Brazilian MMA.
Representing in the here and now are headlining bantamweight contenders Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes. This will be a rematch of their June 2017 encounter that Moraes narrowly won by split decision. Since then both Brazilians have been on a tear, with Moraes looking particularly ferocious having finished his last two opponents by knockout in a combined one minute and 40 seconds. Whether it’s Moraes avenging his lone UFC loss or Assuncao fending him off again, tomorrow’s winner is all but guaranteed a bantamweight title shot in the near future.
Jose Aldo has competed almost exclusively in world title bouts for the past decade and he’ll be looking to deny fast-rising contender Renato Moicano that opportunity when they clash in Saturday’s co-main event. Now 32, Aldo reminded everyone that he is still one of the most dangerous men on the planet when he put Jeremy Stephens away in less than a round last summer. Next he has to deal with Moicano, the man many consider to be the next great Brazilian featherweight.
In other main card action, venerable welterweight Demian Maia can become one of just four fighters to earn 20 UFC wins when he takes on Lyman Good, submission machine Charles Oliveira takes on streaking lightweight David Teymur, light heavyweight prospect Johnny Walker fights Justin Ledet, and former Invicta FC strawweight champion Livia Renata Souza fights Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series signee Sarah Frota.
What: UFC Fortaleza
Where: Centro de Formacao Olimpica do Nordeste in Fortaleza, Brazil
When: Saturday, Feb. 2. The seven-fight ESPN+ preliminary card begins at 5 p.m. ET, and the six-fight main card begins at 8 p.m. ET also on ESPN+.
Raphael Assuncao vs. Marlon Moraes
Depending who you ask, one could argue that Marlon Moraes has already proven he’s a better fighter than Raphael Assuncao. Their first meeting was incredibly close and you got the sense that maybe Moraes was being too respectful in his UFC debut. He’s shown no such respect for his opponents since, erasing Aljamain Sterling and Jimmie Rivera to earn this second shot at Assuncao.
Skill-for-skill, Assuncao remains as talented as anyone at 135 pounds. He essentially has no weaknesses other than lacking killer instinct, and even that is arguable. Back at UFC 212, Moraes learned the hard way that Assuncao takes advantage of the slightest openings to score points with the judges. Every time it looked like Moraes might pull away, Assuncao was right there with a timely counter and regardless of whether one agrees with the first fight’s split call, he did enough to get his hand raised.
Moraes won’t let that happen this time around. He can’t throw caution to the wind, but he has to keep up the constant pressure and for two extra rounds this time. Both men have deep gas tanks and it’s the damage that Moraes can dish out that will play a major factor in who wears down faster as the bout progresses.
It’s going to a decision again and this time Moraes gets the job done.
Jose Aldo vs. Renato Moicano
Turn back the clock. Let’s party like it’s 2013.
Jose Aldo’s win over Jeremy Stephens provided compelling evidence that he hasn’t lost much of the step that had him atop the featherweight world for years. His striking is as impeccable as ever and questioning his durability seems silly given that he’s only been finished by Max Holloway and Conor McGregor. That’s why I’m liking him to beat Renato Moicano, a gifted 145er who doesn’t have the stopping power needed to earn Aldo’s respect.
Even when it comes to the grappling, I can’t foresee a scenario where Moicano is able to completely control Aldo on the ground. Aldo’s jiu-jitsu is often overlooked, and as potent as Moicano is in that department, it would be stunning to see him submit Aldo.
That leaves him to out-strike Aldo and in a three-round battle where cardio is not likely to be much of an issue, Moicano will have to put on the performance of his life beat Aldo, who is 10-0 in fights that go to a decision.
That’s not going to change on Saturday.
Demian Maia vs. Lyman Good
Lyman Good is on his best run since becoming Bellator’s first welterweight champion back in 2009. Unfortunately for him, on the mat with Demian Maia is where runs go to die.
It’s obvious from Maia’s last three losses that he’s no match for this current generation of high-level wrestlers. Good is not one of those and his striking skills and takedown defense will have to be flawless to survive Maia’s grappling. If he can’t hurt Maia early, it’s difficult to imagine him holding off Maia for three rounds and keeping this one standing.
And you know what Maia can do when he’s got his hooks in. He’ll be in full backpack mode here and though it’s most likely the he controls Good en route to a decision. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that Maia finds a submission, becoming the first fighter to finish Good.
Charles Oliveira vs. David Teymur
Don’t sleep on David Teymur.
The 29-year-old Swede might be more infamous for his chilling trash talk than his in-cage conquests, but Teymur has quietly been one of the UFC’s most consistent fighters at 155 pounds. He’s 5-0 since joining the promotion three years ago and wins over Nik Lentz, Drakkar Klose, and Lando Vannata have proven he can deal with a variety of styles.
Multi-dimensional fighters have been the bane of Charles Oliveira for some time and while he’s both matured and maintained his preternatural submission skills, he’s still shown himself to have questionable defense. I’m not convinced that he can outwork Teymur on the feet.
Can Oliveira wrap Teymur up and turn this into a one-sided jiu-jitsu contest? That’s always a possibility when “Do Bronx” is involved. I’m inclined to see this one going Teymur’s way though as he uses his wrestling to neutralize Oliveira’s ground game and his kickboxing to hand Oliveira a rare decision loss.
Johnny Walker vs. Justin Ledet
Everyone got on board the Johnny Walker hype train after he crushed Khalil Rountree in his last outing, but Justin Ledet presents an intriguing challenge to Walker and vise-a-versa.
It will be interesting to see how Ledet’s boxing holds up against an opponent that he doesn’t have a significant reach advantage over. His last fight against Aleksandar Rakic was a disaster as Ledet was unable to use his sharp jab to keep Rakic at bay and he spent the majority of the fight on his back. That’s certainly an avenue for Walker to pursue as well if he’s feeling confident in his wrestling.
Otherwise, Ledet’s jab will cause Walker some problems. Walker could aggressively close the distance and look for the Thai clinch that mystified Rountree, though it could also be a waste of energy trying to latch onto the slippery Ledet.
This will be a big test for Walker who is expected to put on a show in his home country. Ledet is exactly the type to oblige and this will be a close one on the scorecards with Walker coming out on top.
Livia Renata Souza vs. Sarah Frota
I didn’t like Sarah Frota’s chances before her brutal weight miss on Friday and this has only made me more confident that Livia Renata Souza is going to disintegrate her.
While it will certainly can’t be a bad thing for Frota to be stepping in with a size advantage, especially against a strawweight like Souza who isn’t particularly big for strawweight, I doubt it will be enough for her to overcome the skill gap. Besides, as our own Mike Chiappetta pointed out last year, the correlation between missing weight and in-cage success is not as strong as people seem to think.
Frota is a straightforward, lumbering fighter with great length and solid pop in her hands. If she can smartly cut off angles, it will help her to offset the Souza’s speed advantage. Still, Souza should be able to pick the taller fighter apart whether it be with leg kicks or sticking and moving until she scores a knockdown.
Once on the mat, Souza will take advantage of a stunned Frota and finish with ground-and-pound.
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