Long before Marlon Moraes got matched up with Raphael Assuncao in the main event for Saturday night’s UFC Fight Night card from Fortaleza, Brazil, he had his sights set on two different opponents.
Obviously in a perfect world, Moraes would be battling current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw with the 135-pound title on the line but that didn’t happen.
The other potential matchup that interested Moraes was facing off against somebody like former bantamweight king Dominick Cruz.
Unfortunately, Moraes didn’t get the fight and Cruz ended up being knocked out of competition after requiring shoulder surgery and he won’t like make his return in 2019.
Moraes desperately wanted the opportunity to test himself against Cruz but looking back now he says it was never out of disrespect to the former champion. Instead, Moraes says he considers Cruz the gold standard of the bantamweight division and that’s why he kept asking the UFC to give him that fight.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a big name,” Moraes told MMAWeekly when speaking about Cruz. “The best bantamweight in history and what he did for the sport and what he did being away for a long time and then coming back and winning the championship. That was a fight that I wanted. That was a guy that I wanted to fight. I didn’t get the fight.
“I got Assuncao. I respect what happened. I’m just ready to go out there and fight Assuncao.”
Fighter to fighter, Moraes definitely feels for Cruz and what he’s going through after he missed years of his career dealing with several severe knee injuries that initially cost him the bantamweight title in the first place.
Now at 33 years of age with only four fights over the past seven years, time is working against Cruz as he will attempt to make another comeback when his shoulder is healed at either the end of 2019 or the start of 2020.
“I feel bad cause he’s such an example for all of us,” Moraes said about Cruz. “He’s a great fighter.”
While he didn’t get that matchup, Moraes did receive the fight with Assuncao that he believes should secure him a title shot against Dillashaw later this year.
Of course even that’s not guaranteed after Dillashaw suffered a stunning 32-second knockout loss to Henry Cejudo in his attempt to become a two division champion after dropping down to 125 pounds just recently.
Now there’s talk about Cejudo moving up to bantamweight for a rematch against Dillashaw but Moraes isn’t allowing that to distract him ahead of his fight on Saturday night.
He still plans to send a not-so-subtle message to Dillashaw with his performance this weekend but Moraes’ main concern is avenging his first UFC loss when he faced Assuncao the first time back in 2017.
“My main concern was going down and having two top contenders like me and Raphael to fight for the title. I thought maybe we would fight for the interim belt if TJ [Dillashaw] was going down but we’re fighting for No. 1 contender and we’re going to decide who deserves to be there and who deserves to fight for the title,” Moraes said.
“I want to perform. I want to do it well and I want to do it my way. I want to make my statement and surprising everybody. I want to show to people what they’ve never seen before and that’s how I’m going to send my message to TJ Dillashaw.”