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After five years in the UFC, John Moraga frustrated with the ‘business of MMA’

Gallery Photo: UFC Fight Night 42 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

PHOENIX — Nothing has ever come easy for UFC flyweight John Moraga.

The one-time title challenger spent a majority of 2015 coping with the frightening aftermath of concussion symptoms stemming from his fight against Joseph Benavidez. One dizzy spell led into another, and before Moraga knew it, the calendar had begun anew. Then in 2016, once Moraga was finally able to regain a sense of normalcy around his life, he returned to action only to lose a sluggish bout against an opponent who popped with USADA months later. It was his first loss to a foe ranked outside of the division’s top-three. Further injuries ensured that paycheck would be the only one he received all year.

All of which leads into the precarious spot that Moraga now finds himself in at UFC Fight Night 103, staring down the barrel of back-to-back losses and two nightmarish years without much to show for it. Moraga knows what a third straight setback could mean for his fighting career. At age 32, with a family to feed, the reality that Sunday night could be a make-or-break moment for his career is all too real. But for someone with a half-decade of experience at the highest levels of the game, Moraga also can’t hide his sense of frustration about what this road has taught him.

“The business of MMA is kind of rough, man,” Moraga said at Friday’s UFC Fight Night 103 open workouts. “We go through a lot. That head injury that I had (after the Benavidez fight) was pretty rough. It left a sour taste in my mouth. I came back, didn’t have [success]. It’s just the business of MMA, man. Whatever we do, they really make us earn whatever we get. After years and years… you don’t really think about that when you jump into this. This was kind of like something that I felt I had to do. It was my only option pretty much, what I had the skills to do and set forward to make a career out of it, provide for my family.

“But years down the road, you just kind of, you start realizing, okay, I did sign up for this, but I didn’t expect exactly what you’re going to go through and how hard it is going to be to stay there and whatnot. So, maybe (it’s) just a little of that.”

Moraga finished his thought by stressing just how blessed he is to be in his position, but his frustration with the fight game has been easy to see in the lead-up to Jan. 15.

Earlier this month, Moraga implied that UFC Fight Night 103 could be it for him if things turn out for the worst and the UFC decides to let him go. He shied away from making that statement again on Friday, but he admitted to feeling some lingering unrest about how a dream career at the highest levels of the game has, at times, left him feeling cold.

“I just feel like there’s a lot of money being made in this sport, and we’re not getting any of it,” Moraga said.

“I don’t want to say too much.”

Regardless, Moraga knows that sympathy isn’t coming his way, and he wouldn’t want it anyway.

He remains a top-10 flyweight in the world, just as he has throughout most of his UFC run. And despite whatever circumstances may have played a part, he took ownership of the fact that he only has himself to blame for the position he finds himself in at UFC Fight Night 103 — fending off a three-fight losing streak with the most important short-notice opportunity of his fighting life.

“It is what it is, that’s the reality of it,” Moraga said. “I’m coming off two losses. We all know what happens at three losses. But at the end of the day, that’s not on my mind, that’s not lingering, that’s not what I’m focused on, that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m going to be in there. I mean, this is what I train to do. This is what I do, this is what I’m supposed to be able to do. So if the UFC calls me up and says ‘we need you to fight this week,’ I should be able to do that. That’s what I do, I’m a professional fighter. I’ve been doing this in the UFC for [five] years now, so that’s what I should be able to do. I should be able to step up and be able to provide when they need me.

“The pressure is on me in a sense, but I don’t let it get to me,” Moraga added. “I feel like I actually perform best when I’m under pressure. My back’s been against the wall even before I got to the UFC. I was never supposed to be here, I was never supposed to stay here. So let’s do it.”

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