Despite a No. 3 ranking in the bantamweight division heading into UFC 212, Raphael Assuncao found himself as a decided underdog to highly-touted free agent signing Marlon Moraes, who was making his Octagon debut.
Whether Assuncao took that as a slight or not remains unknown but the veteran fighter showed no fear while facing off with Moraes, who entered the night on an incredible 13-fight win streak.
As the featured preliminary bout got underway, Moraes showed off his speed by sticking a fast jab in Assuncao's face combined with his blistering kicks to the legs and body.
It was a good start for Moraes, but his pace didn't stay as active as the round continued and it allowed Assuncao to work his way back into the fight before landing two hard right hands just before the bell.
Moraes looked slightly stunned from the punches that landed, but he recovered in the corner before coming back out looking to take the center of the Octagon in the second round.
Unfortunately, Moraes just couldn't find his timing or target for much of the fight while Assuncao stayed patient with his counter striking while never allowing his opponent to control the pace of the fight.
The third round saw Assuncao land another blistering right hand that rattled Moraes but that was definitely the best punch during the final five minutes of what ended up as a very closely contested bout.
When it was all over, the judges gave Assuncao the split decision win with two scorecards in his favor at 30-27 and 29-28 with the third official giving a 29-28 score to Moraes.
Assuncao is now 9-1 during his bantamweight career in the UFC while taking down one of the biggest free agent signings for the promotion in recent history. Considering his history in the division, not to mention his ranking, Assuncao would appear to be in line for a real contender's fight as he takes one more step towards a shot at UFC gold.
As for Moraes, it wasn't the result he wanted in his UFC debut but he'll get the opportunity to redeem himself when he returns for another fight later this year.