Zorobabel Moreira has gone from strength to strength in recent years and if he can beat Kotetsu Boku at ONE FC: 'Rise of Kings' he will have had as good a 2012 as any fighter anywhere. The Brazilian's record stands at 7-1 and he has won his last five fights against progressively superior opponents and in increasingly emphatic style.
The run of wins culminated in a spectacular and controversial KO win over UFC veteran Roger Huerta with that victory making Moreira the first fighter ever to run up a 3-0 record inside the ONE FC cage. He has also finished every fight since signing for Asia's biggest MMA organization, stopping Andy Wang with strikes and finishing Felipe Enomoto with an armbar.
The most surprising aspect for fans who have followed Moreira's career since the days when he was a prospect fighting in Brazil is that it is his Muay Thai which has emerged as the major talking point. As a BJJ black belt who won gold at the Mundials in 2005 his BJJ credentials are impeccable but his striking has come to the forefront in recent fights.
The improvement has been remarkable and it is difficult to reconcile the Moreira who awkwardly circled Yun Seob Kwak in the stand up exchanges at Martial Combat in 2010 (see that fight here), with the one who has been clinically picking apart opponents for ONE FC (see Moreira's fight with Enomoto here).
As he stands on the verge of becoming the first ever ONE FC lightweight champion Moreira has become a much more well rounded fighter and feels he has been transformed as a fighter,
"It is all because of the trainers at Evolve MMA. When I came to Singapore I had only BJJ but I have been working hard every day with the Muay Thai trainers here who are world champions from Thailand, I work a lot with Lamnamoon (Sor Sumalee) who was many times Lumpinee champion and he is tall like me, he has taught me a lot."
Since dropping down to lightweight Moreira's reach has become one of his biggest assets. He used to compete at middleweight but at 155 lbs he is taller than the majority of his opponents and has developed a style which allows him to utilize that advantage very effectively,
"I never thought I could be a lightweight but it was Chatri (Sityodtong)'s idea, I did not believe it would be possible but it is easy for me to make the weight. When Lamnamoon was fighting in Thailand he was famous for using his knees a lot and he has taught me a lot of things so that now I can do striking in an MMA fight if I want, even though I am still better on the ground."
Moreira dominated Wang in the striking exchanges on his ONE FC debut, using a diverse offence which utilized all of the Muay Thai weapons. In his second fight with Enomoto he showed how he could combine the different aspects of his game to good effect, using Muay Thai techniques to sweep Enomoto's legs from under him and then BJJ to finish the fight with an armbar.
Against Huerta he showed that he was capable of adjusting his tactics to respond to a particular set of circumstances. The UFC and Bellator veteran walked him down in the opening round but in the second stanza it was Moreira who applied the pressure which ultimately secured the second round stoppage win,
"My coaches told me he would be very aggressive and the plan was to counter him but in the first round he was doing better so Chatri told me to start going forward. If he had not done that maybe I would have lost but it changed the fight because I felt like after that I was winning."
The ending of that fight was controversial as Moreira rendered Huerta unconscious with a soccer kick. To his credit he did pause and seek permission from the referee first but the Brazilian says he is glad that ONE FC has moved to clarify this rule,
"I think it is better for the fighter to know before what you can and can't do and not have to wait for the referee to tell you. In the fight I looked at Yuji Shimada and he told me I could do the kick so I did, fighting is fighting and Roger Huerta is dangerous, if you are worry about hurting your opponent then maybe he will hurt you instead? I had a chance to win the fight and I had to take it, even if I did not kick him with all my power."
That win put Moreira in pole position for a shot at the ONE FC title but standing in his way is a Japanese veteran who has been competing for an entire decade. Boku is the final hurdle which stands between the Brazilian and the first belt of his MMA career but he is under no illusions as to the size of the task facing him on October 6th,
"He has a lot of experience, more than me and he has fought some tough fighters. He is very dangerous in striking and difficult to submit or knock out, I know this will not be an easy fight. For two years now the Evolve MMA trainers have been teaching me every day and working very hard with me, I want to win the belt and take it back to Evolve MMA to say thank you to them."
The ONE FC lightweight division is very competitive with Shinya Aoki and Eddie Ng from Evolve MMA also on the roster as well as Ole Laursen and Eduard Folayang while Adam Kayoom could also make 155 lbs. Moreira has emerged at the front of the pack and with a convincing win over Boku he could make the transition from being an exciting prospect to becoming established as one of the best at his weight in the world.
For his part Moreira is anxious to play down the expectation and although he is excited at the progress he has made even if he wins the ONE FC belt he believes the journey will not be complete,
"I do not compare myself to the fighters I fight but to the people I train with at Evolve MMA. They are still so much better than me, even though all the Thai fighters are smaller they just have so much experience and their Muay Thai is much better than me. It is the same with Heath Sims who has been wrestling for maybe 30 years, I have so much to learn and winning the belt will not change that, I will never stop learning martial arts, that is my life."
ONE FC: ‘Rise of the Kings’ will be headlined by a bout between Zorobabel Moreira and Kotetsu Boku. The online stream will be $10 USD and it will also be available on pay-per-view (PPV) in the US for the first time.
For more information visit: www.onefc.com