Opportunistic Feeder

By Ben Duffy Feb 7, 2020


The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 247 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

In a division that is best described as a shark tank, any fighter who dares call himself “The Great White” had better be able to adapt to change and feed on whatever prey presents itself. Fortunately, that seems to describe Alex Morono perfectly as he prepares for his UFC 247 match with short-notice opponent Kalinn Williams.

In the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s hyper-competitive 170-pound division, where a fighter must often win five or six fights in a row before even breaking into the Top 10, it can be difficult to stand out, especially if one is disinclined to clown it up or engage in forced trash talk. As a genial and thoughtfully spoken welterweight riding a three-fight win streak, Morono saw his originally scheduled bout against Dhiego Lima as a chance to raise his profile by defeating an opponent on a similar win streak who carried a certain amount of name recognition, and he admits to being disappointed—though not completely surprised—when Lima withdrew from the fight just two weeks out.

“I was pretty disheartened,” the 29-year-old Texan said. “And oddly enough, when we first got the Dhiego matchup, we were very happy, but my coach, Sayif [Saud], was like, ‘Now he just has to make it to the fight.’ He told me, as soon as we got the fight, ‘I hope this fight happens.’ For whatever reason, he had a hunch. And sure enough, I’m sitting in a hotel room in Dallas, waiting to train, and I got the word that he’d pulled out. But [UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby is super cool, he was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll find something for you.’

“So, then I go in to train that night and for the first time that I can remember, I didn’t have the best control of my emotions,” Morono continued. “I was sparring, but with no opponent and no style to try to beat, I just could not concentrate. Coach saw it in me, and it was just the weirdest night, but thankfully, within like 24 hours I’d been given a few names, then got it dialed down to one name.”

That one name was Kalinn Williams, a 9-1 prospect from Michigan who readily accepted the short-notice call to the big show. In analyzing the differences between Williams and Lima, and what adjustments were even possible to make in less than two weeks, Morono sounds proactive rather than reactive, and he remains focused on his own in-fight goals.

“I know everything there is to know about [Williams],” he said. “I’ve watched every scrap of tape there is out there, all his fights, even what he’s posted on social media. Thankfully, it’s almost always the same kind of deal in every fight as far as my preparation goes. I hope guys will stand and trade with me, but I always assume they’re going to try and wrestle. So, the actual effort in the gym stayed pretty much the same even if the game plan changed a bit. Lima has a really sharp left hook and really good low kicks, so I’d been training to not get hit by his strong moves. It’s a real heavy, up-and-down kind of fight style, a lot of clinch work, and thankfully a lot of that stuff still pays off. I’ve trained so hard for this fight, and I’m just glad it wasn’t for nothing.”

Morono’s offhanded statement that he would prefer his opponents to stand and strike with him seems odd coming from a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt who owns and operates a Gracie Barra academy. When asked to elaborate on that point, it becomes clear that his fighting philosophy is rooted in his own likes and dislikes. In essence, Morono is striving to be the kind of fighter he would want to watch.

“I hate a hypocrite,” he said. “The only reason I ever started training was because I was a fan, and I always loved seeing guys who would go for the finish, especially the strikers. Now that I’m in that position, for me to sit there and lay-and-pray, try to win rounds and just be too cautious, would make me dislike watching myself. I’m an action fighter, I enjoy it and thankfully I have the mentality for it.”

He shares an anecdote that illustrates just how far back that finisher’s mentality goes.

“My first martial art was actually boxing,” he said. “This was back in high school. I had my first kickboxing match about six months after I started training, and I won by head kick. It wasn’t a pretty fight. It was the fourth high kick I’d thrown, I’d whiffed on all three of the others and two of them had actually made me fall down. But the fourth one landed—and I’ve been stuck ever since.

“My goal in the UFC, right now at least, is not to get a championship,” he continued. “I want to break records and get knockouts, get finishes, that no one’s seen before [in the UFC].” It isn’t some vague wish; he has a list of six techniques—three standing finishes and three ground techniques—that he wants to employ in the UFC before all is said and done. He understandably declined to name them.

“No [I won’t tell you what they are],” he said with a laugh. “If they happen, I’ll let you know. Or if I retire and I didn’t pull them off, I’ll tell you. They’re more unorthodox than rare, if that makes any sense. The ground ones are really cool, really crafty. They’re more routes that lead to a certain submission, or a certain position where I can get the finish, than anything else. The striking ones, they’re rare techniques, but more than being super technical, they’re just brutal ways to knock someone out.

“I want to stay active and not really chase—not really just try and climb up the division as fast as possible,” he added. “My goal is 30 fights in the UFC, so not really a belt but more of a quantity, and this is my tenth fight in the UFC. I made it this far, so now I’ll double that goal, make it to 20 and then eventually to 30. If I can do that in about six years, then I can retire.” Advertisement

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