Michael Morales vs. Max Griffin prediction | UFC on ESPN 48 1

Michael Morales, 23, is a prospect many, myself included, expect to hold a number and climb the rankings soon. He’s incredibly skilled, well-schooled, and dangerous as his 14-0 record suggests. In the UFC, Morales is 2-0 with back-to-back knockout wins.

UFC veteran, Max “Pain” Griffin, 37, is over a decade older than his opponent. As a professional, Griffin is 19-9 but is 7-7 in the UFC. Tough as nails, Griffin has only been finished once in the UFC while he’s racked up three finish wins of his own.

Morales opened with respect from the books but has still grown as the favorite throughout the week.

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Betting Odds

Morales is the betting favorite at odds of -225 before UFC on ESPN 48 this weekend.

  • Michael Morales: -225 (BetUS)
  • Max Griffin: +190 (BetUS)

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Fight Breakdown

Morales is a well-schooled, highly technical, intelligent, patient, and dangerous fighter with a complete skillset in the cage. He tends to fight patiently, setting up his power shots with a stinging jab, solid feints, and athletic footwork. This style shows a maturity beyond his age.

His jab, a quick and stiff shot, might be his best attack and he uses it often to dictate pace and space. As he breaks down his opponent with high-level striking and footwork, Morales looks to create openings for well-timed and explosive combinations that have enough heat to end the fight quickly.

Beyond his offensive striking, Morales is also a National Champion wrestler. While his offensive wrestling is effective, he primarily finds success using his stout defensive wrestling to keep the fight standing where he often has the edge on the feet. The two question marks that surround Morales’ game are his defensive awareness and inconsistency in checking leg kicks.

While Morales is patient and technical, he is a bit hittable. This “hittability” doesn’t appear to be from a lack of defensive ability, but rather a lack of awareness when he’s on the attack. While flowing, he sometimes ignores his own defense. This is a small concern and one that has looked better and better in each of his fights.

More concerningly, though, is Morales’ lack of consistency in checking leg kicks. Because he keeps a boxing stance with more weight on his front leg and so much of his game is dependent on his footwork, opponents can find success chopping the tree. Morales, thus far, has just accepted leg kicks and kept going, rather than checking them. He’ll need to start checking those kicks because relying on toughness and youth isn’t sustainable.

Griffin, at this point, is a gatekeeper or test for prospects. He does a few things really well, tends to struggle against the same few attacks, and requires a prospect to have a complete game to beat him. Much like Neil Magny, the other gatekeeper- to a much higher degree- in the division, Griffin has excellent cardio, strong clinch wrestling, reliable volume, and a chin that can withstand real damage. Griffin also has the X-Factor of real power which he tends to ramp up as the fight goes on.

His typical style is to use pressure, through a heavy jab and leg kick, early to crash distance, get his opponent against the cage, and land elbows and knees while weaponizing cardio. Prospects who can’t handle pressure, clinch wrestling, or have reliable cardio rarely pass his test. However, fighters with those three abilities can succeed against “Pain” with well-timed counter shots, straight punches, and footwork.

Griffin tends to move linearly with the same jab, leg kick, and hook combination. High-level strikers can exploit the predictability, land their own straight counter shots, and exit the pocket, causing Griffin to chase for 15 minutes. Still, given his chin and cardio, opponents often need to do this for the full fight while still being weary of his power.

Prediction and Betting Guide

The popular handicap for Griffin backers in this fight is his power and leg kicks. The strategically ignored aspect of that handicap is Morales’ progression as a fighter and his overall fight IQ.

At only 23 years old, Morales will continue to improve fight in and fight out. That, plus his impressive fight IQ and patience in the cage suggests he knows and will be preparing for both Griffin’s power and leg kicks. While Morales has been a bit hittable in the past and hasn’t consistently checked leg kicks, his youth, and intelligence suggest that he will improve in both areas during camp.

Meanwhile, at 37, Griffin making significant improvements is less likely. At 7-7 in the UFC, there is a clear blueprint to beating Griffin: volume, defensive wrestling, and straight punches. Morales has all 3 in spades. He has excellent volume and cardio, National Championship caliber wrestling, and his best strikes come right down the barrel.

Prospects all have to pass certain tests to continue their track and this test for Morales is simple: have you grown? I’ll happily bet on Morales’ growth and ability to expose Griffin’s weaknesses rather than the other way around. I like Morales by decision as a straight play and love him in a parlay with Bonfim this weekend.

Best Bets: Morales (-225) and Bonfim (-295) parlay (-107) and Morales by Decision (+165)

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