They are finally set to meet for the flyweight belt on April 11 in China, and Moraes is happy with the opportunity to test himself against one of the greatest mixed martial artists on the planet — and make some money.
Moraes was arguably the best flyweight to ever fight inside ONE’s cage before “Mighty Mouse” joined the company in 2019. He captured the belt in 2014 and twice lost it in split decision setbacks.
Johnson is a bigger test, and one that could take Moraes to a different level business-wise with a victory.
“I don’t know what could chance in my life,” Moraes told MMA Fighting. “When I look back and see that I have six ONE Championship belts, there’s always something that changed. I was able to come to the United States; it’s easier to get my documents now that I’m a high level athlete that is recognized around the world. I believe that a win over Demetrious definitely gets me in the mainstream. I can get some sponsors, something more on the business side. I’ll embrace every opportunity I have to make more money.”
As it stands right now, Moraes doesn’t have any sponsors leading up to the biggest fight of his career on April 11. Since beating Geje Eustaquio to regain his belt a year ago, Moraes got some money from the Asian promotion and made extra cash teaching private classes at American Top Team.
“Ask any athlete, it’s hard to stay a year without fighting,” said Moraes, who wasn’t part of the company’s grand prix last year. “DJ is coming off three fights (in 2019), he definitely made great money, so he definitely has good money to invest in his camp. I don’t, unfortunately, because I haven’t fought in a while. But my body is fresh.”
Moraes says he managed to get a better deal with ONE Championship for his upcoming title defense, but the negotiation was far from easy. The thing is, even though he’s the undisputed champion, Johnson is the bigger name and the “A side” on the business side.
“That’s funny – I don’t know if it’s that funny because even the promotion treats me like that,” Moraes said. “I feels like I’m the contender here. That doesn’t affect me. I’m actually glad it’s that way, so I just stay under the radar and work on what has to be done. I think it’s funny that people see me as the guy challenging Demetrious for the belt. The promotion itself, when we were negotiating this fight, it was a pain in the ass because of that. I’m the contender now.”
Getting all sides to agree on a date was hard, Moraes said, but it was finally set for April 11. “I wanted to fight sooner, but I’m the contender now and can’t choose,” he said with a laugh. In the end, the Brazilian talent says he had a pay raise to face “the best athlete in the world.”
“He’s the best pound-for-pound fighter in MMA,” Moraes said. “We had to get a deal that was good for everyone.”
Moraes has racked up a respectable 9-3 record under the ONE Championship since 2013, with six submission victories and all of his defeats being via split decision. Johnson, 3-0 at ONE, went undefeated in 14 fights after moving to 125 pounds before he lost a close decision to Henry Cejudo in his final UFC appearance.
The UFC has yet to crown a new flyweight champion after Cejudo relinquished the belt. Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo will compete for the vacant title on Feb. 29, but Moraes believes the best flyweight on the planet will be the one who wins in Chongqing, China.
“I’ve always done a great job in Asia,” Moraes said. “My losses were always controversial, and I know I have a huge potential. But I’m a bit hidden because I’ve been fighting in Asia for seven years. I believe this will be my moment to show the world what I can do. I had to fight someone famous in order to show that.
“A win over DJ gets me in the mainstream, other fans will get to know my work. I’m an American Top Team fighter and I train with athletes that are super famous. That’s what I needed, to fight someone famous, and I happy that this super athlete is Demetrious Johnson, a legend. It’s a huge honor for me.”
Johnson has only lost to three men in 34 professional fights (Cejudo, Dominick Cruz and Brad Pickett), but Moraes believes he brings unique challenges to the table. First, he vows not to be “scared of his name like everyone gets.” Second, he’s confident that his striking and grappling skills will be enough to beat him “Marco Ruas-style.”
“If he wants to grapple, I’ll beat him up,” Moraes said. “If he wants to stand and trade, I’ll grapple. There’s no secret. I always try to finish my opponents, especially since the judges at ONE Championship never are on the Brazilians’ side [laughs]. We were never finished before, but I don’t think he ever fought someone like me. I’ll go for the finish at all times. This fight won’t last five rounds.”