Sodiq Yusuff has only one fight under the UFC banner, but a quick knockout win over Suman Mokhtarian in December -- and a decision over Mike Davis at the Contender Series — was enough to put him on a long list of featherweights to watch in 2019.
“Super” returns at Saturday night’s UFC Philadelphia against Sheymon Moraes, who admits that the Nigerian’s previous performances made him train even harder for his fourth Octagon appearance.
”I think he’s a very aggressive athlete, comes forward all the time,” Moraes told MMA Fighting. “But every time I’ve faced someone like that in my life, since my muay thai days, I had good results — and it won’t be different this time. I’m more prepared now. You’ll watch a great performance from Sheymon Moraes on Saturday night.”
Moraes has beaten the likes of Luis Palomino, Robbie Peralta and Pedro Nobre before joining the UFC in 2017. Throughout his MMA career, the Niteroi native has only experienced defeats against top-ranked fighters Marlon Moraes and Zabit Magomedsharipov.
Yusuff, on the other hands, brings an 8-1 professional record with five knockouts finishes. In his sole MMA defeat, “Super” lost a Titan FC title bout to Luis Gomez by first-round stoppage.
”Nobody fights the same way all the time,” Moraes said. “Sometimes you’re not on a good day, so we have to wait and see what he has to offer, but I’m prepared for everything. I’m ready and confident. I respect my opponent and can’t blink because he hits hard, but let’s go win another one.
”Every time I close my eyes I see my hands raised in the end, so… I don’t know how it’s gonna be, knockout, submission or a decision because I don’t have a crystal ball, but I trained really hard. I never dedicated so much, never felt so prepared and happy for a fight like this time, and you’ll see my hands raised in the end.”
The main different ahead of UFC Philadelphia is “happiness”, the Brazilian said. Between his last World Series of Fighting bout and his UFC debut, a long stretch of 17 months, Moraes dealt with many issues outside the cage.
During a hard-fought battle to get released from WSOF, Moraes had to find a second job for the first time in his life, driving dozens of miles every day as a Lyft driver in California, which gave him a herniated disc.
After losing to Magomedsharipov and traveling back to Brazil to recover, Moraes moved back to Los Angeles and lived in the gym for four months before his first UFC win gave him enough money to finally rent a place to live with his newborn son.
”My entire life I’ve only trained, and when I had some problems with that other promotion I had to do things to survive, and that hurt me,” Moraes said. “I even had herniated disc for driving so much, but that’s in the past. You have moments in life that you have to go through to believe and evolve. I managed to go through that and now I’m better, living a different phase in my life, enjoying being a father. One step at a time, evolving and getting better every day.”
Moraes’ preparation for UFC Philadelphia was “the best camp possible,” he explained. “I’m well-prepared physically, mentally and spiritually, and I think you’ll all see the best of Sheymon inside the Octagon. I have to be happy all the time, but this time I’m happier, motivated. I feel challenged by this opponent, a young, tough guy, so I feel motivated to evolve and become a better athlete.”
UFC Philadelphia takes place at the Wells Fargo Center and airs live on ESPN.