Former title challenger Marlon Moraes and Georgian phenom Merab Dvalishvili will clash at UFC 266 in the final fight of the preliminary card.
After coming up short in a bid for the UFC’s bantamweight title in 2019, Brazil’s Marlon Moraes would go 1-2 in his next three. Beating former featherweight king Jose Aldo is a massive feather in the cap of any UFC legacy, but his following knockout losses to Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font left Moraes going back to the drawing board and taking nine months away from the sport. Coming back refreshed, Moraes will look to snap his losing streak and search again for a title run following a potential victory over Merab Dvalishvili.
Dvalishvili, a wrestling standout in the octagon boasts an extensive training history in Georgia’s traditional wrestling style, qartuli chidaoba as well as Sambo, and a black belt in Judo. Currently on a six-fight win streak including big names such as John Dodson, Casey Kenney, and Cody Stamann, a win over Moraes this Saturday could catapult Dvalishvili into contender fighters in the near future. However, in order to do so, he will have to put his dominant style to the test against his best competition yet.
Moraes vs. Dvalishvili betting odds
The former challenger Marlon Moraes will serve as the bout’s underdog at +200.
Moraes vs. Dvalishvili Breakdown
The Brazilian and the Georgian are largely contrasting fighters. For the most part, Moraes should have the advantage in the striking aspect of the fight and Dvalishvili in the grappling, primarily if it’s predominantly wrestling.
Moraes is likely the better technical striker as well as the smoother and the harder hitter in all aspects. He has wicked boxing and is very good at slipping and bobbing in exchanges to the minimal extent so as to counter as efficiently as possible. While many fighters do a large ducking motion while throwing the big overhand behind it, Moraes knows how to just barely pass under his opponent’s punch and guide his own to the chin like a laser.
At kicking range Moraes is extremely dangerous, he is particularly good at transitioning into range in deceiving ways, hiding the lead head kick behind a switch, and shuffle stepping in with a punch feint into a leg kick are just a couple that consistently work for him. In fact, his left switch kick to the head is probably one of the most devastating weapons in the division, having both claimed the current champion Aljamain Sterling as well as contender Jimmie Rivera.
By comparison, Dvalishvili’s striking game is much more fundamental. He has less weapons but that is okay because it’s built on athleticism and speed and is primarily used for volume and to set up his wrestling. Although not always the model for technical brilliance, Dvalishvili consistently out-strikes his opponents simply by throwing more in any position. He likes to jump into range with a sharp jab or cross, or an overhand which he overextends in order to blend the takedown behind it.
His ability to counter oncoming opponents with his uppercut which serves to capture the underhook in the event it misses, and his ability to duck under shots and secure the takedown make him a very difficult opponent to push back with forward pressure. Moraes’ best chance at out technically pointing Dvalishvili is using a lot of footwork in all directions and engaging in exchanges on his terms if he can disrupt Dvalishvili’s forward pressure, while also not running into Dvalishvili directly he will be at his best chances.
What makes Dvalishvili stand out as a wrestler is that he is always working towards something. If he secures a dominant position standing, such as on the back he will immediately look to butcher the legs with knees, not staying complacent or satisfied with a positional victory. Likewise, if he is in the same scenario on the defensive, rather than accept the position and fight the hands as so many would, he will instead look to buck and move his feet, so that his opponent is unable to settle into a comfortable position themselves.
His wrestling scrambles are dynamic, and he is always looking to advance every split second of the fight so that he is already a step ahead while his opponent is reacting to his last move. Marlon Moraes in terms of grappling is a black belt in Jiu Jitsu but has a much more fundamental approach to grappling. He has average takedown defense, but the one area he shines is specifically in neck attacks, so Dvalishvili will have to take care to dip low on his double legs or work a much more clinch-heavy takedown approach so as to avoid Moraes’ guillotine threat.
Moraes vs. Dvalishvili Prediction
Dvalishvili’s high-paced wrestling game has looked near unstoppable in his UFC run thus far. Along with this, Moraes’ last two losses by KO have caused some to speculate as to whether his chin will still hold up at this point in his career, and this is why coming into this fight Moraes will serve as the underdog.
However, I do not see Dvalishvili having the power to stop Moraes in three rounds so if he does win it should be by decision. That being said, I think that Moraes is criminally underrated due to his recent losses, and is likely still one of the best technical strikers in the division with a black belt to serve him well when he needs it. As Dvalishvili comes in looking for constant action he has a tendency to make mistakes and anyone who has the technical skillset to find and exploit those holes it’s Moraes.
At the very least, as such a great underdog, it will be difficult to find a value like Marlon Moraes on UFC 266.
Prediction: Marlon Moraes to win
UFC 266 happens this Saturday night and will air live exclusively on
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.