UFC 266: Moraes vs Dvalishvili has show-stealer potential

moraes vs dvalishvili, ufc 266
June 13, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Merab Dvalishvili (Red Gloves) reacts after the conclusion of his fight against Gustavo Lopez during UFC Fight Night at the UFC APEX. Mandatory Credit: Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports

On September 25, the UFC returns to pay-per-view with a title fight doubleheader in UFC 266. The main event pits The Ultimate Fighter Season 29 coaching rivals Alexander Volkanovski, the UFC featherweight champion, against challenger Brian Ortega. The co-main event will see dominant women’s flyweight force Valentina Shevchenko look to defend her title once more against Lauren Murphy.

While the main card is stacked, with the return of Nick Diaz against Robbie Lawler, a heavyweight contender battle between Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and a fight to potentially determine the next flyweight challenger between Jessica Andrade and Cynthia Calvillo featured on the pay-per-view portion of the card, one of the best fights of the night takes place on the preliminary card.

The final prelim bout of UFC 266 pits two of the bantamweight division’s best against one another, as Brazil’s Marlon Moraes faces Georgia’s Merab Dvalishvili in a clash of top-15 contenders.

Moraes vs Dvalishvili is one of the most underrated bout at UFC 266

Moraes, 33, signed with the UFC in 2017 after a run in the former World Series of Fighting (now PFL) that saw him capture titles at both 135 and 145 pounds. A ferocious finisher known for his emphatic knockouts, the Brazilian has gone a somewhat surprising 5-4 in his UFC tenure to date.

After a loss to perennially underrated Raphael Assuncao, Moraes rattled off four straight wins en route to a 2019 title shot — including victories over current UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and the aforementioned Assuncao, whom he bested in their rematch.

Moraes looked stellar in the first round of his vacant championship match with UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo but faltered in the subsequent rounds in a losing effort that saw Cejudo win by third-round technical knockout to cement his double-champ status.

Since Moraes has struggled to put his best foot forward. He rebounded from the Cejudo loss with a contentious split decision against a resurgent Jose Aldo but then lost back-to-back outings to top-ranked contenders Cory Sandhagen and Rob Font, both by knockout.

He will look to bounce back from his recent skid against a veritable cardio machine in Merab Dvalishvili.

Dvalishvili, 30, also joined the UFC roster in 2017. After a 7-2 career on the regional scene that saw him capture a title in Ring of Combat and after defeating notable opponents in Tony Gravely and Raufeon Stots, expectations were high for the Georgian.

However, it was a difficult start for Dvalishvili in the Octagon. He dropped consecutive fights in his promotional debut and second outing, then lost a split-decision at the hands of Frankie Saenz and a third-round submission to Ricky Simon in a controversial last-second finish of their 2018 meeting.

Dvalishvili has been perfect since scoring six straight wins over increasingly well-regarded opposition. Though he has yet to earn a stoppage victory in the UFC, he bested TUF standout Brad Katona, upstart Casey Kenney, veteran John Dodson, and contender Cody Stamann during his current winning streak.

Throughout, Dvalishvili has put a near-unmatchable pace on his opponents, overwhelming them with pressure and takedowns. Currently ranked twelfth in the UFC rankings, he will aim to break into the shark tank that is the bantamweight top ten against the sixth-ranked Moraes.

While the bantamweight title picture is crowded – champion Sterling is set to rematch rival Petr Yan. Former champion TJ Dillashaw recently returned to the win column after a lengthy USADA suspension, and the likes of Font and Aldo are waiting in the wings. This fight between Moraes and Dvalisvhili could serve to determine which contender will round out the bottom half of the equation going forward.

–Field Level Media

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