Another in a recent trend of main-event rematches, the motivation for rebooking Assuncao/Moraes is likely similar to that of Iaquinta/Lee and Ngannou/Blaydes in late 2018: a streaking prospect once took a pivotal loss to a more stagnant contender, and could use some redemption.
In the aforementioned cases, that plan didn’t work out, but the first Moraes/Assuncao bout wasn’t as decisive as the first act of those rivalries; Assuncao got away with his signature questionable split, and many came away with the impression that Moraes was the better man. Neither fighter has run into any trouble since that competitive outing, going a combined 5-0 since UFC 212, and they go five rounds in Fortaleza to determine who remains in position to fight for the championship.
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The first fight was one of the rare ones in which Assuncao wasn’t able to dictate the pace; while it was his favored sort of thoughtful kickboxing fight, Moraes was able to feint and draw the counters of Assuncao to get a fairly significant volume advantage. In characteristic fashion, Assuncao’s signature right-hand counters were the most thudding strikes of the fight, hurting Moraes in the first and briefly dropping him in the third, but Moraes largely found clean counter left hooks and did a good amount of body work (that tends to go underrated by judges). It was an excellent fight and showed both fighters as elite MMA kickboxers, but the technical advantage clearly lied with then-debutant Moraes. Assuncao looked offensively potent even with the defensively-strong Moraes in front of him, landing a clean right hand over Moraes’ jab and feinting into punching range to drop Moraes with another right, but past one-off counters, Assuncao didn’t find much success.
What has changed since then? On Moraes’ part, not much can be said, considering that two of his fights ended very quickly, and the other (against John Dodson) was against a far less thoughtful opponent who largely ran himself onto left hooks at every opportunity. For his part, Assuncao seems to have gotten a fair bit more aggressive in his two fights since Moraes, destroying the inside of Matthew Lopez’s lead leg to facilitate his first finish in years and dominating Rob Font, but neither is as strong as a striker as Moraes (as good a boxer as Font is, Moraes is a better counterpuncher and a uniquely equipped kicker). Overall, this is functionally rounds four-through-eight of the first outing, and Moraes had the edge at the end of the third.
Assuncao is unlikely to consistently find counters against Moraes feinting him out and punishing him, and Moraes is unlikely to fade as the fight goes on (Assuncao hasn’t gone five rounds where Moraes has twice in WSOF). It’s an overall unforgiving fight for the veteran, and while it’s entirely possible he keeps it close enough to take another bad decision, he probably won’t get a fair win without uncommonly intelligent adaptation. Assuncao’s somewhat-newfound aggression faces a strong counterpuncher and kicker, and his usual slow-paced counter game struggled last time, so Moraes carries the cards going into Fortaleza.
Prediction: Moraes via unanimous decision. This writer caps it -200 Moraes.
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