The sport of MMA, like most sports, is a bit of a revolving door. There are kids who once idolized legends of the sport and eventually go on to become high-level fighters in their own right. Some of the guys who grew up watching Peyton Manning ended up playing on his Super Bowl-winning team in Denver, and a lot of the younger up-and-coming fighters end up on the same fight cards as the guys they grew up watching.
Alex Morono, a 27-year-old Houston native, didn’t set out to be a career fighter. MMA was simply a family passion that was ingrained into his childhood from a young age.
“It all just kind of worked itself out,” Morono told Combat Press. “I didn’t plan to do this professionally. My dad had a pool-installation company, so I worked with him in my later teenage years and then was able to get some pretty cool opportunities. I was always a fan of fighting. I have three brothers, and we were always messing around and played a lot of Mortal Kombat. My dad was into the UFC, so he would always buy the old pay-per-views. One of my best friends in high school and I would always grapple and box, so we were always training.
“One year, my parents had gotten me a membership to a boxing gym. I had done classes, and I was pretty overweight, so I lost a bunch of weight. Then, I saw them doing jiu-jitsu next to the boxing class, so I jumped into class, and I fell in love with every aspect of training. I pretty much showed up to train every day since.”
Morono got an early start to his fighting life. With the support of his family and coaches, he got pretty good in a hurry. So, it was only natural that he would take his raw talent into the local scene to test the waters.
“I took my first smoker fight about six months after training, and I won with a head-kick knockout, even though we had shin guards and head gear and everything,” Morono explained. “It was just such a cool feeling, and that was it. The more I would do these amateur fights, I would win them, and I got an amateur championship belt. Then, I went pro and won two belts. Then, I fought for Legacy [Fighting Championship], and I won that belt, and now I’m in the UFC and teaching full-time for about seven years now and training full-time that whole time as well.”
Morono started at L.A. Boxing in Houston, and he began his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training there as well. He was then training under Antonio Flores and BJJ black belt Chad Robichaux. When Robichaux moved out of state, Morono moved on to train under Alex Gotay, who awarded Morono his black belt three and a half years ago. The gym, Gracie Barra The Woodlands, was a bit of a revolving door of owners, but the pro fighter now owns the gym outright, along with his fiancée Janice.
“Man, business is better than ever,” Morono said. “It really is. We’re breaking records, and it’s awesome. We finally have a consistent stable of really good coaches, and it’s going well, thankfully, because it took some time. We’ve had some ups and downs the last decade. We got flooded twice. Hurricane Harvey killed us. We had six feet of water in the gym. Luckily, we had picked our mats up, but still.
“That was actually the second flood. We had gotten hit with a flood about a year before that. They called it the ‘Tax-Day Flood.’ We had a pretty bad weekend of rain, and a town to the north of us, Conroe — they have a lake up there — had too much water in the lake, and they had a super surge of rain, so they released the dam, and it flooded the creek behind our gym and flooded our gym.”
In a relatively short time, Morono has come a long way in his careers both outside and inside the cage. After going 8-3 in local shows and 3-0 in Legacy, including a welterweight title win, he was picked up by the UFC for his promotional debut in January 2016. He beat veteran Kyle Noke by split decision at UFC 195. He went on to defeat James Moontasri, lost a fight that he was actually dominating to Niko Price, and then suffered a loss to Keita Nakamura in September 2017. The latter fight ended up being his first official UFC loss, because the Price fight was overturned to a no-contest when Price popped positive for a banned substance. The young fighter came back in a big way when he tapped out longtime vet Josh Burkman in February.
“It was my last fight that it finally dawned on me that a lot of these guys that fight in the UFC, they have like 10, 15, 20 UFC fights, but if you look at most promotions, that’s generally not how it goes,” Morono said. “Before I made it to the UFC, I had fought for four different promotions. When you’re only fighting in the UFC, your level of comfortability and experience in the Octagon actually plays a very crucial role.
“I remember walking out before the fight and moving around in the Octagon, playing with my footwork and finding the right timing to land punches. I felt more and more comfortable each time I went out there, and I’m really looking forward to get back out there. I have about 57 minutes in the Octagon, and, granted, I would like an early knockout or early finish, but I think I’m going to break an hour of fight time in there. It’s a pretty cool milestone in my career, to spend as much time in that Octagon as possible.”
Morono’s next fight takes place on July 28 at UFC on Fox 30 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where he faces Jordan Mein. Mein has been around for what seems like forever, but he is actually only a year older than Morono. Mein is a three-fight Strikeforce veteran who has already had eight fights in the Octagon. His first pro fight came against top welterweight Rory MacDonald in 2006, but he mostly fought local guys until he was about three or four years into his career.
“I remember watching his fights in Strikeforce,” Morono recalled. “I have been watching the man for a very long time. It’s crazy, man. He’s my age, but he’s had 42 fights as a pro. He’s good. I feel like he was given like every opportunity to really make, like, a big run, and he sometimes was inconsistent with his wins, but that goes with the territory. It’s a very hard sport to consistently win fights. I know he’s very well rounded and been fighting a long time, but I feel that he’s not as in it as he once was.”
Morono may be onto something with his assessment of Mein. The Canadian fighter went on a three-fight skid over a span of two and a half years before finally picking up a decision win over Erick Silva, who is no longer on the UFC roster. Is Mein’s head in the right place?
“I don’t think this is giving away any information, but I’m definitely going to bring the fight to him in this fight,” said Morono. “He needs to expect to start fast and stay fast and fight hard the whole fight. It’s [UFC President] Dana White’s birthday that night, and it’s a super stacked fight card for not being a pay-per-view, and this is the fight to go after and really put on a show.
“[UFC matchmaker] Sean Shelby’s got to be the freakin’ coolest dude in the UFC. He always gives me such cool opportunities, and I had just seen the fight order, and Jordan and I are the final fight of the prelims before the main card. It’s a pretty big opportunity, and I’m pretty sure that’s going to be on Fox as well, not Fox Sports 1. The main card is insanely cool. So, just to be able to be there and watch [Dustin] Poirier and [Eddie] Alvarez, and [Jeremy] Stephens and [José] Aldo, that’s awesome. I’m going to get some shirts made for this fight, because I want to give those guys some shirts, because I’ve been a fan of them for so long. I’m so honored to be on this fight card. I hope Dana White’s there — I think he will be — because if he’s watching, I’m going to try to score a crazy finish and tell him happy birthday. That’s the goal.”
This is life come full circle for a guy that didn’t set really set out to fight in the first place. In preparing for such a huge opportunity, not only does Morono have a great support system of family, friends and coaches, but his fiancée is the icing on the cake.
“She’s awesome,” he said. “I met her at the gym. She’s in great shape, and she’s a beautiful Filipino lady. She does all my meal prep, she keeps me super honest on the diet, and she understands how much time is necessary to train. It helps that she trains. She’s a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, and she does competitions. She has the IBJJF Austin Open coming up the weekend before my fight in Calgary. She’s the coolest teammate and partner that I have in life.”
It’s easy to forget that Morono is only 27 years old, but he fell into this career early in life, which means he has a long career ahead. On Saturday night, at the ScotiaBank Saddledome, the young Texan will have the opportunity to take the next step in his career when he headlines the preliminary card, which airs live on Fox. From there, he should have plenty of opportunities to continue his climb up the welterweight ladder.