The Searching for Future Champions series returns with a look at a devastating Brazilian striker, Sheymon Moraes. Check the story stream on the right side of the page or the links at the bottom of the article for previous installments, where I've discussed in depth the methods and criteria for inclusion.
10) Sheymon Moraes, Bantamweight (5-0)
Camp: Team Nogueira
Years Pro: 1.75
A traditional Thai-style game is a truly rare thing to find in MMA, and it's even less common to see it wielded by as explosive and experienced a competitor as 23-year old Sheymon Moraes. The Team Nogueira product has trained in karate, Capoeira, Judo, and Muay Thai since childhood, and has racked up nearly sixty wins in his extensive (and ongoing) career as a competitor in Muay Thai. These sixty wins haven't all come on the Brazilian circuit, either; Moraes has spent a substantial amount of time living, training, and fighting in Thailand against some of the best in the world. When he brings those skills into the cage, serious violence quickly follows.
Moraes would become the best striker in the UFC's bantamweight division the moment he signed the contract. The same thing is true of Marlon Moraes, whom I profiled previously, but Sheymon's striking is a full order of magnitude more advanced than Marlon's. Moraes has fight-ending power in nearly every strike, but he accomplishes this without visibly loading up, and the speed and technique with which he covers distance and throws shots is something to behold. I've seen him compared to Jose Aldo, and it's a pretty apt analogy. So how do you describe the guy who can do everything on the feet? The best thing to say is that he has a few notable tendencies. First, he loves to dig to the body, both with a nasty left hook and a brutal left kick. Second, his combinations are quite fluid, and he's capable of throwing both moving forward and with excellent timing on his counters. Third, he likes to use his round kicks to move his opponents into follow-up strikes as they try to move laterally. Fourth, like many Thai stylists, he's perfectly willing to take a shot to give a harder and cleaner one back. The last bit is the only real area of concern: he's a touch hittable in both pure Muay Thai and in MMA, and while his chin is otherworldly and it's difficult to catch him with a really clean shot, it won't last forever.
As good as Moraes' range striking is, it's the quality of his clinch work that separates him from many other pure striking crossovers into MMA. He's beastly strong and enormous (a thick 5'7") for the weight class, and that makes his top-notch technique even harder to deal with. Moraes is a master of subtle movements to create the distance necessary for him to work in his strikes, and he transitions seamlessly to different positions. When he's able to grab the double-collar tie and goes to work, his opponent rarely lasts long under a steady stream of knees to the head and body that are reminiscent of a Pride-era Shogun Rua or Anderson Silva's first few fights in the UFC. Additionally, Moraes has shown a notable aptitude for Thai-style dumps and caught kicks, which he's worked seamlessly into his overall game. His wrestling is still something of a work in progress: while his athleticism, movement, and control of the range usually allow Moraes to avoid or stuff the first takedown, chained attempts, especially against the cage, have had more success. Nevertheless, the fact that what we'd assume to be the weak point in his game is as far along as it is after five fights is notable, and there's every reason to think he can continue to improve.
As you might expect, grappling isn't Moraes' strongest suit. He's not a novice - years of training at Team Nogueira should make that obvious - but it simply isn't his game, and we frankly haven't seen much of it given his success in finishing fights quickly and largely avoiding his opponents' takedowns. He does have a bad habit of giving up his back as he gets up to his feet, which is probably a product of his Judo background, and while his opponents haven't been able to fully capitalize it's something to keep an eye on. Otherwise, he's shown solid submission defense, but there isn't much else to go on.
After fighting five times in 2012, Moraes spent most of 2013 recovering from a knee injury and the subsequent surgery, during which time he served as the striking coach for Nogueira on TUF Brazil 2. He won a Muay Thai fight in Thailand last month, so it seems that his knee has recovered. I reached out to Moraes on Twitter to get a sense for his future plans, and he told me that his team is setting up an MMA fight for him in March, and that he'll continue to fight under Muay Thai rules as well. If all goes well with MMA, however, he plans to quit fighting in Muay Thai.
In any case, Moraes oozes upside. He's young and relatively inexperienced, but he's already beaten excellent competition in the form of onetime UFC competitor Pedro Nobre and a couple of other veterans of the Brazilian circuit. Moraes is a fantastic athlete, and he's trained by one of the best teams in Brazil. Another year in the regional shows might be necessary to shore up some of the holes in his grappling and wrestling games, but if he continues to develop he has all the makings of a top-5 fighter or even a future champion.
25-23: Steve Mocco, Michinori Tanaka, and Nick Newell
22-20: Max Nunes, Gleristone Santos, and Walter Gahadza
19-18: Ramazan Emeev and Rick Glenn
17-16: Georgi Karakhanyan and Jim Alers
15-14: Tyrone Spong and Marlon Moraes
13-12: Mansour Barnaoui and Islam Makhachev