Someday, when Andre Fili is looking back on his career, it’s going to be tough to top the events of July 13, 2019.
Anytime a fighter picks up a first-round knockout it’s a good night, but for Fili there were numerous milestones that made his recent win over Sheymon Moraes at UFC Sacramento even more memorable.
He was fighting in the home of Team Alpha Male, with teammates Urijah Faber, Josh Emmett, Darren Elkins, Pingyuan Liu, and Benito Lopez also competing on the card. Through the Ranger Road program, it was arranged for him to make the walk down to the Octagon with a wounded veteran. And there were plenty of friends and family in the crowd cheering.
Including Fili’s mother and father.
While it’s normal for a fighter’s parents to be watching them in the crowd, the presence of Fili’s father stood out for the fact that he’d only been released from prison earlier that week. When he and Fili reunited, it was the first time in 17 years that Fili had been able to spend any significant amount of time with him.
“My dad just got out of prison and his parole agent let him come see me fight,” Fili told MMA Fighting. “I haven’t really got to see my dad—I saw him for a couple of hours, like, six years ago.
“But the last time I really got to see my dad, be around my dad, I was, like 12 years old and I just turned 29. So it was a pretty cool thing to see him out for my fight.”
Fili declined to elaborate on the circumstances that landed his father in prison, though he was pleased to have him in attendance at Golden 1 Center, regardless. Normally, Fili thinks of himself as an athlete with tunnel vision on fight night, but he admitted there was an extra charge in the air not just because dad was watching, but his mom and sister as well.
“I always want to make my people proud,” Fili said. “My mom, it’s not just about my dad. The fact that my dad was there, I hadn’t seen my dad in 17 years, that was huge, that will get you emotional, I guess, without a doubt that will get you fired up.
“But my little sister was in the crowd too, my mom was in the crowd. My dad wasn’t really around growing up, my mom was around growing up, she had to put up with me all day all the time. That’s not easy to do, so that was for her as well. It was for all my friends who grew up with me, we basically all raised each other. It’s a whole thing, I saw all these people who-There are some people who are casual fight fans, but there were also a lot of people I know, they don’t have much else but fighting, so that win was big for all of us.”
If that family reunion signaled a turning point in Fili’s personal life, his performance against Moraes may have changed how he’s viewed by the fans. Despite winning three of his last four fights (Fili would argue he’d actually won four straight given the closely-fought split decision he lost to Michael Johnson last August) ahead of UFC Sacramento, Fili had yet to register as a serious featherweight contender.
It didn’t help that Fili’s first eight UFC fights were marked by inconsistency as he fought to a .500 record with losses to more hyped prospects like Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez, but it appears he’s finally hitting his stride. His KO of Moraes was his first finish in almost four years and he believes that has him on the right track to eventually competing for a UFC championship.
“I’ve always thought of myself as someone who’s gonna be a world champion,” Fili said. “That’s how I’ve always thought of myself and I feel like other people are taking notice of that as well and it feels good. The decisions—I think of myself as a finisher, but I’m also fighting the best guys in the world. Sometimes that finish doesn’t happen, so I’m happy to get the finish, but I’m gonna keep putting these wins together and I’m gonna keep doing my thing and people will take notice. I’m just gonna keep winning.
“I’m four and one in my last five fights and basically everyone knows I should be five-for-five in my fights because I won that Michael Johnson fight, I don’t even think it was that close of a fight, to be honest. I feel like I did more than enough to win that fight, but it’s all good.”
Fili is aiming to stay in state for his next appearance, with the Oct. 12 UFC San Francisco card in his sights. In an ideal scenario, he’d drum up more of the California love that was felt so deeply in Sacramento.
“I would say the best night of my career so far,” Fili said. “Every fight is the most important fight. Every win is the biggest win when it happens, but that win is something special because it was me and Faber and Emmett and Elkins and Pingyuan and Benito all getting to fight in Sacramento. It was a big deal.”