An up-and-down year for Alex Morono has the potential to end on a career-changing high note.
“The Great White” faces his most famous opponent yet when he takes on former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis on at UFC Vegas 17 next Saturday at UFC APEX in Las Vegas. It’s a matchup that Morono didn’t see coming, but one that he’s welcoming with open arms.
Less than three weeks away from the event, Morono got the call to face “Showtime” and it was an opportunity he couldn’t foresee given the tumultuous events of 2020. He opened the year with knockout loss to the debuting Khaos Williams in February, had to deal with his gym nearly going out of business due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and also had to deal with the passing of his younger brother A.J.. Add in his striking coach getting into a car accident and you can understand why Morono and his team were beginning to think the past 12 months were a lost cause.
But business picked up for Morono both in the gym and in the cage as he bounced back from the Williams upset by defeating Rhys McKee in November. Then the call came to fight Pettis and he knew there was reason to be optimistic. Not that he ever got too down; in fact, the loss to Williams is one of the reasons he’s feeling confident that he can beat Pettis.
“Anytime I lose a fight, the last thing I want is any sympathy,” Morono said on What the Heck. “I don’t want people to feel bad for me. I always take away lessons. Honestly, that Khaos loss is what gives me so much confidence for this Pettis fight because I studied tape on Khaos. I know his skill set, I know how much time he’s spent training, the oddsmakers he was like a +450 dog, there were two takeaways I had from that fight: 1) If Khaos can beat me, I can beat anybody. Anyone can beat anyone in MMA. I can beat Pettis. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be a decent underdog on the bookmakers, I actually prefer that. More to win, less to lose. And 2) why am I doing this?
“Granted, I really enjoy training and the hardship and the camaraderie and the fight camps. But for that Khaos fight camp, the Dhiego Lima fight camp, I drove to and from Dallas every week for eight weeks. Had to stay in hotels and just stay away from the family and the gym, there’s a lot of sacrifice which I’m happy to do, but it’s starts to get taxing around week six, week seven, week eight. And I was like, ‘Why am I torturing myself?’ There was one defining answer. It wasn’t for money, it wasn’t for notoriety, it was because it’s fun. It’s to experience life in its most extreme state and what I found is these fights.”
That realization led to Morono bringing a calmer mindset into his fight with McKee and it paid off as he won a convincing decision over the former Cage Warriors standout. The win gave Morono four wins in his last five fights and improved his UFC record to 7-3 (1 NC).
As successful as he’s been, Morono knows that the Pettis matchup could be a make-or-break fight for his prospects as a contender. Morono is well aware of the caliber of opponent that Pettis has shared the octagon with in the past and he’s prepared to rise to that level next Saturday.
“He got a loss to Barboza, Barboza’s the man,” Morono said, looking over Pettis’ resume. “He has a win over Charles Oliveira, who’s a contender. He’s got a loss to Holloway, who’s the best. He’s got a win over Jim Miller, a loss to Poirier, who’s the best. A loss to Chiesa, who’s a good grappler. A loss to T-Ferg, no one wants to fight The Boogie Man. A knockout over Thompson and then a loss to Diaz, a loss to “CDF” (Carlos Diego Ferreira), a win over Cerrone, and then my name is at the top.
“Just being on this list of these legendary fighters, it brings me such pride and and it makes me want to jump at this opportunity head first with both hands up. I can’t wait. If there’s any opponent I’ve ever had to not overlook it’s Pettis and I’m certainly not doing that.”
If anything, Morono is hopeful that it’s Pettis who brings his A-game when they clash. He’s expecting the fight to go into the third round, which is when he’ll put Pettis away.
Given what this fight means to Morono, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
“Winning this fight is what’s going to get me to the next level of my career. The fact that they even asked for me by name, the matchmakers, to fight Pettis, already puts me there, which is great. But more to prove to myself than anything else, I’m gonna win this fight. I’m gonna take it to him and take it from him and win this fight.
“I am willing to give my life to take his on the 19th. I know Pettis is a gamer, but if he’s not ready to fight to the death, then it’s gonna be a rough fight.”