World Series of Fighting (WSOF) will hold "Moraes vs. Barajas" at Next Level Sports Complex in Garden Grove, Calif., this Saturday night (Feb. 20, 2016). In the evening's WSOF 28 main event, which will air live on NBC Sports, Marlon Moraes (15-4-1) will attempt to make his third Bantamweight title defense against Joseph Barajas (12-1).
Barajas earned his title shot with a technical knockout of Erik Villalobos at WSOF 25, dominating his opponent with takedowns until overwhelming him with ground strikes at 4:06 of the third round. It was night's only Bantamweight fight on a card largely built around the "Lightweight Tournament" that Brian Foster won.
The only defeat of Barajas' career came late into the third round of his Titan FC 31 bout with Sirwan Kakai, being caught in a triangle choke and forced to tap with only 20 seconds to go. He's been on a two-fight win streak ever since.
Barajas recently spoke with MMAmania.com about his successful WSOF debut in Nov. 2015, his fight with Moraes this Saturday night, how shocking it was to get the call to headline a WSOF show so soon and much, much more.
Check it out:
"I'm really excited! I'm really thankful for the opportunity to be able to do this and go for the title. I'm excited about them giving me a title shot so early. It was totally unexpected, but (heh) y'know, I'm grateful that they've given me the shot."
It may be unexpected to those who haven't kept up on his career, but if it weren't for the Kakai fight, he'd be undefeated (13-0). Barajas says fighting at Bantamweight for the first time caught up to him in a big way.
"It was my first time at (1)35. I'm not taking away anything from him, he's an excellent fighter, but man I was just drained in that third round. I had no energy left in me from the (weight) cut, and I couldn't pull it off. I ended up getting submitted with 20 or 30 seconds left, but yeah I did believe I had that fight won."
The loss taught Barajas to take a completely different approach to weight cutting in future 135-pound fights.
"I walk around at 152, and then after my practices usually I'm about 147. I've seen (1)35 pounders walking around and 165 and that's definitely not a healthy way to get down to 135. You need to be on a good diet, you need to have a good cardio workout, constant running. I'll run 40 to 50 miles a week, so that's how I'm able to keep my weight down with a really good diet. If you're coming down from 155 to 160 that's extremely unhealthy."
The new CSAC ban on dehydration weight cuts suggests government officials think it's unhealthy, too, but those new rules don't go into effect until March 1, 2016. In the meantime, Barajas talks about his approach to scouting an opponent.
"Personally, I haven't watched any of his fights. I let my coaches do that, and then my sparring partners imitate what the fighter is going to do. I don't like it getting in my head what they're going to do, because I like to focus on what I'm going to do, so I can go in there with full confidence. From what I've heard he's a great fighter, a great kickboxer, he's got a good ground game."
Barajas has changed his preparation for this bout by cross training outside of Team Xplode and increasing his cardio endurance for the potential of a 25-minute fight.
"I've upped my practices to go for five five minute rounds. I've definitely got to prepare for that and I am well prepared now. I've added a few more boxing practices in there and kickboxing practices (as well). I've upped my caliber of sparring by going to Alliance (MMA) and cross training over there with some of the guys that Dominick Cruz spars with. I've definitely upped my competition a little bit going against Moraes -- he's top notch, he's no joke."
One thing is certain: Moraes is no joke when it comes to counter striking. I asked Barajas how he plans to deal with a fighter who is so effective when letting his opponents move first.
"They have been doing that with some of our kickboxing guys and I'm aware that he is a good counter striker. I've got full confidence going into this fight, and I believe that I can do this. With the counter striking it's definitely going to be tough but I believe that I can pull through."
This is how Barajas is looking at his opponent, knowing he's undefeated in WSOF and as the Bantamweight champion, and how he will handle that challenge on Saturday night.
"My strength coming in is going to be my wrestling. I'm a good boxer too, but my boxing wrestling is definitely my style, so however the fight ends up I'm not sure but I'm ready to push this fight until the end."
Barajas may have surprised a few fans by vaulting to next in line to face Moraes, but you'll have to tune in to NBC Sports this weekend to see if he has another surprise in store at the Next Level Sports Complex.
The complete audio of our interview is below and complete fight coverage is HERE on MMAmania.com.