The rivals from Brazil and the Philippines, respectively, were the first athletes to compete for the belt in September 2014. Now, almost four years later, they are the division’s World Champion and Interim World Champion, and are set to clash again.
On Saturday, 23 June, at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER in Macau, China, the pair will do battle for the second time in a five-round main event to determine the undisputed best flyweight in the world.
Before they step into the cage, learn more about what brought them to this point, as well as the story of one of the most exciting and competitive divisions in mixed martial arts.
The Inaugural Champion Is Crowned
The history of the ONE Flyweight World Championship began in September 2014.
Moraes and Eustaquio locked horns for the inaugural world title in the main event of ONE: RISE OF THE KINGDOM in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It was a fiercely-contested battle with a breakneck pace.
It was a clash of styles, which pitted Eustaquio’s championship wushu striking against Moraes’ black belt Brazilian jiu-jitsu. For much of the first two rounds, both men showed they could hold their own wherever the match took place.
However, when “Mikinho” finally grabbed hold of his opponent’s neck, his submission skills proved to be the difference maker, and he earned the belt by submitting the Filipino via guillotine choke at 3:54 of the second frame.
The World Title Changes Hands
It was a performance that showed what a world-class competitor the Brazilian was. He impressed with his striking, as well as his grappling, against an opponent who pushed him hard for 25 minutes.
However, his 435-day reign at the top of the mountain came to an end in November 2015, when he met Kazakhstan’s Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov at ONE: DYNASTY OF CHAMPIONS (BEIJING II) in the Chinese capital.
This was another battle contested over the course of five full rounds, but this time “Mikinho” ended up on the wrong side of the judges’ verdict.
It was a razor-thin split decision, which Moraes believed he should have won, but he accepted the result. Not one to complain, he committed to spending most of the next two years chasing redemption.
Moraes’ Road Back To The Belt
In the months following his loss, Moraes was determined to get back into the world title picture.
He made a huge case for that in his next outing with an incredible comeback performance in March 2016. After nearly being knocked out by a Eugene Toquero flying knee, the Brazilian survived, and then submitted the Filipino in the first round via brabo choke.
With Akhmetov on the sidelines due to aggravating a longtime back injury, Moraes was then given the opportunity to face off against Tilek Batyrov for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title at ONE: HEROES OF THE WORLD in Macao, China that August.
The man from Brasilia submitted Batyrov in the second round via rear-naked-choke to capture the belt, and made himself the clear-cut top contender to face Akhmetov when he returned.
That opportunity came almost exactly a year later, back in Macao at ONE: KINGS AND CONQUERORS.
Moraes made it count, leaving no doubt this time with a career-best performance.
Once again, the rivals went the distance, but the improvements “Mikinho” made in all facets of mixed martial arts allowed him to win the striking and grappling exchanges, and he reemerged as the undisputed king of the division.
Rivalry Renewed As World Champions
Moraes began his reign with a masterful defense of his strap, making Eustaquio’s Team Lakay stablemate Danny “The King” Kingad tap to a rear-naked choke at ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD in Manila, Philippines last November.
While the world champion worked to establish himself as the top dog, an old foe had put a run together that catapulted him to within striking distance of the top prize.
He was rewarded with a main-event assignment against Akhmetov last September at ONE: TOTAL VICTORY in Jakarta, Indonesia, which seemed certain to determine the next challenger for the Brazilian.
However, another close and controversial decision after three rounds meant there was unfinished business to take care of.
A rematch was arranged for January in the Filipino’s home country with the stakes raised. This time, “Gravity” and “The Kazakh” faced off across five rounds for the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title. When the final bell rang, there was no doubt who deserved the victory.
Now, almost four years after they first met, the two flyweight kingpins will renew their rivalry to compete in a world title unification bout at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER.
If their second meeting is anywhere near as good as their first – or the rest of their world title bouts – then fans will be in for a treat.