Alex Morono got introduced to mixed martial arts like countless others: stationed in front of the television alongside friends and family, watching on Spike TV back when he was still in high school.
Initially nothing more than a fan, watching the athletes clamber into the Octagon to compete sparked something inside the Houston native, one of the only members of his friend group to get bitten by the training bug.
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“I’m one of those guys that if I like something, I do it a lot; probably too much,” offered a smiling, excited Morono, who takes on Tim Means on Saturday’s main card in Charlotte, North Carolina. “After about six months of training, one of my coaches was like, ‘Why don’t you compete?’
“I said, ‘Coach, I don’t know what that means, but I’m in.’”
“The Great White” plunged into the depths of martial arts, with his initial foray into kickboxing being followed by Brazilian jiu jitsu, amateur MMA, and then a move into the professional ranks, which eventually led him to the UFC Octagon, where he became part of a long-range forecast his father made back in those early days of watching the fights together.
“I will never forget, I was watching some fights with my dad — it may have been a Randy Couture fight — and he was telling me, ‘The UFC is going to have to get more fighters; they only got a handful of guys and they’re going to need more talent,’” recalled Morono. “I was like, ‘Yeah, you’re right, Pops!’ never knowing —ever — that I would be one of those guys a decade later.
"My younger self would be stoked with what his older self has been able to do, in the Octagon of all places,” added the veteran welterweight, who noted that his eldest brother recently bought the one-of-one, onyx black, signed Alex Morono Panini card. “It’s really cool.”
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Progressing the way he did, with no ambitions or expectations, has allowed Morono to remain level-headed and appreciative of everything he’s experienced over the years, with the goals and targets he’s set for himself changing as he continues to pile up appearances on the biggest stage in the sport.
Reaching the UFC seemed out of reach to the fan-turned-fighter until he defeated Valdir Araujo under the Legacy FC banner, and after winning the promotion’s 170-pound title in his next fight, the emerging welterweight got the call to the big leagues.
“It was only after that main event victory over ‘Baby Monster’ that I thought, ‘I could go to the UFC.’ Prior to that, it just seemed out of reach,” recalled Morono, who noted that Andrew Craig and Daniel Pineda were the only two Houston-area fighters on the roster at the time, which made his graduating to that stage seem like an even more difficult task.
“Since I had no expectations of getting there, my first goal in the UFC was 10 fights, and then 20 fights,” continued the 32-year-old, who has racked up an 11-5 record with one no contest in 17 appearances.
And now that he seems assured of 20 fights, the goalposts are getting moved.
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“Now I don’t care about the fights!” he said enthusiastically. “I care about the wins! I want 20 wins!
Despite his shift in goals and extended tenure on the UFC roster, Morono is still very much a fan.
When we spoke last week, he was amped to spend the weekend watching the assorted collection of events taking place across Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, noting that he had several friends and training partners competing on the Fury FC card broadcasted on UFC FIGHT PASS on Sunday.
But that enduring fandom also shows through in the excitement and joy he takes from sharing the Octagon with veteran talents like Means this weekend, Santiago Ponzinibbio last time out, or the host of other seasoned competitors he’s shared the cage with during his time in the UFC.
“Fighting these experienced veterans, it is more notable, more valuable to me than fighting a rookie,” Morono admitted, before quickly adding, “I don’t mind beating these rookies up, but I prefer these fights. Fighting Cowboy (Donald Cerrone), fighting (Anthony) Pettis, fighting Ponz, fighting Means — back in the day I fought (Josh) Burkman and Keita Nakamura. I enjoy fighting these guys.
“It’s kind of like the old roster on Mortal Kombat — the new characters are cool, but the guys from MK1, they’re the real OGs.”
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In addition to sharing the cage with the veteran set, Morono is also keen to really soak in every experience he gets to have at this level, knowing it will all come to an end at some point, and intent on relishing each time he gets to make the walk to the Octagon.
“I had a fight in Houston and I lost it pretty quick,” began Morono, detailing what fuels him. “It was a rough situation, for me, personally, because everyone I know and love and respect was watching it, I was a big favorite and I lost the fight quick.
“I was looking in the mirror the next day, and I was like, ‘Why am I doing this? What am I putting myself through this for?’ There was no thought of quitting, ever, but like, ‘What’s the prime motive?’ because it’s not money, it’s not glory — it’s the emotion; it’s the feeling.
“Izzy said it when he beat Pereira, ‘I pray everyone gets to experience this at least one time,’” he said, referencing middleweight champion Israel Adesanya’s comments following his second-round knockout win over Alex Pereira last month at UFC 287.
“Warming up for the Ponzinibbio fight, making the walk was everything I ever hoped for, from an emotional perspective. I want to do it again and I can’t wait to do it again. That’s all I crave is making that walk and experiencing the emotions, good and bad in the fights, because it’s a really thorough way to live.”
Alex Morono KOs Donald Cerrone | UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez Vs. Waterson
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This weekend, Morono finally gets to make that walk and experience those emotions again, stepping into the cage with a fellow veteran he’s been expecting to fight for quite some time.
“We both fought in Wichita, Kansas,” he said of Means, who enters their main card matchup on a two-fight skid. “I fought Zak Ottow, he fought Niko Price, and I had only seen him fight one time locally in Houston.
“I didn’t know what kind of person he was, but he was super-respectful, super-cool; he was a lot cooler than I would have anticipated. I’ve had respect for him ever since, wished him well ever since, and expected that one day we would get matched up together.”
That day is finally here, and Morono couldn’t possibly be more excited.
“He’s ‘The Dirty Bird!’ He’ll get up in your face and he’ll throw down!” he said quickly when asked why he’s so pumped for this weekend’s pairing with Means. “I do expect us to exchange some punches in the middle of that Octagon. From a principle standpoint, I will not be bullied. I will not take the back foot unnecessarily.”
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And if all goes according to plan, the fan-turned-fighter would like to make a quick return in order to keep getting closer to those 20 fights and 20 victories, and feel that flood of emotions that washes over him each time he walks to the Octagon more often.
“Everything healthy after this fight, give me two months,” offered Morono. “I would love to hit three fights a year, every year until I retire. I’ve hit two or three — never one, but never four — and I don’t mind that, but I feel like I’m in my prime, my body is always held up, and I train all the time.
“I don’t even like full training camps because I get so dang banged up all the time, he added, laughing. “I was talking to some guys this morning and I was like, ‘I’m good; I’m ready to be done training.’
“Gimme four weeks and a name and I’ll be good to go. I’d fight every month if they’d let me.”
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