Joseph Morales was ten years of age when he first met Urijah Faber. To him, on that day, Faber was just another guy, an older guy, doing the very thing Morales would, unbeknown to him at the time, come to call a hobby, a profession and a lifestyle. He didn’t know Faber was famous or particularly good at this thing. At least not straight away. But the more familiar he became with the interior of “this small school in Sacramento”, the more Morales came to realise that Faber already carried weight in mixed martial arts circles. There were, for example, posters of the California Kid taped to the walls. There was mention of him being a champion of some sort. There was the sense he was good. On the rise. Promising.
Morales, putting together the pieces of the puzzle, one day made a beeline for Faber.
“I wanted to start competing and trying out MMA and asked him where the best place to go was,” he told Fighters Only. “He was opening up a gym (Ultimate Fitness) and said we should check it out. I went over with my dad and I was the first kid to sign up.”
That was twelve years ago. Today, Morales is 22 years of age and 8-0 in his professional mixed martial arts career. He’s an integral part of Team Alpha Male, a prospect of whom big things are expected, and recently made a brief appearance on Dana White’s ‘Lookin’ for a Fight’. In short, things are starting to happen for the talented flyweight and a UFC contract, according to White, is on its way.
As for Faber, parallels are starting to be drawn. Old and new, similar weight, both from Sacramento, the comparisons, granted, don’t require much in the way of creativity. But what makes the Morales rise so special is that is has been one cultivated and encouraged by Faber ever since they first met over a decade ago.
“Urijah’s always been a huge mentor to me,” he explained. “Whether it’s fighting-wise, being able to market yourself, or if I’m going through anything, I can always ring him up. He’s like a big brother to me. Twelve years is a long time. I have a really close bond with Urijah.”
When Morales first became aware of Faber, the KOTC champion was making his way in the sport, but nowhere near the finished article, nor in a position to call mixed martial arts his sole source of income. In fact, Faber, like most during that time, had to not only gym hop but also work in gyms, run classes, teach, in order to make ends meet. Morales saw this. He was aware of this. He got a feel for Faber’s work ethic and understood it. It’s why now, despite being an undefeated mixed martial artist with the world at his feet, Morales feels no way about working full-time for a construction company – alongside Faber’s father, no less.
“We’re over there building the new gym,” he said, “so I can literally say I’ve put my blood, sweat and tears into the gym, building it up.”
Morales speaks with a maturity and wisodm that belies his age, as is often the case with men and women raised in gyms and around fight sports. Disciplined early, Morales, like so many, has had to take his licks and come back for more. He has had to show an ability to defend himself and fight when his body’s tired and hurting and he wants to give up. At twelve years of age, he was sparring boys five or six years older than him. Then, at fourteen, he was selected as Joseph Benavidez’ main training partner. If that doesn’t humble a teenager, nothing will. “I used to get my ass handed to me by everybody,” he said.
This kind of education, it seems, does something to a young fighter. It delivers them a reality check – early – they will then invariably call upon later on in life. It offers them their so you wanna be a fighter? moment. For Morales, it was all about building foundations. His roots. It gave him a toughness and skill-set that would come in handy when going up against opponents who overlooked him on account of his tender age and slender physique.
“I’m kind of used to being the underdog,” he said. “I’m not the big, tough, scary-looking dude. I don’t have all the tattoos and I’m not a big, muscular, ripped and shredded guy. It feels good to know I’m going to go and beat the s**t out of this dude knowing I’m better than him. Everybody else thinks that guy might be tough or looks mean and is going to go out and kill me, but I just go and do my thing, and I’m cool, calm and relaxed the whole fight. It feels good to go out there and come out on top.”
Eight times Morales has come out on top in a professional MMA career that started back in December 2014, and only twice has he had to go to a decision. One of those, a five-rounder with Josh Paiva in November 2016, delivered Morales the GKO flyweight title, the first, he hopes, of many.
“I knew he was a tough wrestler and I knew he thought he had the better grappling,” Joseph recalled. “Going into it I knew I had the better stand-up and I knew I was going to come out with the win, but I wanted to go out there and show off my stand-up and try and go for a knockout.
“I’m also the type of fighter that likes to take whatever the other opponent gives me. He gave me a good grappling match and I was going for submissions the whole time. I knew I could beat him there and it ended up being a really exciting fight.
“He’s a tough kid; he didn’t tap to submissions I thought I had. I could hear him gurgle a couple of times and I thought he was done. I had an arm-bar at one point and I could hear his arm popping. It sounded like someone smashing a water bottle. That was in the second round. He fought three more rounds after that and put up a good fight.”
Morales last fight, in March, was for Cage Fury FC and his opponent, Sean Santella, considered a step-up in class, was put to the sword in the second round. It could very well be Morales’ last outside the UFC.
“I’ve been competing for so long now, I’m sort of used to the fight environment,” he said. “I knew Sean (Santella) had fought some good guys; he’s tough, he’s a big 125-pounder, he’s fought at 135 multiple times, he’s never been finished, he’s a high-level black belt. So I knew I was going to go in there against a really tough guy. It was good to come out with the knockout victory – he’d never been finished – and it felt good to come out on top in that fight.
“I just beat two really good, UFC-caliber guys and I feel like I’m ready for the next step. Everyone’s ultimate goal is to get in there. If I wasn’t ready, I’d let you know, but I feel like I’m on that next step.
“It feels good to actually be on the brink of the UFC level. It’s a little bit unreal sometimes, but it feels good to know all that hard work and all those ass-kickings are paying off.”
After twelve years of getting his ass kicked in the name of education, Joseph Morales is finally on the cusp of becoming the Alpha Male.