Last Saturday Henry Cejudo (15-2) ended the night a two-division world champion, but for at least the first half of his UFC 238 main event contest against Marlon Moraes (22-6) “The Messenger” got eaten up on the outside and looked as though he might very well be stopped. Cejudo’s third round TKO victory was, technically speaking, largely a story of range, adaptation and varied speed.
For the first round and a half of their bantamweight title fight, Moraes ate Cejudo up at outside range with low kicks, mostly to the lead calf. At kicking range, Moraes was faster, sharper and successfully beat Cejudo’s lead leg up and kept the Olympic freestyle wrestling champion off of his own hips and legs.
By the second round, Moraes even dropped Cejudo to the mat with one of his calf kicks, and it looked as though the flyweight champion might be on his way out of the fight. With just over a minute left in the second period, however, Cejudo began to make the adjustments his coach Santino Defranco told Yahoo Sports that he called for in the corner between rounds.
“I told him this was the first round of [their 2018 rematch with Demetrious Johnson] DJ all over again,” Defranco said afterward.
“We were getting kicked on the outside and in between rounds we talked about having to get inside punching range. People don’t think about it much when they think of Henry because he’s this Olympic champion wrestler, but his boxing is great.”
At kicking range, Moraes was overwhelming Cejudo with speed and accuracy, but once Cejudo got closer to the larger man at the end of the second round and within reach of his fists, he showed that at that range he was faster than Moraes. Cejudo’s punches stung Moraes and he also used them to get even closer to single-collar ties and then full Muay Thai Plum clinches where he was able to whip his opponent around, compromised his posture and landed thudding knee strikes to the head.
After the second round, Defranco said that Cejudo told his corner that his left shoulder was injured and so his left arm subsequently was of no offensive use to him. From there, Cejudo adapted once more and began leading with his right cross more frequently.
From inside that punching range, Cejudo continued to land early and often, once again working in further to secure the Plum clinch again and land more knees to the head. Early in the fight Cejudo failed to stick any takedowns and ground position on Moraes, who showed excellent takedown threat awareness.
Only after damaging Moraes with strikes from inside punching range, where Cejudo had superior hand speed after getting past Moraes’ kicking range where the Brazilian had a speed advantage, was Cejudo able to score and stick authoritative takedowns and pins against the cage and mat, where he ultimately finished things off with ground strikes.
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