On 23 June 2013, Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes defied the odds to earn a career-best victory and a spot on the ONE Championship roster.
Moraes got a taste for gold when he won the vacant Shooto South American Flyweight Title in his final bout on home soil in Brazil. With that victory, he punched his ticket for even bigger things on the global stage.
“I remember when I became Shooto South American Champion in 2013. It was an amazing event,” the 31-year-old recalls.
“The president of Shooto Brazil put on a big event in Manaus. It was a big show with a lot of big names on the card. They put me against Dileno Lopes. He was 13-0 and I was 8-0, so it was like the undefeated championship!”
As if the opponent was not tough enough — Lopes had finished 12 of his 13 rivals — the Brasilia native had to travel almost 2,000 kilometers to take on a local favorite for the first time.
“I remember it was so scary to go to Manaus to fight because that was my first time going to test myself in another place against the hometown hero,” he admits.
“I remember when I arrived there, it was really, really hot. Everyone was cool with me, but Dileno had all the attention and all the media. Everything in the show went for him. I was just there and had to be cool, and just understand the game.”
“Mikinho,” however, was not there to play his bit-part in the Lopes show. He was an undefeated rising star, too, and he wanted to keep it that way.
The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt had prepared to the best of his ability for the challenge ahead, and he also had his faith.
“I remember I prayed a lot to God to give thanks to Him because I wanted to keep my winning streak and keep my dreams,” Moraes offers. “On fight day, I woke up really positive, really ready for that fight.”
That positivity was initially tested when he entered the arena, as the crowd belted out a chorus of “uh, vai morrer” in unison.
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This intimidating setting would have been enough to cause other challengers to buckle, but he blocked out the noise and kept his focus on the task at hand.
“It’s a sentence the Brazilians like to say to the opponents, meaning like, ‘You’re going to die.’ Everybody was against me, so I had to stay strong,” he explains.
“The announcer shouted my name, ‘Adriano Moraes.’ I entered the ring really focused and with real concentration.
“With all the crowd screaming and the smell of the ring because of all of the tough fights before mine, it was like entering hell. But I was focused and waited for my opponent to make his entrance.”
Lopes entered the ring and, buoyed by the crowd, got off to a rampaging start with a dominant first round.
Moraes knew he was down on the scorecards and had to quickly change the direction of the match-up. With the vacant belt on the line, alongside his undefeated record and martial arts dreams, the Brasilia native started to turn the tide.
“I knew I needed to come back and change the game, so in the second round, I [fought] better,” Moraes says.
“I put him down and started to land tough ground and pound, and I hurt him. I started to kick his body.
“Then in the third round, I landed a good kick to his body and he was done. He needed to stop fighting. The referee separated us and I won the Shooto South American Title belt!”
Against the odds, “Mikinho” had come from behind to win the gold against tough opposition — both inside and outside of the ring.
Though he did not know it at the time, this intense experience laid the foundations for his subsequent success in the world’s largest martial arts organization.
Moraes received the opportunity to join ONE Championship off the back of that victory in Manaus, and he gained a newfound confidence that he could take with him to The Home Of Martial Arts.
“It was amazing because nobody believed that I could do it,” he reflects.
“I remember it started my rise — a new guy, a new champion — and I was ready to go to another level in my life and my fighting career.”
Now, nearly seven years later, he is the reigning and defending ONE Flyweight World Champion.