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Marlon Moraes focused on taking Petr Yan’s spot in contenders’ line

Marlon Moraes is currently listed as the No. 1 contender in the UFC’s official rankings, but he’s not playing it safe when it comes to holding that position.

“Magic” is next scheduled to fight Petr Yan on June 13, and there’s a good chance the winner gets a shot at the bantamweight championship. That belt is currently held by Henry Cejudo, the man who beat Moraes this past June to win the vacant title. Cejudo’s first title defense takes place on May 9 at UFC 249 against two-time champion Dominick Cruz.

That leaves Moraes and Yan – two contenders who arguably should be facing Cejudo instead – to duke it out. Moraes sees the fight as an opportunity to cement his top ranking by becoming the first man to defeat Yan inside the octagon.

“I have a fight with a high-skill guy, a tough fighter [with] everything he brings to the table,” Moraes said on a recent episode of the What the Heck show. “I can’t even think about the title shot right now. I’m focused on this guy, I’m focused on what I have to do to beat him. I’m working hard and I’m trying to get better everywhere and on June 13 bring my A-game. Be the best I’ve ever been. This is how I can beat this guy, if I get there and I do everything I know.

“He’s on a good streak, beating guys, he finished a couple of guys, the UFC’s talking highly about him and he’s almost there. I think he’s one of the next for the title shot, so if he’s next why not take a fight with him and maybe take his spot? It’s something that I’m aiming for, I’m training hard, and we’ll see. Hopefully this fight happens June 13, and I can take his chance, take his shot.”

Even though Moraes owns a recent split decision win over Jose Aldo, the man originally scheduled for Cejudo’s first title defense, his loss to the champion at UFC 238 could make UFC matchmakers reluctant to pair him again with the champ, especially compared to a newer name like Yan. The 27-year-old Russian is 6-0 in the UFC with wins over Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson.

Asked what holes he’s seen in Yan’s game, Cejudo said that the striking specialist is as vulnerable as any fighter who chooses to go to war on the feet.

“Everyone that swings hands [has] got holes,” Moraes said. “If you want to swing one, you can get [punched] back, and that’s what happens. That’s the fight business. If you want to hit someone, you can get hit too. In a fight, two tough guys, two tough fighters, we are both good strikers. We know the ground, we know the wrestling game, and we can’t blink.

“In this fight, you can’t blink and you can’t make mistakes. This is what we’re working on. We’re working on getting there, don’t make mistakes, and get the hand raised.”

A former World Series of Fighting champion who’s headlined several UFC events, Moraes downplays any big-fight experience advantage he might have, calling the matchup a 50/50 proposition at best. He feels more confident that Yan will receive a visa by June so their bout can potentially take place in the United States, which appears the likely host if the originally scheduled location of Kazakhstan is ruled out due to coronavirus travel restrictions.

The fight is not just a way for Moraes to build on the Aldo win – he also hopes it will keep the bantamweight division rolling and lead to more championship bouts being booked. After all, the title has been contested just twice since November 2017.

“I think there’s a great chance,” Moraes said of his chances of earning a title shot with a win over Yan. “We’ve just to get this ball going. This is something that p*sses me off almost every day. We don’t see that bantamweight belt on the line more times. We’ve got to see that belt on the line four times a year at least. We’ve got so many guys, everyone of us wants to be world champion, we’ve just got to get that belt on the line more times and we’ll see everyone fight, everybody at home will be entertained. It’s only tough guys and good fighters. Why not? Keep active.

“People just want to hold the belt and say they were champion. You’ve got to be world champion and put it on the line, put it on the line, two or three times, give the UFC shows. That’s it, that’s what I think. I want to get there and I want to get that ball going.”

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