AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND – When John Moraga steps in the octagon at UFC Fight Night 110 it will be just shy of 30 months since he last had his hand raised.
That might as well be a lifetime for the former UFC flyweight title challenger. And with three consecutive losses, he could be fighting for his spot on the roster.
Moraga (16-6 MMA, 5-5 UFC), who welcomes newcomer Ashkan Mokhtarian (13-1 MMA, 0-0 UFC) to the promotion on Saturday’s FS1-televised card following prelims on UFC Fight Pass at Spark Arena in Auckland, New Zealand, almost thought his time was over with the UFC once before. He said he was informed of his release, but then the latest opportunity came up.
“There was concern (I would be released). There was even a point where they called me and told me I was going to be let go,” Moraga told MMAjunkie. “I took the last fight (against Sergio Pettis in January) on short notice. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. They gave me another chance, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Although the record shows a three-fight skid, Moraga, No. 12 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA flyweight rankings, has largely lost to elite opposition. He’s fallen short against the likes of Pettis, Joseph Benavidez, John Dodson, and current pound-for-pound king Demetrious Johnson. Regardless of the level of competition, dropping multiple fights in a row is never a positive.
Moraga said the only way to break out of the slump is to continue to train hard and put forth a maximum effort in the octagon. He can’t completely brush off the reality of what another loss would do to his career, but Moraga said he expects the pressure to bring out his peak form.
“I can’t dwell on it, but I know what it is,” Moraga said. “At the end of the day, we go out there and fight, and this guy better be ready for a fight. … I haven’t won in three years, so when I don’t win I’m not very easy on myself. I think I do my best when I’m under pressure, when my back’s against the wall.”
After fighting a long line of the top names at 125 pounds, Moraga takes what appears to be a needed step back in competition against a debuting fighter. Despite the fact he’s never fought in the UFC, Moraga said he’s taking Mokhtarian as seriously as any other opponent.
Given what both men have experienced to this point in their careers, “Chicano” said he’s confident in his chances.
“I didn’t know anything about him; there’s not much to research about him,” Moraga said. “He hasn’t fought anybody like me. He hasn’t fight anybody that’s really up there in the world that’s also fought the other guys. I don’t think he knows what to expect, either. Unless you’re really in there with the top guys, and they’re fighting you back and things might not be going your way, we don’t know how he’s going to react or how he’s going to adjust. We’ll find out.”