But every dog has its day, and three years ago today, the Filipino veteran achieved an inspirational career milestone, defeating old rival Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes to become the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Eustaquio entered that monumental battle with a lot to prove.
Things hadn’t gone to plan when “Gravity” first met the Brazilian dynamo for the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Title in September 2014. Moraes forced the wushu-based striker to tap out via guillotine choke in the second round – the first submission loss of the Filipino star’s career.
Following that difficult setback, Eustaquio devoted much of his time to improving in the grappling arts and working his way back up the ladder to secure a rematch.
And though he endured a rocky journey, “Gravity” eventually earned his second crack at Moraes by upsetting former flyweight king Kairat “The Kazakh” Akhmetov via unanimous decision to win the ONE Interim Flyweight World Title in January 2018.
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The stage was set for Eustaquio to create a timeless moment in mixed martial arts history.
On 23 June 2018 at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER, the Filipino entered Studio City Event Center in Macau, where he was determined to earn his redemption, take Moraes’ belt, and unify it with his interim strap to become the undisputed divisional king.
It was clear that Eustaquio was not fearful of his rival’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expertise, as he took “Mikinho” to the mat in the first round with an outside leg trip. But Moraes worked for submissions, including the same guillotine choke that had foiled the Team Lakay veteran four years earlier. This time, “Gravity” remained calm, escaped, and then unleashed his ground-and-pound strikes.
The Filipino displayed his world-class wushu striking in the second and third stanzas, and though Moraes hit a takedown, Eustaquio’s defense made it difficult for his foe to advance to a more favorable position.
It was ultra-competitive in the championship rounds, as the combatants took turns exerting their strengths – the tiring “Mikinho” went for takedowns and submissions, while “Gravity” threw strikes on both the feet and the ground.
After 25 minutes of breathless action, the judges scored the razor-thin split decision for Eustaquio.
The Baguio City native had achieved all of his goals – he avenged his lone submission defeat, proved that he could grapple with one of the best in the world, and unified the flyweight belts.
But perhaps the most important message came straight from the Filipino underdog following his epic victory.
“Ladies and gentlemen, when I started 14 years ago, this was impossible. But now, after 14 years, impossible is not a word — it is just a reason,” Eustaquio told Mitch Chilson in the ring after his win.
“Anybody can be a World Champion, as long as you have the drive and the attitude. I am proud to be the undisputed ONE Flyweight World Champion this time.”
Eustaquio would drop the gold to Moraes seven months later, but his words resonate to this day – and especially on this day.