Marlon Moraes may be the best 135-pound fighter in the world. People struggle with this statement, and understandably so. Preconceived notions about what the World Series of Fighting is — or, more importantly, isn’t — leads one to think that dominance in the promotion still leaves a fighter short in their division globally. However, take a look at the resume of Moraes and then look at the division throughout the world. Now, are things starting to come into focus?
Moraes is on a two-fight streak of impressive finishes and an 11-fight winning streak overall. Prior to his two recent finishes, Moraes went the distance with Josh Hill. He hasn’t lost a fight since November 2011. A look around the world shows a bantamweight titleholder in the UFC who fought twice in four years and, in his second fight in that span, took the title from a proclaimed “world beater.” In Bellator, no one can keep or defend the belt. The only person with a successful defense was Eduardo Dantas (twice). The only other top guy is Bibiano Fernandes in ONE Championship, and the competition there is too shallow for him to have any claim as the greatest bantamweight fighter of the moment.
So, what’s next for Moraes? Is perhaps the greatest bantamweight MMA may ever know destined to not have his skills tested to the fullest? Here are some options Moraes might have in front of him:
Chris Gutierrez: WSOF 28 held a fight that many believed to be a title qualifier. That is, of course, if Timur Valiev had won. It seemed like a forgone conclusion that this would happen when Valiev and Gutierrez entered the cage. However, the fight went the distance, the judges got involved and controversy ensued. Gutierrez won, so that’s his case for a title fight against Moraes, but the only issue is that fans aren’t calling for the fight. Interest is low, in other words.
Timur Valiev: Valiev lost the fight, but many feel he didn’t. The Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter is perceived to the be more skilled man and he comes from a big-name gym. Valiev is also an action fighter. However, the knock on him is that if an opponent employs the right game plan, they can make him miss, and miss a lot. So, while Valiev might push Moraes, the friendship between the two and Valiev’s loss to Gutierrez will probably mean the fight is not happening.
Josh Hill: This is really the man most deserving of the fight. Moraes and Hill have fought before and Hill took the champ the distance while having his moments. He seems to have the remedy for how sick Moraes is on the feet, but he just needs to be a little sharper in his counter striking. The word on the street is that Hill was put on the shelf by former WSOF matchmaker Ali Abdel-Aziz because of how well he fought Moraes. Only Abdel-Aziz knows that for sure, but he is no longer a part of the WSOF, so this no longer factors into things. The only knock on Hill is box office. He isn’t a big name and he may not draw eyes, even though he is the No. 1 contender.
There is always a case to be made that when a fighter (and we’ll use Demetrious Johnson for an example here) isn’t being challenged in his weight class, it becomes the responsibility of the promotion to compel guys to go to that division. In the case of “Mighty Mouse,” he started fighting guys who were not on his level and that’s when the superfight talk began. In the case of Moraes, there are a few guys that the WSOF could book for a fight that would have appeal more than someone like the last challenger, Joe Barajas, did. These fighters reside outside of the champ’s division.
Magomed Bibulatov: The flyweight champion would give the WSOF a champion vs. champion angle.
Alexandre de Almeida: Under the same logic, the company could do a fight with the newly crowned 145-pound champ.
Sheymon Moraes: The other Moraes, who has moved up to 145 pounds, was finished by the champ, but he looked really good a weight class up and things do change.
Lance Palmer: This is the most intriguing fight. Palmer just lost the featherweight belt to de Almeida a couple of months ago. It was a controversial finish, Palmer disputed it and he is in line for a rematch. The intrigue with Palmer is that he has a name. As a Team Alpha Male product, Palmer has the cache and name recognition that a lot of fighters in the bantamweight division lack. This fight gives the WSOF the poster pop, the pre-fight would be good and it’s a pretty good match-up. If Palmer is willing to engage, it becomes a grappler-vs.-striker fight. Moraes is more dynamic than de Almeida too, so we could have some highlight-reel stuff.
Moraes is a hugely talented fighter and really needs to be tested. If the WSOF thinks a little outside of the box, including maybe even going outside of the promotion, a challenge can be found. The fans and Moraes are both ready to see the champ’s skills in full blossom. It’s time for the WSOF to fulfill those wishes.