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Adriano Moraes: From the streets of Brasilia to world championship glory

ONE Flyweight World Champion has taken a remarkable journey to the top. Now he plans on staying there

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Adriano Moraes returns to action at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Friday, 9 March, when he takes on Reece “Lightning” McLaren at the Axiata Arena.

And the 29-year-old ONE Flyweight World Champion plans on cementing his legacy with victory.

“My destiny is to be a world champion. My destiny is to be a role model for the kids. It is my destiny to be with my family and to keep moving forward with my life,” he told ONE Championship.

“If I can teach my classes and pass forward what I have learned through martial arts, I can show other people what you can do when you believe in yourself.”

Many martial arts stars have an interesting tale to tell about their route to the top, but few have taken a journey quite as remarkable as Moraes.

Born in April 1988, Moraes was abandoned on the streets of Brasilia by his mother. The tiny baby’s chances of survival in such a dangerous environment was slim. But miraculously he was rescued and placed in an orphanage when, three years later, he was adopted by the woman who would eventually become his adopted mother, Mirtes Moraes. Understandably, Moraes is eternally grateful.

In April 1988, just days after he was born, his birth mother abandoned him on the streets of Brasilia, Brazil. Needless to say, it was a dangerous place to leave a newborn baby.

“She means everything to me. She is my idol,” he said.

“I did everything for her, and I continue to do everything for her, for this love.”

Moraes was a lively child who struggled to find a suitable outlet for his boundless energy. His mother decided to enrol him in a variety of activities, including capoeira, judo and swimming. But he still found himself on the streets as a teenager, getting involved in gangs and street fights.

After coming off worst during one particular street fight, he decided to try Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It changed his life.

He left the streets behind and immersed himself in the gym, training at Constrictor Team under coaches Erick Medeiros and Ataide Junior. His dedication led to success on the mats, as he picked up a host of titles, including the NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship in 2014. He then earned his BJJ black belt the following year.

Once he’d reached an elite level in BJJ, he took the decision to try his luck in the cage, and found instant success, winning 12 of his first 13 bouts, picking up a Brazilian championship in the process.

He joined ONE Championship and earned the biggest title of his career, defeating Geje Eustaquio for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Title. It was a remarkable turnaround for someone who was abandoned on the street of Brazil’s capital as a newborn infant.

“Martial arts changed my life for better,” he says.

“It changed my mindset, changed everything in my life, and is very important to me. This is my work, this is my lifestyle, this is my job, and martial arts is everything to me. I love what I do.”

“Mikinho” was on top of the world, but his time at the top was cut short when he was defeated by Kairat Akhmetov in November the same year, losing out by split decision. Moraes was crushed but vowed to bounce back and regain the title again.

He made the decision to move from Brazil to Florida, setting up his training at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, where he was surrounded by a host of world-class martial arts talent from around the world.

He returned to ONE Championship better than ever, defeating Eugene Toquero in March 2016, then submitting Tilek Batyrov in August to earn the ONE Interim Flyweight title, with reigning champ Akhmetov on the shelf injured.

The pair eventually met for a second time at ONE: KINGS & CONQUERORS in August 2017. This time Moraes left no doubt, as he dominated Akhmetov to earn a unanimous decision after a supreme performance of well-rounded martial arts skills. Moraes’ performance handed “The Kazakh” the first loss of his professional career, and regained the ONE Flyweight Title.

It proved that Moraes could claw his way to the top, fall down and get back to his feet and reach the summit again. Overcoming adversity and setbacks has been a constant in the Brazilian’s life, and he wants his journey to be an inspiration to others.

“My life story is going to show and teach every teenager and kid that when they do not know what to do when their dream is lost, that God has more light for you,” he said.

“God has one more chance for you.”

Moraes has continued his good form, following up his title win with victory over Danny Kingad, who he says has a bright future in ONE Championship – but not quite yet.

“This night was amazing for me,” he said after his victory.

“Danny, you have a big future, but now is my time.”

Now Moraes takes on McLaren as he looks to cement his position at the top of the ONE Championship flyweight division. It also sees Moraes return to a happy hunting ground, Kuala Lumpur.

“It is going to be amazing to be back in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia,” he enthused. 

“My ONE Championship history started in Kuala Lumpur. I have had many good moments and good memories there, and I want to add one more.”

If he’s successful, he’ll build on a legacy that he hopes to use to inspire the next generation, as he explained.

“If you do great things in your life, not just when you become a champion, you will be a good example for kids and other people,” he said.

“For me, in my life, I always do my best every day. We work every day to stay at a high level.”

Interview by ONE Championship. Story by Simon Head.

Freelance sports writer and MMA reporter with 19 years’ experience in the UK national media. News Editor: ONE Championship. UFC/MMA Reporter: BBC Three. International MMA Reporter: The Fight Nation. Contributor: MMAjunkie.

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