Preview: UFC 238 ‘Cejudo vs. Moraes’

Cejudo vs. Moraes

By Tom Feely Jun 5, 2019

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 238 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

UFC 225 in Chicago was one of the stronger cards of 2018, as it gave rise to one of the best fights of the year between Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero, provided some important results in several divisions and bore witness to the tragicomedy of a CM Punk fight. Why not run it back? While the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight title picture has been a mess, the situation appears to be clearing up with an excellent main event; Tony Ferguson and Donald Cerrone should provide the fireworks on a card with a number of other interesting bouts; and when it comes to tragicomedy, there are always worse options than Jessica Eye. It may not mean big business, particularly in the ESPN+ era, but UFC 238 should be one of the better cards of the year.

Now, the preview for UFC 238 “Cejudo vs. Moraes,” set for Saturday at the United Center:

UFC Bantamweight Championship

Henry Cejudo (14-2) vs. Marlon Moraes (22-5-1)

ODDS: Moraes (-135), Cejudo (+115)

What exactly is the UFC doing with Cejudo? From a promotional standpoint, Cejudo has about everything the promotion could ask for -- he is a Mexican-American and an Olympic gold medalist with some charisma, cringy though it may be -- yet he seems to be an afterthought during the most impressive stretch of his MMA career. Cejudo’s tenure in the Octagon got off to a rocky start due to weight issues, but after settling in at flyweight, it only took “The Messenger” three fights to earn a shot at divisional kingpin Demetrious Johnson. Some thought it would be the fight where Johnson finally got tested, but instead, “Mighty Mouse” mostly neutralized Cejudo’s wrestling before hitting some knees in the clinch that crumpled the Olympic champ and made it a short night. The one-sided loss seemed to motivate Cejudo rather than frustrate him. In subsequent bouts, Cejudo basically fought even against Joseph Benavidez, obliterated Wilson Reis and relied on his wrestling for a win over Sergio Pettis. From there, it was on to a rematch against Johnson. As it turns out, Cejudo was in fact the man to dethrone Johnson, just one fight later than expected. While Cejudo’s decision victory was controversial, his ability to use his wrestling, control the bout and acquit himself well on the feet was a sign of how far he has progressed. Ending the longest title reign in UFC history figured to be a crowning moment for Cejudo, but instead, he has become something of an afterthought, with the organization deciding to tear down his division. Rather than get an immediate rematch, Johnson was instead shipped off to One Championship, and Cejudo’s first title defense came against then-bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw in a fight that was more about Dillashaw getting a second belt than anything “The Messenger” brought to the table. There was some hope that a Cejudo win could save the flyweights, but even after he knocked out Dillashaw in 32 seconds, the UFC has been content to whittle down the division wherever it can, to the point that it now houses about a dozen fighters. Cejudo’s win over Dillashaw should have set up a rematch at 135 pounds, but even that went out the window after doping issues forced Dillashaw to vacate the bantamweight crown. Cejudo still gets his shot at 135-pound gold, albeit against Moraes.

Moraes is known for his fast starts, but that was not something that applied to his UFC career. After an undefeated run through the World Series of Fighting saw the Brazilian establish himself as one of the best fighters outside of the UFC, Moraes’ debut in the Octagon went about as poorly as possible. He was rightfully thrown into the deep end against Raphael Assuncao, but rather than establish himself as a new contender, Moraes was content to stay patient, fight at Assuncao’s preferred pace and eventually lose a close decision. Moraes’ follow-up affair against John Dodson was a win, but it was a close and somewhat uninspiring fight. From there, it was suddenly off to the races. Moraes proceeded to knock off three of his fellow top contenders at bantamweight in about five minutes combined. Aljamain Sterling dove for a takedown and ate a knee that left him stiff; Jimmie Rivera got stunned by a head kick just 33 seconds into the fight; and a rematch against Assuncao saw Moraes score a big knockdown before clamping on a fight-ending guillotine choke. The adjustment period is over, and Moraes has now established himself as one of the premier bantamweights in the world. The time has come to see if he can just simply be the best.

While this should be an excellent fight, it does seemingly come down to one of two factors: Moraes’ ability to break through Cejudo’s defenses and score an early knockout or Cejudo’s ability to control the bout and win rounds with his wrestling. As this recent run has shown, Moraes is at his best when he can blitz his opponent and find enough success to end the fight. It is an obvious point, but Moraes’ style is not high-volume enough to be round-winning otherwise. Meanwhile, Cejudo’s striking has been a work in progress but looks like it has finally come together in his last few fights. For a while, Cejudo was content to just move forward, but he has gotten better as far as staying mobile and not having to rely on his durability to see him through exchanges. He is still not a defensive master, so if this fight is contested mostly on the feet, it is probably not a good omen for Cejudo. On the flipside, if this fight makes its way into the later rounds, it probably bodes poorly for Moraes, as it likely means Cejudo has found success with his wrestling and ability to stifle his opposition. The success of that wrestling is difficult to calibrate here. Cejudo has been physically strong enough to dominate most flyweights; and Dillashaw draining himself to make 125 pounds before getting finished quickly does not produce much of a helpful sample. He could still just put on a well-rounded performance and mostly grind out a win, but with his iffy defense and Moraes’ ability to counter takedown threats with knockout power, the likelier scenario involves Moraes getting the finish, which figures to happen early. The pick is Moraes via first-round stoppage.

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