Marlon Moraes began training in Muay Thai in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro when he was seven years old and began competing when he was 16. He started training in jiu-jitsu at 15 and had his first mixed martial arts fight at 18.
But it wasn't until he began training with former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and respected veteran Ricardo Almeida in New Jersey that Moraes realized just how far he might be able to go in combat sports.
"I've learned a lot, training with those guys," said Moraes (9-4-1), who faces Tyson Nam (12-4) in an NBC Sports Network co-feature bout at World Series of Fighting 2 on March 23. "Ricardo Almeida, he's not just a jiu-jitsu coach, he's been around so long that he's seen everything. Once I started working with Ricardo I realized I still have so much to learn."
Moraes, who moved to the United States with his wife Izabella several years ago, had already established a comfortable living in Florida, both as a bantamweight fighter and as a teacher at The Armory, a school in Jupiter which has featured the likes of Luiz Cane and Edson Barboza.
But working like a competitor like Edgar showed Moraes just how hard he has to push if he wants to really make his name in the business.
"Frankie's such a great training partner," Moraes said. "You saw his fight with Jose Aldo, how hard he and Jose fought? The week afterwards he was already back in the gym. That's just who Frankie is, he lives for the sport of MMA. He's such a good guy, a humble guy. When I first came into the gym, I couldn't believe he was the champ, just because, he didn't act like he was the big star. He comes in and he trains with everyone, he helps everyone who walks into the gym. You see in his fights how much heart he has when he fights for five rounds. But he's like that every day, everything he does. That's what makes him a champion. He helped me realize how hard you have to push."
That hard work paid off for Moraes in November, when he first stepped up into the national MMA spotlight. Moraes fought on the first WSOF event against former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres, who garnered the bulk of the headlines heading into their fight.
While the casual MMA fan may have asked "Who?" when they first heard Moraes' name, by the end of the fight, they knew. Moraes pushed the pace from the outset, as his jab found a home early and often and he utilized a wide array of kicks kept Torres from getting untracked. The only surprise at fight's end was that one judge actually saw it in Torres' favor.
"When I fought I was not trying to think ‘I'm fighting Miguel Torres," Moraes said. "I respect him a lot, he's the former WEC champion and I great fighter, but I don't want to think like that inside the cage. I don't want to try to do something I don't know, do what I'm every day in the gym. I fought a good fight, I thought it was obvious that I won the fight, but I was still a little nervous when one of the judges said ‘Torres.' When the last judge said my name I said ‘Whew.'"
With one big-name win under his belt and a three-fight win streak to his credit, Moraes looks to further build his momentum when he meets Nam, a solid striker on a four-fight win streak which includes three KO/TKO finishes.
"I think he's a tough fighter," Moraes said of his foe. "He's good at what he does. But I want to show I've got good standup, good jiu-jitsu, I'm working hard on my wrestling, training hard. I've been ready all my life this type of moment, I want to show go what I can do there. I'm ready."
A pair of wins on televised main cards would further separate Moraes from the WSOF pack. But since the company hasn't yet indicated any long-term plans such as crowning champions, Moraes is simply going to take things as they go.
"I didn't hear anything, I'm not thinking about stuff like that," Moraes said. "I just want to make a solid position for me and be around guys like Nam, Torres, and make a name for myself. After that I don't know, I just fight. I'm just a boy, I'm 24. I'm working for them, I'll do whatever they decide."