One of the best bantamweights in the world is about to become one of the most coveted free agents in the world.
World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes put an exclamation point on the final fight of his WSOF deal at WSOF 32, defending his title with a spectacular head kick knockout of Josh Hill to extend his perfect 10-0 record in WSOF. Moraes now moves into free agency as one of the hottest bantamweight prospects to hit the open market of the past several years, and where he lands could have major implications on the 135-pound landscape moving forward.
"Show me the money," Moraes' head coach, Mark Henry, said Monday on The MMA Hour. "Who's going to show what we believe Marlon is worth? Marlon, man, he's amazing fighter, but it also has to do with, WSOF has been so great to him. They're such a great group over there. Ray Sefo and those guys have treated Marlon and the rest of us so well. I'm sure he'll have to listen to them, what they have to say, because they've just treated him great.
"But at the end of it all, maybe five, six, seven years ago when [Moraes] was a single kid, UFC would probably be the thing. But now he has the wife and kids, and what's the difference between WSOF and UFC? It's what, maybe 20,000 more Instagram followers and maybe your name on MMA Fighting a little more, and that's about it at the end. Other than that, the kid needs to take care of his family first."
Moraes, 28, is the closest thing to a homegrown star WSOF has, along with lightweight champion Justin Gaethje. He debuted on the inaugural WSOF show in 2012 as a raw prospect with a mediocre 7-4-1 record, but instantly proved his potential, upsetting former WEC star Miguel Torres with a hard-fought decision win. Since then Moraes has rolled to an undefeated promotional record en route to becoming the most dominant champion in WSOF history, and Henry can't help but marvel at the changes he has seen in Moraes since those early days.
"I think thing number one is just him realizing how good he really is," Henry said. "Like, him seeing what the rest of us -- me, Frankie (Edgar), Ricardo (Almeida), and everybody around him -- what we see in him, this phenom. I don't know if he knew how good he was, so that was number one. Number two, I think just being around someone like Frankie, his work ethic, and ever since four years (ago), man, he's pretty much tied to the hip to Frankie. They have a great relationship.
"I remember the first time I brought [Moraes] over to Philadelphia to spar some really good guys at this boxing gym, and I was like, who the heck is this kid? Because he was really close with Edson (Barboza), they grew up together, and his big thing is Muay Thai but we brought him to a boxing gym to see how that would go, and I called up his manager at the time, like, who the heck is this kid? This kid is unbelievable. Edson said he was good, but everybody is going to say their friend is good. But I was totally blown away.
"He was the first guy who I ever kind of really trained and was like, this kid is ready for the UFC right now. Most people, I'm always so cautious, like, let's wait a couple fights and let's get the all-around game going. But right off the bat, I was like this kid is special. Just like with Frankie the first time."
Whether Moraes signs with the UFC, goes elsewhere, or decides to stay with WSOF will depend largely on one thing -- his paycheck. Moraes is one of the highest paid fighters in WSOF, cashing $180,000 in disclosed earnings for his recent victory over Hill. Considering his momentum and status as one of the most talented bantamweights in the world, that number will likely only go up in free agency.
Still, it is hard to ignore the glut of compelling match-ups for Moraes found in the UFC, not the least of which starts at the top with UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. The stylistic pairing between a ferocious striker like Moraes and a defensive wizard like Cruz would make for a fascinating fight, and Henry is confident that Moraes could surprise with how well he does.
"I'm usually cautious and like to get your wet a little, but in this case I'm not," Henry said. "And I have so much respect for Dominick. I think Dominick is amazing. But I do not think that Dominick could hang with Marlon, in my opinion. Dominick is amazing. I have so much respect for Dominick, and I do, I love his game to death. But man, I just think Marlon would beat him. I just really, truly in my heart think that Marlon would definitely win. And I usually don't like to talk smack unless they're in person, but I have that much confidence in Marlon."