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If there was any doubt before, there can be none now: The Ultimate Fighting Championship knows the identity of its No. 1 contender at 135 pounds.
Marlon Moraes avenged his controversial 2017 decision defeat to Raphael Assuncao in stunning fashion, as he submitted the Atlanta-based Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a mounted guillotine choke in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 144 headliner on Saturday at Centro de Formacao Olimpica do Nordeste in Fortaleza, Brazil. Assuncao tapped out 3:17 into Round 1, his four-fight winning streak at an unceremonious end.
“Magic Marlon” hammered Assuncao with a pair of overhand rights -- the first one dazed him, the second one floored him -- and trailed him to the canvas. Once there, Moraes applied his ground-and-pound, snatched the guillotine and rolled to a mounted position for the finish. It was a stellar performance.
In the aftermath of UFC Fight Night 144, here are six matches that ought to be made:
Marlon Moraes vs. T.J. Dillashaw: Moraes has his sights fixed on Dillashaw and the undisputed UFC bantamweight championship -- and rightfully so. The 30-year-old former World Series of Fighting titleholder finds himself on a run of four straight victories, the last three of them first-round finishes. His latest effort marked the first time in almost eight years that Assuncao had been stopped inside the distance, and afterward, Moraes used the platform to prod Dillashaw by ridiculing his recent technical knockout loss to flyweight boss Henry Cejudo -- a setback that cost him the opportunity to become a simultaneous two-division champion. Cejudo, interestingly enough, could be all that stands between Moraes and a title shot, as the 2008 Olympic gold medalist has already made overtures toward a rematch with Dillashaw at 135 pounds.
Jose Aldo vs. Alexander Volkanovski: An all-time great showed once again why he carries the distinction. Aldo carved up countryman Renato Carneiro in the co-main event and put away “Moicano” with punches in the second round. Referee Jerin Valel rescued Carneiro from an avalanche of strikes 44 seconds into Round 2. Aldo spent much of the opening round stalking and measuring his counterpart. In the beginning stages of the second, he staggered Carneiro with a clean left hook and cut loose with hooks, uppercuts and knees. “Moicano” retreated to the fence but found no refuge, as Aldo laid into him with blistering hooks and uppercuts until Valel had seen enough. Volkanovski, he of the eye-popping 19-1 record, has won 16 fights in a row. The 30-year-old Australian last competed at UFC 232, where he took care of Chad Mendes with second-round punches in December.
Demian Maia vs. Michael Chiesa: Maia remains as dangerous as ever, even at the age of 41. The 2007 Abi Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist made life miserable for Lyman Good, as he tapped the former Bellator MMA titleholder with a standing rear-naked choke in the first round of their main-card welterweight pairing. Good asked out of the match 2:38 into Round 1, suffering the first stoppage loss of his 26-fight career. Afterward, Maia indicated he planned to fulfill the final two fights on his current UFC deal before assessing his future. Chiesa upshifted to 170 pounds on Dec. 29, when he submitted onetime World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Carlos Condit with a second-round kimura at UFC 232.
Charles Oliveira vs. Gregor Gillespie: Oliveira survived a Three Stooges eye poke from David Teymur and submitted the Swedish muay Thai stylist with an anaconda choke in the second round of their featured lightweight affair. Teymur conceded defeat 0:55 into Round 2. Oliveira upped his aggression in the first round after being gouged simultaneously in both eyes and seized control with a front kick to the face, wild punching combinations and flying knees. Less than a minute into the middle stanza, the Brazilian had Teymur turning away from contact after a sneaky upward elbow, uncorked punches and cinched the choke. A four-time All-American wrestler and onetime NCAA champion at Edinboro University, Gillespie pushed his perfect professional record to 13-0 with a second-round technical knockout of Yancy Medeiros at UFC Fight Night 143 on Jan. 19.
Johnny Walker vs Aleksandar Rakic: The statement made by Walker could not have been more profound, as the Brazilian prospect blew away Justin Ledet a mere 15 seconds into their light heavyweight feature. The charismatic 26-year-old cut down Ledet with a spinning backfist, narrowly missed with an illegal soccer kick that undoubtedly would have resulted in his disqualification and then pounded out the Texan with unanswered punches. Walker now owns a 2-0 record in UFC competition and has posted eight consecutive victories, seven of them finishes. Rakic last appeared at UFC 231 on Dec. 8, when he disposed of Devin Clark with first-round punches and extended his winning streak to 11 fights.
Livinha Souza vs. Cynthia Calvillo-Cortney Casey-Sanchez winner: Souza continued her slow but steady climb on the 115-pound ladder, as she took a split decision from previously unbeaten newcomer Sarah Frota in their three-round women’s strawweight showcase. The former Invicta Fighting Championships titleholder counteracted the overweight Frota’s heavy hands with a steady diet of takedowns, positional control and submission attempts, including a near-finish via rear-naked choke at the end of the second round. Souza, 27, has rattled off four straight wins since her contentious five-round decision loss to Angela Hill in May 2016. Calvillo and Casey-Sanchez are booked opposite one another at UFC on ESPN 1 on Feb. 17.