Currently ranked as one of the top flyweights in the world, John Moraga is on a mission to prove his worth to the UFC and its fanbase. After an impressive octagon debut which saw him KO seasoned striker Ulysses Gomez in under four minutes, he quickly earned a newfound respect from a casual fansbase that was not even aware of his existence.
Having spent most of his professional career on the regional circuit, Moraga amassed a record 10-1 with 5 submissions before punching his way into the UFC. With the unpredictability of the regional scene, he has never been able to enjoy the comfort of a three-month training camp–something he fully appreciates as a member of the UFC roster.
“This is actually one of the first times that I have actually been able to have a full camp,” Moraga explained to TheFlyingKneeMMA.com, “When you are local, you never know when your next fight is going to be, you are always trying to look for a fight and you don’t get to really plan out your training. This time, ever since my last fight, I was able to get with my strength and conditioning coach and we were able to get right back on it right away. The very week after my fight I was in the gym and my strength and conditioning coach had a whole plan set out. It was like thirteen or fourteen weeks I can’t remember but we have been on it ever since and now we are right in the middle of camp so it is perfect.”
The Mexican-American fought at bantamweight for the majority of his career, where he remains undefeated. In 2011, he became the Trilogy Championship Fighting bantamweight champion before winning the Rage in the Cage bantamweight title a year later. When Moraga got the call to join the UFC, he decided to drop down to his natural weight class of 125lbs.
“I love it,” Moraga expressed when asked about his adjustments at flyweight, “At bantamweight I was doing ok, but I knew that at the higher level I would be a bit undersized. I had trained with Dominick Cruz and a couple of other big bantamweight and they were just a lot bigger than me so I knew that eventually I was going to be making the switch but I wanted it to be worth it. I did not want to be cutting weight for these local shows and making $500.”
With all things considered, Moraga believes that the timing of his UFC arrival was “perfect.”
“I felt pretty good about it [UFC debut] and the way it turned out but it is in the past. Now, that’s behind me. I have to work about my future fights. Those are the more important ones now. I did what I had to do in the first one and it was good and worked out for me and I still have better things to come hopefully.”
Even though Moraga showed off some outstanding striking skills in his octagon debut, it was only the second knockout in his professional career. His striking certainly looked more polished than that of a beginner yet he was unable to put it to use on the regional circuit. He attributes that to several different factors.
“It was a combination [of different things] actually,” he explained, “Ulysses Gomez is a seasoned striker and he was in there [octagon] playing the striking game with me. A lot of these local fights you get some of these guys that are not very seasoned or not used to taking a hit, so when you hit them one time they get scared and their whole gameplan changes and the whole fights is no longer a striking game. Ulysses chose to strike and I got to show off some of my striking.”
John also explained how local shows do not necessarily abide by the Unified Rules of MMA, which state that a professional MMA fight consists of three rounds of five minutes each. Some shows actually shorten their fights to three minutes a round, which significantly impacts fighters abilities to impose their gameplan.
“In some of these past fights at the local shows, a lot of pro fights are only three minutes long, I guess maybe for insurance reasons or maybe so they can hold more fights but even the pro fights some of them are only 3 minutes rounds. It is hard to really establish a good high level fight in 3 minutes, so if it gets into grappling, it takes up a lot of the round so you don’t have much time to work with. On top of that, i was fighting at bantamweight so I was fighting bigger guys and then I just didn’t get as many KOs a I was would have liked but the striking has always been there. I have been striking for a long time now, even since the Dodson fight, where we stayed on our feet pretty much the whole time. I have always felt that I have been ready for the higher level striking.”
Whilst Moraga did indeed spend the majority of his career at bantamweight, he did meet current flyweight title challenger John Dodson at 125lbs. The TUF winner also handed him his only professional loss to date.
“Dodson is a great fighter so I am kind of excited to see him perform in his title fight. I am sure he is going to be arond for a while so maybe we will have to fight again but I am not worried about it and am not focused on that. I just want to focus on me and whatever the UFC has in store for me. I am not really worried about a rematch or revenge or anything. He is a great fighter so I just take it as a loss and as a lesson learned. All the great fighters say they get better from their losses and I feel the same way.”
Riding high on his impressive UFC debut, Moraga will now meet Chris Cariaso on the Facebook prelims of UFC 155. He is aware of the impressive resume that Cariaso brings to this fight and considers him a formidable opponent.
“To be honest, I haven’t seen many of his UFC fights so I will taking a look at those when I get a chance. I know he has a background in Muay-Thai and he has got a brown belt in Jiu-Jitsu, so I am taking this fight very seriously. I know he definitely is a tough opponent. I know he has three or four wins already in the UFC at bantamweight. His only loss was to a very tough opponent and was only by decision. I know I am in for a fight and I am ready for it and embrace it. I am ready to show the world that I belong in there. I am excited to get to fight someone of that caliber and show people what I got.”
Although Moraga was originally scheduled to face ‘UncleCreepy’ Ian McCall at UFC on FOX 4, McCall was forced to withdraw due to injury leaving Moraga to face Gomez. Whilst McCall may have carried more name value, he believes that his “performance during the fight that is going to count in people’s eyes.”
“The UFC knows who they have on their roster. I am pretty sure they know how good Chris Cariaso actually is so I think maybe in the public’s opinion, ‘Unclecreepy’ would have been a better win for me maybe but I don’t think Cariaso is going to be any less of a tough fight. I know he is going to come and fight. I am preparing myself for a big war. I am preparing myself to come out and take a lot of pain and I am prepared to give a lot of pain.”
Moraga refuses to look past Cariaso and consider the possibility of a title shot when he knows that a single loss will send him back to the end of the line.
“I haven’t really thought about it that much. I have Cariaso in front of me and I know this is going to be a very tough challenge so I can’t really overlook that but I really think it has to do with performance. If I go in and put on a boring fight or one that isn’t so impressive then that is not going to help me get a title shot. It also depends on how some of these other guys perform if they get fights. If they don’t do so well then I guess that will have a lot to do with it too. I will just let things play out and not worry about that. I just want to make sure that I do my job in there because I am just one loss away from all this going away. I am one loss away from being right back where I started.”
Photo courtesy of: UFC.com // Getty Images
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