UFC 238: Lay Hold of the Empty Throne
It's about that time again for me to talk about some quality fisticuffs that will be going down at UFC 238 in Chicago on Saturday night. I try to tame my expectations for Pay Per Views because sometimes cards look great on paper and don't pan out. With that said, I can't help but get hyped for this card and all of the violence it should bring. In the headliner we'll have Flyweight champion Henry Cejudo moving up a weight class to take on Marlon Moraes for the vacant Bantamweight championship, while the co-main event will showcase striking ace Valentina Shevchenko defending her Flyweight title against Jessica Eye. Aside from the two headliners, this card is stacked with fights like Donald Cerrone vs. Tony Ferguson and Petr Yan vs Jimmie Rivera. I didn't even mention Tatiana Suarez is on this card as well.
Now before I dive into these match-ups, there are many circumstances surrounding the main event that I have to address. The outcome of this fight is most likely going to determine much more than just a new Bantamweight champion.
One could argue that this match-up could all but mean the death of the Men's Flyweight division. After Cejudo dethroned long standing champion Demetrious Johnson, we all waited to see what move the UFC would make in terms of matchmaking for Cejudo. Instead of running back a rematch with Johnson or Joseph Benavidez, (the only two men to ever defeat Cejudo), the UFC brought in Bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw who Cejudo proceeded to mop the floor with. Afterwards, Dillashaw was suspended by the USADA for two years due to testing positive for EPO.
The UFC Flyweight division gets thinner by the day with the recent cuts that they've been making and it's honestly looking grim for the future. Should Cejudo beat Moraes and claim both titles, the UFC may possibly keep Flyweight around. Every promotion drools at the chance to promote a two division champ, which could at the very least keep the Flyweight division on life support a little longer. But if Cejudo loses, I could definitely see a scenario where the UFC possibly keeps the top five Flyweights and adds them to the Bantamweight roster. As for the rest, the UFC would most likely wipe their hands clean with the remainder of the division which they seemingly don't have much interest in any longer. So just keep this in mind as you watch the main event. There will be ripples in the water that will be felt regardless of who wins. Now, let's talk about the actual match-up itself.
Both Cejudo and Moraes are entering this title fight with the most impressive streaks of their respective careers. After a split decision loss in his UFC debut, Moraes has been on a calculated tear while winning four straight match-ups. Three of those four bouts ended in the first round but each bout has must see highlight reel finishes. After suffering back to back losses in 2016, Cejudo returned the following year as a completely reinvented fighter with many additional tools at his disposal.
As with most fights, I'm always intrigued on which fighter can impose their will and what path to victory they will utilize. Cejudo's wrestling credentials are well noted and it's fair to say that he'll hold a wrestling advantage against nearly any opponent he faces. He can also a push a consistent pace for the better part of five rounds which would greatly help him against Moraes who lately hasn't even needed a round two. While I don't believe Cejudo is a better striker than Moraes, he has greatly improved in that area. He will need his speed and explosion to help offset Moraes who defensively is a very solid fighter that generally doesn't take a ton of damage in his fights. Cejudo will need to walk a fine line of pushing a high pace to not let Moraes get comfortable in space while also exercising patience against Moraes who can explode and end a fight in an instant. Cejudo is extremely talented but I think this will be an uphill battle as Moraes is the bigger fighter with a much more dangerous striking acumen.
Quietly, Moraes has one of the scariest skill sets in the Bantamweight division. He patiently reads his opponents while managing to not take much damage in the process. In the moments that Moraes decides to explode, he can unleash a head kick that just forms out of thin air and before you know it you're asking your corner man what was it that you even got hit with. He's great at managing distance and fighting at a range that best suits his offense. Unfortunately for Cejudo, Moraes also holds a sixty percent take down defensive percentage. Moraes has a dangerous combination of craftiness and power that can give anybody problems, add in being the naturally bigger fighter and I think it's fair to say the cards are stacked in Moraes' favor. Moraes can't overlook Cejudo whose confidence should be at an all time high, but I think he has more than enough tools that can aid him to victory.
Prediction: You can check my podcast record: since the day I saw Moraes fight during his World Series Of Fighting days, I said that he could become a UFC champion. Now that he's here, I'm standing on that. As great as Cejudo is, Moraes just has too much skill, power, and potential...I'm picking Moraes via TKO In round two.
One of the best things a fighter can do when a new division is created is to be consistent and available. This is exactly what Jessica Eye has done since dropping from Bantamweight to Flyweight last year. Most believe this to be her natural weight class and her 3-0 record at Flyweight would seem to verify that. Eye is a pretty straightforward fighter; she likes to out box her opponents while using pressure and slipping punches to get inside and do her damage. Eye is always a game opponent who's never afraid to push forward. She's not particularly great in any one area but she leans heavily on her boxing skill set so I'm sure that she'll be looking to carefully let her hands fly when she has the opportunity. Although Eye has reeled off three straight wins (two of those three were narrow split decisions) she'll need to be much more convincing to beat Shevchenko,.
Shevchenko is pinpoint with everything she does. Her striking ability is on an elite level and she has such variety that you never know exactly what you're about to get hit with. On top of that, she's such a physically strong Flyweight who has improved her grappling and overall ground game tenfold since the first time we saw her in the octagon. She's honestly a nightmare to deal with. Especially in this division where the talent gap between her and her contemporaries seems infinitely wide. We've seen crazier upsets happen, but it'll be miracle to get this glass slipper to fit.
Prediction: I could honestly seeing this fight being a wipe out. Eye is talented, she might even make this more competitive than people will give her credit for, but at the end of the day Shevchenko is just too great. I think Shevchenko wins easily going with a finish in round three.
To put it simply this PPV is fire from top to bottom. From the preliminary fights to the main card, there's a lot of quality fisticuffs to be thrown. Normally I split paying for PPV's with a group of friends but I'm strongly considering ordering this and paying in full for myself. I can say with confidence that this card will be worth every penny, so if you want to spend your Saturday night looking at some quality violence...look no further than UFC 238.
Fights to look out for:
Tony Ferguson vs. Donald Cerrone
Jimmie Rivera vs. Petr Yan
Tatiana Suarez vs. Nina Ansaroff
Aljamain Sterling vs. Pedro Munhoz
The whole card y'all, honestly, the whole card
Main Card: 10:00 PM on PPV (ESPN+) Preliminary Card: 8:00 PM On ESPN Early Prelims: 6:15 PM on UFC Fight Pass
Michael "CerealSensei" Williams is the host of the Dojo Talk Podcast. He is an avid fight fan, author, hip hop enthusiast, and part-time gamer. You can find him roaming the Twitter streets at @CerealSensei and you can listen to the Dojo Talk Podcast on Soundcloud.