The story of Brazil’s Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes is an inspirational one – from the streets of Brazil to the bright lights of the ONE Championship cage, where he has made his name as the ONE Flyweight World Champion.
Moraes was abandoned on the streets of Brasilia as a newborn baby, and later found himself keeping the wrong company as a youth.
But throughout his life, he has had the love and support of his adopted mother, Mirtes, who has been by his side since she found him at an orphanage aged three.
It was she who started his association with martial arts, enrolling him in his first classes, and it was she who encouraged him to pursue martial arts as a way of releasing his pent-up energy, as well as to introduce some order and discipline in his life.
“She means everything to me. She is my idol,” Moraes says.
“I did everything for her, and I continue to do everything for her – for this love.”
But despite the love and affection he received from his mother, Moraes still found himself running with the wrong crowd. He associated with street gangs and got into trouble on the streets.
“When I was a teenager, we liked to go to the problem areas,” he explains.
“We did not want to live in safety. We liked to be around danger, and get into fights. I liked that feeling.”
His involvement wasn’t as much about a lack of discipline at home as it was about a desire to be accepted by his peers.
Despite the lawlessness and danger involved, Moraes says he also learned the value of loyalty and friendship.
But Moraes later made the life-changing decision to leave that world behind him. And it came after losing a fight on the street.
A friend persuaded Moraes to learn the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. It proved to be life-changing for the Brazilian. He trained under coaches Erick Medeiros and Ataide Junior at Constrictor Team, and dedicated himself to perfecting his skills.
He achieved great success on the mats, winning the NAGA No-Gi Pro Division Championship.
When he began his mixed martial arts career, he had a successful start – going 9-0 before joining ONE Championship. Within a year, he had won the inaugural ONE Flyweight World Title.
After he had reached the top of the martial arts world, he was given a harsh reminder of what could have happened to him if he’d decided to stay involved with the street gangs. During his period of success, he learned of the fates of some of his friends from back then.
“I have lost many friends. Some are in jail and some were killed in fights on the street,” he says.
“God made me escape these bad moments so I did not go to prison with them.
“At that moment, I was doing jiu-jitsu. I stayed in the competitions, escaped the gangs, and changed my life.”
Now, Moraes wants his experiences to inspire others back home who may have found themselves in similar situations to the one he was in during his youth.
“I may not be the best example in the world, but if I talk with you, you can hear me,” he says.
“I can show you my life, and my history, and show you what I gained by being a good man, and what can happen to you if you are bad.
“When I come back to my city, if anyone gets out of jail, I can meet them and talk to them. I also have my social project to save kids with jiu-jitsu – it is called the Gentle Art Institute. I hope I can help a lot of people.”
With a ONE belt around his waist and a wealth of experience, both in martial arts and in life, Moraes stands out as proof that you can escape your circumstances and achieve greatness.
And he will look to continue his successful career in the ONE cage when he faces interim ONE Flyweight World Champion Geje Eustaquio in a title unification matchup at ONE: PINNACLE OF POWER on 23 June in Macau.
Ahead of that bout, he has a message to share with fans around the world.
“It is never too late to start on your dreams,” he says.
“It does not matter what you have done. God always has one more day for you to change everything.”