Marlon Moraes knows his next opponent, Henry Cejudo, is a great fighter.
With an Olympic wrestling gold medal around his neck and a UFC flyweight title, which he won from former pound-for-pound best Demetrious Johnson, the charismatic Cejudo has already cemented himself as one of the most talented combat athletes on the planet.
But against Moraes, a former WSOF champion, the man known as “The Messenger” will look to make more history as they go to battle in the main event of UFC 238 for the vacant UFC bantamweight title.
While the two have always proven to be some of the most respectful - yet corny - fighters on the roster, both surprisingly brought a venomous display as they squared off the recent UFC seasonal press conference. With Cejudo declaring Moraes “looks like Mr. Clean and talks like Michael Jackson” only to be met with “no more gold medal” talk, the two surprised many with the animosity on display.
But for Moraes, he’s chalks this venomous banter up to simple competitiveness.
“This is how [Cejudo] is,” Moraes told MMAFighting. “We’re two fighters and two guys aiming to be a champion. One who needs to win another belt and a guy coming up – he’s going up a division and I’m going to welcome him and that’s that. He knows how good I am and I know how good he is. So, let’s go. We’re going to scrap and I’m ready to win and become the new bantamweight champion.”
Moraes (22-5-1) earned his shot at the 135-pound title after rattling off four straight wins inside the Octagon, including violent finishes of Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao. Cejudo (14-2), on the the other hand, most recently snuffed out former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw’s quest to become a two-division champ when he knocked him out in their flyweight title fight in January.
While Moraes’ recent tear through the division was no surprise for fans who followed the career of “Magic,” it was Cejudo’s rapid decision over Johnson and his 32-second destruction of Dillashaw that caused jaws to hit the floor.
Where in the world did this Cejudo come from? How did a wrestler who previously struggled to make weight start toppling legends of the sport? Oh yeah, what is up with that karate stance seemed to come out of nowhere?
Gone are the days of Cejudo utilizing basic boxing techniques as he slowly backpedaled away from his opponent’s attack to look for openings. Instead, Cejudo utilizes a wide stance and quick footwork to lay traps and explode with a flurry of punches and knees.
But where did this technique come? Not even Cejudo’s Fight Ready MMA teammate, and reigning Bellator featherweight and light champion, Patricio Freire would give up the mystery.
“The stance is different’ Freire said. “I don’t want to talk about it too much and give up the secret.”
Too bad Moraes isn’t worried about solving yet another puzzle.
“Man, if he stands too much like that, he’s going to pay,” Moraes laughed. “I’m ready to anywhere and wherever the fight goes. If we strike, I’m ready to strike. If we grapple I’m ready to grapple. I’m ready to be a champion and I was built in this camp to get there and be the best Marlon you’ve ever seen. Every question has the right answer.”
As for how he envisions the fight ending? However he wants.
“My focus is on Henry Cejudo,” Moraes said. “I’ll get there, June 8, next week and beat this guy… I’m fighting a champion and well-rounded guy. But I’m definitely going to finish him. I’m not in a rush. So I’m going to take my time and finish him at the right time.”