The youngest of the eight debuting fighters at UFC 270, Ecuador’s Michael Morales extended his perfect professional record to 12-0 and earned his chance in the UFC at Dana White’s Contender Series last September.
Morales trains out of Mexico, but the majority of his career has been spent in regional promotions in his native Ecuador. He’s finished an impressive ten of his twelve pro bouts, with six of those stoppages coming inside the first round.
Aside from a submission win in 2019, Morales’ most impressive results have come from his striking. At only twenty-two years old Morales shows a lot of poise in the cage and is willing to go through long periods of low output in order to find a chance to counter his opponents. When he does see an opening he has strong instincts for pursuing a finish and pouring on volume, but he’s also not afraid to back out if he feels there’s a risk of exposing himself. In his fight with Miguel Arizmendi in 2021, Morales nearly finished the Mexican on several occasions but restrained himself from committing fully until he was sure that Arizmendi was done late in the second round.
Morales was able to show off his wrestling skills in his Contender Series fight with Nikolay Veretennikov, though it probably came more out of necessity than preference. Whereas Morales was able to largely dictate the pace of the fight with most of his previous opponents, Veretennikov was happy to take the fight to Morales and back him to the fence with his striking. The Ecuadorian was quick to use his takedowns to get out of danger in these situations and it seemed to improve his confidence on the feet as the fight went on, but it definitely seems like Morales prefers to control the cage and wait for opportunities to counter his opponents.
I do have some concerns about Morales’ striking defense and tendency to leave his chin wide-open during exchanges, but his finishing instincts and ability to mix in wrestling make him an exciting prospect. At only twenty-two, there’s plenty of room for him to grow in the next few years as long as the UFC don’t rush him along. His opponent Trevin Giles also entered the UFC as an undefeated finisher back in 2017, and he’ll be a very tough test to see where Morales is at in his development.
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A Mainstay Through the Years
Michael Morales is exactly the type of prospect I like to see getting a chance in the UFC, as he is an elite athlete with an undefeated record who dominated weaker competition in his native Ecuador and needed to be tested against world-class competition to see how he stacks up. He’s one of the youngest fighters on the roster at age 22, but with a 12-0 record and previous experience in both judo and wrestling, he’s gotten the reps that he needs to be ready for the big show at such a young age.
It’s impossible to overstate just how dominant Morales looked in Ecuador, as he won 9 of his 10 fights by finish and is clearly several levels above the competition in both athleticism and technical skills when you put on the tape of his old fights. However, that is somewhat to be expected when a talent of his caliber takes on guys with a combined record of 20-17, which speaks both to the lack of experience and overall mediocrity of the opposition he faced. Morales moved to Mexico in 2021, which has really kickstarted his career after an exciting KO of his best opponent so far, Miguel Arizmendi (8-5), for UWC earned him a spot on this year’s edition of the Contender Series. He took on Nikolay Veretennikov (9-3), a dangerous Muay Thai striker who has had success against quality opponents on the US regional scene, and dominated most of the fight against his much older opponent on his way to a comfortable decision victory.
Morales is relatively tall for the division at 6′ even, but his real length advantage comes from his 79 inch reach, which is better than some middleweights or even higher weight classes on the roster. He uses that gift well and fights long with quick jabs and kicks that make it hard for his opponents to enter into range. When they do, he does a good job increasing the power on his strikes and delivering punishment without overswinging, though he did occasionally get wild in some of his earlier fights when it was obvious that he was significantly better than his opponent. While many people might see a lanky striker like Morales and decide that taking him down is their easiest path to victory, they would be playing right into his wheelhouse, as his impeccable judo shows up in his great balance and ability to redirect his opponents either against the fence or to the canvas. Once he gets on top he is hard to move and delivers explosive ground and pound, and he is also flexible and creative while scrambling and is never content to let his opponent have a controlling position.
While there is a ton to like about Morales, Trevin Giles is a very tricky debut fight for someone his age. Giles is dropping down from middleweight after a solid 5-3 run against some quality opponents, and I worry that his size and strength may prove to be too much for the youngster, who still has some room to develop physically. I have Morales losing a competitive decision in this one, but I definitely would not be surprised to see him pull out a finish if he can land a powerful combo or tangle his opponent up on the ground for a submission. Despite predicting a debut loss, I think Morales’ ceiling is incredibly high and can easily seeing him challenging for a ranking in a couple years if he continues on his current growth trajectory.
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A Mainstay Through the Years
One might call this Morales’ first true test in his MMA career. One thing is for sure, his UFC debut is certainly coming against quite a tough fighter. Morales looks to have an impactful debut and immediately pick up a win against the more recognised name. At present, Morales has had 12 fights, and is yet to pick up his first loss. It’s almost certain that Morales would not want to stop his momentum that has seen him find his way to the UFC. Morales’ opponent, Trevin Giles, is making his long-awaited move down to Welterweight and is excited to have the honour of welcoming the younger Morales to the UFC. Expecting this to be a quick-paced and hard-hitting affair. A fighter that is always looking for a definite finish is a good fighter, and it’s certainly a quality that might see Morales grow further in his pro career at the UFC. Growth includes loss, and I believe Morales will experience this at least once – but he will continue to move forward and be better from such.
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A Mainstay Through the Years
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