Florida-based lightweight Thiago Moises knew there was a good chance the UFC would reach out to him. After all, they had multiple events planned for Jacksonville, Fla., and he made sure to stay ready just in case.
When the call came, he didn’t hesitate to agree to a fight with Michael Johnson on May 13. But facing a seasoned octagon veteran on short notice — during a global pandemic — wasn’t ideal, considering only one fight remains on his current contract with the company.
Moises is trying not to let the moment get to him.
“I don’t put that pressure over myself,” he told MMA Fighting. “So I’ll just go there and give my best. I won’t add that weight over me, but this fight truly is a turning point in my career.”
Moises (12-4) signed with the UFC after knocking out Gleidson Cutis at Dana White’s Contender Series in 2018. But he only won one of three UFC appearances – a victory over Kurt Holobaugh was sandwiched between decision setbacks to Beneil Dariush and Damir Ismagulov.
The Brazilian product knows “for sure” he must win in order to secure another deal with the UFC. But he thinks having his hands raised in Jacksonville could mean a lot more.
“A win over Michael Johnson will get me closer to the top-15,” he said. “There are no easy fights in the UFC, and that’s why I’m always training. I know the UFC will always throw tough opponents my way. That shows the UFC believes my potential. I’m happy to be fighting Michael Johnson, who was a ranked lightweight in the past and beat great athletes like Tony Ferguson. Beating Michael Johnson is something that motivates me.”
Fellow American Top Team talent Edson Barboza, who once shared the cage with Johnson in Brazil, gave Moises a few tips and advice. But they couldn’t actually train together this time due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s hard (to train) under these circumstances, but I was training well,” said the former RFA champion, who said he trained solely with Renato Moicano for UFC Jacksonville. “When the UFC said they were going to do events, I went to the gym with only one training partner and worked. We couldn’t have more than 10 people in the gym at the same time.
“It’s complicated, but I believe he had the same limitations I had, so we’re all on the same boat. It’s going to be fair, right?”
Johnson (19-15) looks to snap a two-fight skid when he enters the cage on Wednesday night, bouncing back from losses to Josh Emmett and Stevie Ray. When referee says “fight,” Moises plans to impose his jiu-jitsu and force the 10-year UFC veteran to tap.
“He has a lot of experience, he’s a complete fighter, but I see a lot of holes in his ground game, and I have what it takes to win this fight,” Moises said. “I see a lot of holes in his ground game, he has been submitted many times.
“This fight ends with a choke. Squeezing his neck.”