Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes has made it to the very top of the martial arts world.
Now, he aims to maintain his status as the ONE Flyweight World Champion, by drawing on all of the experience he has gained throughout his amazing life and career.
By holding such a lofty and respected position in the sport, he can strive to fulfill what he feels is his greater purpose – to share his gifts.
“The most valuable thing about mixed martial arts is what you do for the world. It is what you learn and what you pass forward,” the 30-year-old says.
“It is what you feel, what you do, and what you receive. It is all about balance. You become a better person for the world, for others, and yourself.
“You can do great things, and martial arts helps you do that.”
Saved From The Streets Of Brazil
Moraes’ life could not have begun in more difficult circumstances.
Just days after his birth, he was abandoned on the streets of the Brazilian capital, Brasilia.
Fortunately, he was found and placed in an orphanage, where he lived until he was 3 years old. Then, his life improved again.
He was adopted by his mother, Mirtes Moraes, who gave him the chance of a normal life by raising him singlehandedly.
“She means everything to me. She is my idol,” he says. “I did everything for her, and I continue to do everything for her, for this love.”
Mirtes did everything she could to support her son and allow him to thrive, including providing him with an outlet for his energy through swimming and martial arts. He first tried judo, and eventually, capoeira.
However, regular trips to the gym could not keep him completely out of trouble, and the young Moraes almost turned to a life on the streets.
His experience on the edge of society was short-lived, though. After losing a street fight, he realized that life was not right for him. He also wanted to learn to better defend himself.
His friend, Gildasio Ferreira – a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt – suggested he try out at his gym, and that led Moraes down a path to greatness.
Devotion To Martial Arts
Moraes began his Brazilian jiu-jitsu education with the Constrictor Team under the tutelage of Eric Medeiros and Ataíde Junior.
“Constrictor Team opened my eyes to jiu-jitsu. It brought me more responsibility, more discipline, and more honor,” he says. “I can have more love for other people, I got more education, and I got more balance in my life and in my mind.”
Though “Mikinho” admits he was hardly a natural at the sport – and that he did not even enjoy his first experiences with “the gentle art” — he had found something he could dedicate himself to.
Before long, he was making excellent progress — moving up the BJJ grading ladder and developing the skills that would take him far.
His coaches supported him, with Medeiros taking him to competitions throughout his development, until he became renowned as one of the world’s most elite competitors.
Moraes won the NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship in 2014, and earned his black belt the following year.
“I kept trying, and trying, and trying, and it took a long time to understand jiu-jitsu – because it is hard,” he explains. “Some people get it quickly, but for me, it was so hard. I needed time.”
Throughout this time, “Mikinho” had also been training in boxing and Muay Thai, with the intention of competing in mixed martial arts.
He debuted in September 2011, unsurprisingly scoring a submission victory. He followed that with wins in his next eight bouts, and then joined ONE Championship in November 2013.
Within a year, he had defeated Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio by second-round guillotine choke for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Title, in the main event of ONE: RISE OF THE KINGDOM in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Brazilian finally reached a platform where he could create a legacy.
Tough Times At The Top
Although life as a World Champion began well for Moraes, his reign came to an abrupt end when then-undefeated 22-0 challenger Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov beat him via split decision in November 2015 to claim the belt.
It was only his second defeat in 15 contests as a professional, but “Mikinho” decided he needed to make a big change in order to take his career, and his skills, to the next level.
He wanted to move away from the distractions and economic pressures of Brazil. While it was difficult to leave his team, his friends, and his family behind — particularly his mother — he did what was best for his career.
Moraes relocated to the United States to train with American Top Team. There, he grew both as a martial artist, and as a man.
“I had the opportunity to move to Florida, and I liked that,” he says.
“I liked joining the American Top Team family. Everyone received me very well, and I just enjoyed the opportunity.”
That life-changing move immediately began to pay off.
Moraes looked better and better in every subsequent bout. First, he submitted Eugene Toquero, and then he tapped out Tilek Batyrov to claim the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title in August 2016.
A year later, “Mikinho” was finally booked to face the man who had taken his spot as World Champion.
A Date With Destiny
The second contest with Akhmetov was completely different than the first.
Moraes was better in every aspect of the game, and earned a clear unanimous decision from the judges. He unified the flyweight belts, and reclaimed his spot as the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Another quick return was expected in March, but the Brazilian was forced to withdraw from a scheduled tilt with Reece McLaren due to an injury.
“I was very 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. It was an accident, but I sprained my MCL in my right knee,” he recalls.
In his absence, an old rival emerged as Moraes’ next challenge.
Since their meeting nearly four years ago, Eustaquio had also dedicated himself to improving his skills, and became the ONE Interim Flyweight World Champion by defeating Akhmetov.
Upon the Brazilian’s return after rest and rehabilitation, there was only one match to make – a World Champion versus World Champion bout to determine the undisputed king of the division.
They share respect, but they will renew their rivalry at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER on Saturday, 23 June in Macau.
As Moraes says: “Let’s go for it one more time.”
Macau | 23 June | LIVE and FREE on the ONE Super App: http://bit.ly/ONESuperApp | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast