There is no shortage of Brazilians in mixed martial arts (MMA). They come up through domestic promotions like Jungle Fight and Fury FC and cut their teeth on arguably the most competitive circuit in the entire MMA world before the best of them break out onto the international scene.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champions Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos and Jose Aldo are the most famous but there is a constant supply of talent emerging from Brazil, Bibiano Fernandes is the best Bantamweight outside of the UFC and other names to look out for include Adriano Martins, Ronys Torres, Ronny Markes, Ronaldo Souza, Patricio Freire, Renan Pegado and Eduardo Dantas.
Fighters who emerge from Brazil are capable of making an instant impact on major league organizations because they have come from such a competitive environment. Unsurprisingly they tend to have very strong Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) but you only need to be familiar with the careers of Silva, Dos Santos and Aldo to know that Brazil also produces some very strong stand up fighters.
As they become more successful many of them make their way north to train in the US in order to take their skills to the next level and to work on aspects of their game which might be weaker such as wrestling. Zorobabel Moreira went a little bit further, moving 10,000 miles East to Singapore and it is a decision which is already paying dividends as he slowly but surely works his way up the list of Brazilian Lightweight prospects.
What would have happened to Moreira if he had stayed in Brazil? Perhaps he would have made it but with limited wrestling and very basic striking skills the 2005 IBFJJ Mundials winner would probably not have prospered. The holes in his game got brutally exposed in hie first fight in Asia when he was knocked out by Joe Ray at Martial Combat 3 in June 2010.
After only a few months in Singapore he was still the same one dimensional fighter who had left Brazil but after that loss he began to work every single day with the team of Muay Thai world champions at Evolve MMA and something special began to happen.
A rear naked choke win over K-1 veteran Yun Seob Kwak at Martial Combat 12 would have done much to setlle his nerves but at that stage there was still little to suggest that Moreira would one day emerge as the most exciting lightweight prospect on the South East Asian circuit.
This was where the hard work behind the scenes really begun. Evolve MMA owner Chatri Sityodtong identified Moreira's stand up as being a weakness and assigned three time Lumpinee champion Lamnamoon Sor Sumalee to work with him on a daily basis.
Rather than rushing him into another MMA fight they took their time and prepared Moreira to get some actual experience of fighting professional Muay Thai in Thailand so that he could become genuinely comfortable fighting on his feet.
He was all set to make his Muay Thai debut in Pattaya when, as Moreira recalls, Evolve MMA received a surprise phone call from a new promoter,
"Chatri told me that there was a new MMA show in Thailand and they wanted me to fight Ferrid Kheder in Bangkok in a week's time. I had been training for my first Muay Thai fight but at Evolve MMA we train together every day even if we don't have a fight so even though I was not expecting to do an MMA fight Chatri believed I was ready."
It had been eight months since Moreira has last been in competitive action and the fighter he was facing at the first ever DARE event was Ferrid Kheder, an Olympian Judoka and MMA veteran who had won 13 out of his previous 15 fights and hadn't lost in almost two years.
It was the first opportunity for him to showcase the Muay Thai skills he had spent the best part of the previous year acquiring with the trainer designated to him by Evolve MMA,
"Lamnamoon was very tall for his weight, just like me, and he was very famous in Thailand for having very good knees so he helped me to fight the same style as him. I learned to use my knees and my elbows and kicks and teeps as well as punches. He was one of the best Muay Thai fighters in Thailand and there is no-one in Brazil who teaches in the same style. I was very lucky to train with him every day at Evolve MMA, he helped me a lot."
Moreira came very close to finishing the fight with Kheder in the second round when he rocked him with the sort of knee to the chin which Lamnamoon would have thoroughly approved of. He also used the teeps to very good effect throughout the three rounds winning by a clear cut unanimous decision.
This was followed by an even more convincing performance against another much more experienced fighter, Andy Wang, at ONE FC 1. This time Moreira put on a Muay Thai clinic, using all eight limbs to batter the TUF veteran with punches, knees, kicks and elbows, stopping him in the second round to register a successful lightweight debut.
The next test came in the form of Felipe Enomoto who had just submitted Ole Laursen the previous month. The Swiss Japanese fighter is extremely well rounded and presented a very different type of challenge either Wang or Kheder but once again Moreira showed how he was developing, this time using lightning fast low kicks to chop away at Enomoto's lead leg and set up the sweep which led to the third round submission.
It was a textbook example of how a Muay Thai technique can be employed to take a fight to the floor in just the same sort of a way which wrestlers use takedowns and according to Moreira this was partly the gameplan but his stand up has also evolved to the point where he is capable of thinking on his feet,
"I saw sometimes when I kicked his legs he could feel it and I tried to confuse him with punches and then use a leg kick. The strategy was to use jabs and leg kicks. I did one kick and he fell down so I had opportunity to go for the armbar and then I got the armbar."
ONE FC War Of The Lions: Felipe Enomoto vs Zorobabel Moreira (via OneFCMMA)
There is still a long way to go before we can even start talking about Moreira in the same breath as Silva, Dos Santos and Aldo but as one of the stars of ONE Fighting Championship he is already well on his way to being the most famous Brazilian fighter in Asia.
Prior to his fight against Enomoto, which was the main event at ONE FC 2 and was witnessed by around 8,000 people in the Singapore Indoor Stadium, he appeared on ESPN's Sports Centre and you can see the segment here. It was a nerve wracking experience for someone who, until recently, did not speak good English but Moreira handled it with the same sort of poise he would handle Enomoto a few nights later,
"I was little bit nervous because my English not so good and I know people everywhere in Asia were watching so I hope they understood me. My life now is so good, in Brazil I was very poor but here I can train with the best fighters in the world and have a lot of people come and cheer for me when I fight in Singapore. I feel Singapore is my home and Evolve MMA is my family and the team is so strong and that helps me so much and makes me very confident when I fight."
Every single ONE FC event to date has been headlined by a 155 lbs fighter and the division is the promotion's most competitive at present. Eduard Folayang, Ole Laursen, Eddie Ng, Vuyisile Colossa and Rustam Khabilov are just some of the names in the mix but Moreira could well be the best of them all.
He has come a long way in more ways than one since he left Brazil with a BJJ black belt in his back pocket and a couple of MMA wins to his name but not much else to suggest he would one day become one of the top lightweights in Asia. The weeks and months of work with Lamnamoon at Evolve MMA have transformed him from a one dimensional grappler to a truly well rounded mixed martial artist and his brave decision to move 10,000 miles in order to train in Singapore has well and truly paid off.