Joaquin Buckley celebrates after his KO victory against Impa Kasanganay (Zuffa LLC)

The UFC heads back to the Apex for UFC Vegas 80 this week as we near the end of 2023. Alex Morono and Joaquin Buckley are both looking to make a statement before the new year as they pursue a top 15 matchup and are slated to do battle on the main card this Saturday.

Both fighters are coming off a second-round finish in May of this year. In a division with a surplus of talent outside of the top 15, a win this weekend would likely put either man, at most, one win away from a shot at a ranked opponent at 170 lbs.

Betting Odds

The odds had steadily risen in favor of Buckley but has since moved back towards Morono, currently close to the opening line:

  • Alex Morono +141 (BetUS)
  • Joaquin Buckley -171 (BetUS)

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Fight Breakdown

Alex Morono comes into this one with a pro record of 23-8. At 33 years old, he’s a UFC veteran of seven years and is 12-5 in the promotion. He’s a very technical boxer who excels when he’s able to keep range and pop in and out to land his strikes while evading his opponent with slick movement. His best trait is his jab; he times it extremely well and works behind it beautifully to set up the rest of his punches. He likes to follow it up with the right cross before ducking to his right to avoid the counter, throwing the left hook as he moves back out of the pocket.

His footwork plays a big role in his success on the feet as well as he uses quick, bouncing movement in and out of striking distance and feints to draw out his opponent’s attack before evading and landing his own shots. He’s great at pulling opponents in as he inches backward before exploding into a stiff jab that lands in between their steps forward.

Defensively, he relies heavily on movement both with his head and feet to avoid his opponent’s shots. He doesn’t engage in a ton of wild striking exchanges but when he does, he’s aware of where he’s vulnerable and uses his head movement and high guard to avoid taking too much damage before escaping. This head movement does get him in trouble at times as upward strikes (knees, uppercuts, etc.) land as he moves and can do big damage.

Morono’s lone loss in his last six bouts was against Santiago Ponzinibbio, where he was winning through two and a half rounds before getting dropped with a big right hand. He took this fight on short notice and it showed in his cardio but this is a trend that we can see in other fights of his that worries me. His game is so predicated on being able to get in range to land before quickly exiting or raising the guard to block the counters and when his gas tank starts to run low, these defensive pillars start to crumble.

Though Morono is very skilled at fighting a technical boxing match, he has had a tendency in some of his more recent fights to throw a bit wild. He stops the bouncing movement and plants his feet to throw looping power shots because he doesn’t carry a ton of natural power in his hands. He gets caught up in trying to land the knockout blow that he stops doing what makes him so dangerous. Sayif Saud got him to stop doing so in the corner between rounds of the Tim Means fight which led to much more effective striking early in the second round. When he stays composed and trusts that he’ll hurt his opponent without overexerting himself, he looks like a top 15 welterweight.

His opponent is the always dangerous Jaoquin Buckley. Buckley, 29, is 16-6 in his career and 6-4 since joining the UFC in 2020. Buckley is an extremely powerful, explosive striker. He’s a southpaw who thrives when he can set up and land the left high kick. He uses a lot of movement around the octagon to create angles and blitz into his combinations which often end with this head kick. 

His strikes get a bit wild when he enters as he favors the powerful hooks to trap his opponent and force them back to the cage where he can unload. When his opponent engages with him, he doesn’t feel the need to headhunt; he understands the value of body shots and rips nasty hooks to the midsection, draining the gas tank of opponents before firing to the head.

Buckley relies a lot on head movement and counters for defense. He’s shown a tendency to get picked apart by jabs and other straight shots that can land quickly but he usually adjusts and begins to dip around these, opening up spots for his powerful counters. 

With someone with the size and explosiveness of Buckley, you expect him to gas quickly and although his volume rarely decreases, his explosiveness and technique begin to diminish in the later stages of round two. He throws a lot of strikes for someone his size and with the heavy use of kicks and lateral movement, it’s not surprising.

Buckley’s volume has been a big part of his success but it also gets him trouble when he isn’t able to find the mark which is often, only landing 37% of his significant strikes. When he starts to hit air, his gas tank begins to deplete and you notice his movement slow and he gets easier to hit. His shots, which are already a bit wide, get even more telegraphed and makes him easier to avoid in space and counter in between his shots.

The first key, in my opinion, in this fight will be the left high kick of Buckley. It’s his best weapon and he throws it often; meanwhile Morono has struggled to defend against this in the past against southpaws. Morono found some success in negating the head kick of Tim Means by focusing on moving to the left at distance but when he’s forced to move to the power side, he doesn’t always see it coming. Buckley will need to utilize his movement and set up blitzes to make Morono exit to Buckley’s left where he’ll land the high kick easier.

Another aspect of this matchup to note is the difference in these two welterweights’ striking styles. For Buckley, he’s rarely throwing straight shots as he looks to come forward and land big hooks and his high kicks. Morono, when he’s composed and fighting his fight, thrives on using movement to evade blitzes and timing his jab and right hand as his opponent opens up.  Buckley’s tendency to wind up on his shots should give Morono the chances he needs to time his advances with either counters or by shuffling out of range.


If Alex Morono tries to come out in this one like he did against Tim Means, it’ll likely be a short night for him. He telegraphed his strikes and planted his feet, making him much easier to hit. Buckley will have a major advantage in those kinds of exchanges and, with his power, will almost certainly get the finish.  

However, if Morono fights smart and stays light on his feet, working his jab and the right hand, I think he has a good shot at outlasting Buckley and taking it on the cards. Neither man has great cardio but if it gets to the later stages of the fight, it’s likely because Buckley has done a lot of swinging and missing, so the longer the fight goes, the more it favors the underdog in Alex Morono. With Sayif Saud in the corner of Morono, I don’t see him coming out overly aggressive again. I believe he has the defense to avoid the big shots from Buckley often enough to earn the decision win.

Prediction: Alex Morono to win +141 (BetUS)

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