TJ Dillashaw's quest to become a two-division champion has left the bantamweight division in a holding pattern. However, the main event of Saturday's UFC card in Fortaleza, Brazil, could still say a lot about determining the next challenger to Dillashaw's title. Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes met in 2017, and the fight was about as statistically even as it gets. A review of that encounter indicates what adjustments both fighters could make to walk away with a more convincing outcome on Saturday.
Assuncao and Moraes met on the preliminary card of UFC 212. Moraes was making his UFC debut, and Assuncao ended up taking home the split-decision victory. Looking at the numbers, the striking battle was almost a dead heat. On significant strikes, Moraes outlanded Assuncao by a single blow, 44 to 43. He had a one-strike advantage in the opening round (14 to 13), but they ended up with identical counts in rounds two (11 to 11) and three (19 to 19).
Since that fight, both combatants have gone undefeated, making another close match a strong possibility.
While neither fighter really separated himself from his opponent in the first bout, Assuncao has had more success in terms of striking differential during his run in the UFC and WEC. His striking differential -- which is the number of significant strikes landed minus the number of significant strikes absorbed on a per-minute basis -- has been plus-1.15. To put that ratio into perspective, the average for ranked bantamweights is currently plus-1.12. While Assuncao is right around the average for ranked bantamweights, Moraes' striking differential for his UFC career is only plus-0.44.
The variance between the fighters comes almost entirely on the defensive side of things. Both land virtually the same number of significant strikes per minute, 3.38 for Assuncao and 3.25 for Moraes. However, when it comes to absorbing strikes, Assuncao has shown more of a penchant for self-preservation. He has absorbed 2.23 per minute compared to 2.81 for Moraes.
It is likely that both fighters may modify their tactics in this rematch to create some separation. However, Assuncao has been the harder fighter to land on during his UFC/WEC run, and he could use that to his advantage against Moraes.
Striking accuracy/striking defense
To land consistently against Assuncao, Moraes will need to find a way to improve his striking accuracy. In the UFC, he has landed only 33 percent of his significant strike attempts, which is the second-worst percentage among ranked bantamweights. Not only has Moraes been inaccurate, but also Assuncao has confounded his opponents with his striking defense. During his UFC/WEC career, Assuncao has managed to avoid 70 percent of his opponents' significant strike attempts. Among ranked bantamweights, that is the second-best striking defense, placing Assuncao behind only the elusive Dominick Cruz (74 percent).
In their first fight, Moraes attempted 16 more significant strikes than Assuncao. However, he landed only 29 percent of those attempts. He'll need to improve his accuracy to outland Assuncao and perhaps make a better impression on the judges.
Even if he struggles to land strikes, Moraes can still have an impact on the fight thanks to his power. In his past two matches, he has landed only 14 significant strikes total. However, those 14 strikes have resulted in three knockdowns and two highlight-reel stoppage victories. Moraes' 1.42 knockdowns per 15 minutes is well ahead of Assuncao's 0.19 rate. In fact, Assuncao has landed only three knockdowns in his 18-fight UFC/WEC career.
Even though Assuncao does not have the striking power of his opponent, he has shown himself to be a durable fighter. He has suffered only three knockdowns during the same span, and he has not been knocked down since falling against Erik Koch in 2011.
While he was not able to drop Assuncao in their first fight, Moraes almost certainly will be looking to come through with power shots in the rematch. Landing against Assuncao is not an easy task, so it will be all the more important for Moraes to land with power when he does connect.
With back-to-back quick finishes, Moraes saw his average fight time drop to 7:55. Through four fights in the UFC, he has fought 45 percent of his scheduled fight time. On the other hand, Assuncao's average fight time stands at 13:05 and he has fought 87 percent of his scheduled time.
Of Assuncao's 18 UFC/WEC fights, 13 have gone to decision and he is 11-2 in those fights. Despite having the edge in Octagon experience, Assuncao has never previously been scheduled for 25 minutes. On the other hand, this will be Moraes' second-straight five-round main event bout. During his run in the World Series of Fighting before joining the UFC, Moraes was scheduled for five rounds for seven straight fights, and he went the full 25 minutes twice. Clearly, Moraes has the edge when it comes to prepping for championship rounds.
Assuncao has been at his best when able to outpoint opponents in long fights that go to decision. But can he make that plan work over the course of 25 minutes? Not only will this be a new challenge for him, but it is also creates more opportunities for Moraes to have an impact with his power striking and finishing ability.