Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes is now a role model and inspiration to people around the globe.
Despite beginning his life in the most difficult circumstances, the 29-year-old is now the ONE Flyweight World Champion, and a key member of American Top Team – one of the most respected martial arts academies in the world.
However, if it wasn’t for a major change in mindset during a formative period of his life, things could have been very different. He could have ended up on the wrong side of the law – or worse.
It has been quite an extraordinary journey for Moraes, who was abandoned on the streets of Brasilia, Brazil, just days after he was born, and later fell in with the wrong crowd.
Moraes was adopted by his mother, Mirtes when he was just 3 years old, and she provided a safe and loving home for him. She even enrolled him in his first martial arts classes — capoeira, and then judo — to help him release some pent-up energy.
“She means everything to me. She is my idol,” Moraes says. “I did everything for her, and I continue to do everything for her – for this love.”
As a teen, however, he was restless. The Brazilian lacked focus and did not find any true passion to give him any direction in life. He took a dangerous path by associating with street gangs.
“When I was a teenager, we liked to go to the problem areas,” he says. “We did not want to live in safety. We liked to be around danger, and get into fights. I liked that feeling.”
Though his mother was trying to guide him in the right direction, he wanted to gain the respect of his peers. Also, when there is the potential for danger on every street corner, he was comforted by the idea of knowing people who were watching his back.
“I learned about loyalty,” he says. “I made good friends despite there being bad times.”
Soon, however, he made the decision to leave gang life altogether.
After losing a fight on the street, a friend encouraged Moraes to learn the finer points of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. That is when a whole new world was unlocked for the Brazilian teenager.
He started training under the careful eye of Erick Medeiros and Ataide Junior at Constrictor Team, and threw himself into his newfound passion.
While “Mikinho” experienced tremendous success, such as winning both the NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship and the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Championship in 2014, his old buddies suffered the consequences of their life on the edge of society.
“I have lost many friends. Some are in jail and some were killed in fights on the street,” he says.
“God made me escape these bad moments so I did not go to prison with them.
“At that moment, I was doing jiu-jitsu. I stayed in the competitions, escaped the gangs, and changed my life.”
Although he wanted to leave the troubles of his former life behind, Moraes has never wanted to abandon his friends, nor his city. Instead, he wants to use his experience to help other people escape a life some accept as an inevitability.
The Brazilian has shown it is possible to strive for something better and live a productive, successful life. They do not have to make enemies and live in fear of their rivals, or the police. He can show them that there is another way – if they commit themselves to a goal.
“I may not be the best example in the world, but if I talk with you, you can hear me. I can show you my life, and my history, and show you what I gained by being a good man, and what can happen to you if you are bad,” he explains.
“When I come back to my city, if anyone gets out of jail, I can meet them and talk to them. I also have my social project to save kids with jiu-jitsu – it is called the Gentle Art Institute. I hope I can help a lot of people.”
As his star continues to rise as a World Champion, so does his reach and the value people attach to his words. That will strengthen even more if he defeats his old foe Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER.
Moraes has completely transformed his life, and now he wants to offer hope to those who may have none. He wants to show young kids there can be unity and friendship on the mats, as opposed to the streets.
Also, “Mikinho” wants to tell those who may have once headed in the wrong direction that life can change in the blink of an eye.
“It is never too late to start on your dreams,” the Brazilian says. “It does not matter what you have done. God always has one more day for you to change everything.”