After a leg injury prevented him from defending the ONE Flyweight World Championship in March, Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes has fully recovered, and now he is preparing for an epic return.
The Brazilian will make his highly-anticipated comeback in the main event of ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER, which takes place at the Studio City Event Center in Macau on Saturday, 23 June.
He will square off against the division’s interim world champion, Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio, in a World Champion versus World Champion bout to determine who will hold the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Title.
Moraes has not competed in ONE Championship since last November, when he quickly submitted Eustaquio’s Team Lakay stablemate Danny “The King” Kingad. It was the first defense of his second reign as the ONE Flyweight World Champion.
He was scheduled to follow up that impressive performance by competing against Reece “Lightning” McLaren at ONE: VISIONS OF VICTORY, but just days before he was due to fly to Malaysia, he was put out of commission.
“I was more than ready, but two weeks before the fight I was in a sparring session, and a couple of guys training on the same mat collided with me,” he explains.
“It was an accident, but I sprained the MCL in my right knee.”
Talk of knee ligament injuries could strike even the toughest martial artists with fear, due to their reputation for keeping athletes out of action for extended periods of time.
Luckily, the damage the Brazilian suffered was minimal. Although he did have to take some time off and put work in to heal, it was not anything that could rule him out for long.
“It was injured, but I did not need surgery – just hard physiotherapy and a little bit of rest. I had good support, and I got better,” he says.
“I am ready now, and I have taken better care. I train alone more when I go on the mats.”
Moraes’ opponent in Macau is a familiar one. He faced Eustaquio in September 2014, and defeated him by second-round guillotine choke for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship.
However, he is aware the Team Lakay standout has made many improvements since that night in Cambodia at ONE: RISE OF THE KINGDOM.
In January, the 29-year-old got the chance to see how “Gravity” has developed up close. “Mikinho” was cageside at the Mall Of Asia Arena in Manila, when Eustaquio defeated Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov – another man the Brazilian has a history with – by unanimous decision after five rounds to claim the interim belt.
“Yes, I was there, and I watched that fight live. It was the first time I watched ONE Championship without being in the cage,” Moraes says. “Geje showed a good mixed martial arts game, and he showed he had improved a lot. Now, he is not just a striker.
“He defended Kairat Akhmetov’s takedown attacks very well, and won the fight by unanimous decision – the same thing I did [in August]. Geje improved his takedown defense. His grappling and his footwork is getting better. I am very impressed, and I think this fight against him is going to be tough.”
Moraes is still supremely confident in his own skills, despite whatever changes his opponent may have made. After all, he has also made some changes of his own.
In addition to his world-class grappling ability – which brought him victory in their first meeting – the Brazilian says he has made major improvements in the striking department.
“I have improved all my skills. My wrestling is getting better, and my jiu-jitsu is enabling me to finish people more quickly,” he explains.
“I put the most importance in this camp on my timing and my speed. I want to try and KO guys. It has been a long time in my career since I have knocked out anybody, so I needed to improve my timing. Everyone will see that my timing has improved a lot.”
A desire to stand and trade with the Filipino would make this an interesting bout, as Eustaquio’s strength is undoubtedly his striking, thanks to his wushu background.
However, the interim world champion has also stated his desire to go out of his comfort zone in Macau. He believes he will present a capable challenge on the mat, and can work to finish the encounter with a submission.
That may come as a surprise to some, given Moraes’ black-belt BJJ ability. Asked whether he believes he can end things with a submission, “Mikinho” oozes confidence.
After all, while he will be gunning for a knockout, he will always have his world-class BJJ to fall back on.
“I am from jiu-jitsu. Everybody knows that. You can watch my bouts and see that,” he says.
“In my last bout against Danny Kingad, my timing was getting better. I landed a good punch and he went down, but I worked my jiu-jitsu and it worked very well. I believe in my jiu-jitsu very much.
“I think my jiu-jitsu is better than Geje Eustaquio’s, and I can submit him again, because I have more weapons on the ground.”
Macau | 23 June | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast